Elizabeth Hartman

Mary Elizabeth Hartman (December 23, 1943 – June 10, 1987) was an American actress of the stage and screen. She is best known for her debut performance in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue, playing a blind girl named Selina D'Arcy, opposite Sidney Poitier, a role for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award. The next year, she appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now as Barbara Darling, for which she was nominated for a second Golden Globe Award. Hartman also starred opposite Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page in Don Siegel's The Beguiled, and the 1973 box office smash and cult favourite Walking Tall. On stage, Hartman was best known for her interpretations of Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and Emily Webb in the Broadway production of Our Town.[1]

Elizabeth Hartman
Hartman in 1966
Mary Elizabeth Hartman

(1943-12-23)December 23, 1943
DiedJune 10, 1987(1987-06-10) (aged 43)
Cause of deathSuicide by self-defenestration
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Youngstown, Ohio, U.S.
Years active1964–1982
Gill Dennis
(m. 1968; div. 1984)

A sensitive and shy individual marred by mental health issues, in which she was institutionalized 19 times, Hartman quit acting in 1982 after voicing the character of Mrs. Brisby in Don Bluth's well received first animated feature The Secret of NIMH (1982). She committed suicide five years later by jumping from her apartment window in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "I can’t wait until I’m 45 and get all those great parts", she had said in a 1971 interview.[2]

Early life

Mary Elizabeth Hartman was born December 23, 1943[3] in Youngstown, Ohio, the daughter of Claire (née Mullaly; 1918–1997) and B.C. Hartman (1914–1964).[4] She had a sister, Janet, and a brother, William.[5][6] She was a standout dramatic student at Boardman High School, where she graduated in 1961.[7] She won a statewide award for Best Actress in a high school production for her performance as Laura in The Glass Menagerie. She performed in several productions at the Youngstown Playhouse during her youth, including A Clearing in the Woods by Arthur Laurents and Our Town. She attended Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where she met her future husband, Gill Dennis, and spent her summers acting with the Kenley Players.[8]

Hartman also performed at the Cleveland Playhouse in several productions, including The Madwoman of Chaillot and Bus Stop. She was encouraged to move to New York City and begin auditioning for plays there. In 1964, Hartman was signed to play the ingénue lead in the comedy Everybody Out, the Castle is Sinking, which was not a success, however her performance was again positively received, and film producers took notice.[1]


In 1964, Hartman was screen-tested by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Brothers.[6] In the early autumn of 1964, she was offered a leading role in A Patch of Blue, opposite Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters.[9] The role won Hartman widespread critical acclaim, a fact proudly noted by the news media in her hometown. During this time, her father, who worked in construction, died.[10] The role also won Hartman an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. At the time of her nomination in 1966, Elizabeth Hartman (who was 22 years old) was the youngest nominee ever in the Best Actress category. That same year, Hartman received an achievement award from the National Association of Theater Owners.[11] Hartman also won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for her performance.[3][12] In 1966, she starred as Laura opposite Mercedes McCambridge as Amanda in a production of The Glass Menagerie in Pittsburgh.[13]

In January 1967, columnist Dorothy Manners reported that Hartman had been cast in the role of Neely O’Hara in the movie version of Valley of the Dolls, beating out some more famous Hollywood actresses. She was said to have won over director Mark Robson, who had been enthralled with her performance in You're a Big Boy Now. However, the following month, it was announced that Oscar-winner Patty Duke had signed on to play Neely, albeit against her agent's advice.

Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hartman appeared in three well-received films, two of which starred Broadway and Hollywood legend Geraldine Page, The Group (1966),[14] You're a Big Boy Now (1966),[15] and The Beguiled (1971).[16] Portraying Pauline Mullins, the wife of former Sheriff Buford Pusser, she starred in the cult classic and major box office hit Walking Tall (1973).[17] Almost a decade later she completed recording on 1982's critically acclaimed animated film The Secret of NIMH, wherein she voiced mouse-heroine Mrs. Brisby.[18] She was highly praised for her performance as Mrs. Brisby, however this proved to be her last Hollywood film role. Hartman's last on-screen performance was in 1981's horror-spoof, Full Moon High, where she appeared as Miss Montgomery.

In 1975, Hartman starred in the premiere of Tom Rickman's play Balaam, a play about political intrigue in Washington, D.C. The production was mounted in Old Town Pasadena, California, by the Pasadena Repertory Theatre located in The Hotel Carver. It was directed by Hartman's husband, Gill Dennis. In 1981, she starred in a touring production of Morning's at Seven, but left the tour due to declining mental health.[2]

Later years and death

Throughout much of her life, Hartman suffered from depression.[19] In 1978, she was treated at The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut.[20] In 1984, she divorced her husband, screenwriter Gill Dennis, after a five-year separation. In the last few years of her life, she gave up acting altogether and worked at a museum in Pittsburgh while receiving treatment for her condition at an outpatient clinic. In 1987, she returned to theater, portraying Myrtle Brown in a regional stage production of Morning's at Seven.[2] Her sister and caretaker, Janet, told the Los Angeles Times:

