Jo Van Fleet

Catherine Josephine Van Fleet (December 29, 1915[1] – June 10, 1996) was a theatre, film, and television actress from the United States. Known primarily for playing roles older than she was, her career spanned over three decades, and she won an Oscar as well as a Tony Award.[2]

Jo Van Fleet
in 1955
Catherine Josephine Van Fleet[1]

(1915-12-29)December 29, 1915
DiedJune 10, 1996(1996-06-10) (aged 80)
Years active1954–1986
Spouse(s)William Bales (1946–90; his