She was very suicidal...  As soon as I arrived, she took an overdose of sleeping pills and was rushed to intensive care. But, the next night, she appeared on stage and she was wonderful. I spent two weeks with her to try to get her to the theater every night. She was frightened of everyone and everything. We'd go to breakfast, and she'd get up and dash out as though somebody was after her.[2]

On June 10, 1987, Hartman committed suicide by jumping from the window of her fifth floor apartment.[19] Earlier that morning, she had reportedly called her psychiatrist saying that she felt despondent.[21] Hartman was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in her home town: her mother, who outlived her by 10 years, is buried next to her.[22]

Following her death, Sidney Poitier issued a statement: "It saddens me to think she’s no longer with us. She was a wonderful actress and a truly gentle person. We have lost a distinguished artist."

Geraldine Page, her co-star on two pictures, and a friend who continued to communicate with and support her throughout her troubled life,[2] suffered a sudden heart attack and died three days after Hartman's passing.



Year Title Role Director(s) Notes Ref.
1965 A Patch of Blue Selina D'Arcey Guy Green [23]
1966 The Group Priss Sidney Lumet [23]
1966 You're a Big Boy Now Barbara Darling Francis Ford Coppola [23]
1968 The Fixer Zinaida John Frankenheimer [23]
1970 In Pursuit of Treasure Stanton Kaye
1971 The Beguiled Edwina Dabney Don Siegel [23]
1973 Walking Tall Pauline Pusser Phil Karlson [23]
1980 Willow B: Women in Prison Helen Jeff Bleckner Also known as: A Matter of Survival
Television film
1981 Full Moon High Miss Montgomery Larry Cohen
1982 The Secret of NIMH Mrs. Brisby Don Bluth Voice; final film role [23]


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1971 Night Gallery Judith Timm Episode: "The Dark Boy"
1973 Love, American Style Wilma More Segment: "Love and the Locksmith"
1975 Wide World Mystery Camilla Episode: "A Little Bit Like Murder"
1975 Doctors' Hospital Bobbie Marks Episode: "Come at Last to Love"

Stage credits

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1969 Our Town Emily Webb ANTA Playhouse [24]


Award Year Category Nominated work Outcome Ref.
Academy Awards 1965 Best Actress A Patch of Blue Nominated [2]
Golden Globe Awards Most Promising Newcomer – Female Won [12]
Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
1966 Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy You're a Big Boy Now Nominated

See also


  1. "Our Town Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  2. Konte, Sandra Hansen (November 22, 1987). "The Short Life of Elizabeth Hartman : Instant Stardom in 'Patch of Blue,' Then Unemployment, Then Suicide". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Archived from the original on October 11, 2015.
  3. Frasier 2005, p. 135.
  4. Claire Hartman death record Retrieved September 12, 2016
  5. People Magazine Hartman Profile Retrieved September 12, 2016
  6. "Biff Hartman of Playhouse Roles Has Broadway Lead". The Steel Valley News. November 22, 1964. p. 24.
  7. Boney, Stan (February 26, 2016). Boardman woman remembered for Oscar-worthy performance. WKBN27. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  8. Frasier 2005, pp. 135–36.
  9. Fristoe, Roger. "A Patch of Blue". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  10. Childress, Fred (December 16, 1965). "Elizabeth Hartman Wins Praise As "Patch of Blue" Opens". The Youngstown Vindicator. p. 44.
  11. "Elizabeth Hartman Given Award of Theater". The New York Times. September 30, 1966.
  12. "Winners and Nominees : Elizabeth Hartman". GoldenGlobes.com. Golden Globe Awards. Archived from the original on September 16, 2018.
  13. The Pittsburgh Press 1962 Retrieved September 12, 2016
  14. Finnie, Moira. "IN THE LOOP WITH THE GROUP (1966)". Streamline : The Filmstruck Blog. Retrieved September 16, 2009.
  15. Ebert, Roger (July 17, 1968). "YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW". RogerEbert.com. Chicago Sun-Times.
  16. "THE BEGUILED (1971)". AFI.com. American Film Institute. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  17. "Walking Tall (1973)". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  18. Frasier 2005, p. 136.
  19. "Elizabeth Hartman, 'Patch of Blue' Star, Is Suspected Suicide". The New York Times. June 12, 1987.
  20. Ryan, Michael (September 7, 1987). "Elizabeth Hartman". People. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  21. "Obituaries". The Vindicator Youngstown, Ohio. June 11, 1987.
  22. "No film stars attend Miss Hartman rites". The Youngstown Vindicator. June 14, 1987. p. D-19.
  23. "Elizabeth Hartman Filmography". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on October 31, 2019.
  24. "Elizabeth Hartman". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on October 31, 2019.


  • Frasier, David K. (2005). Suicide in the Entertainment Industry: An Encyclopedia of 840 Twentieth Century Cases. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-60807-5.
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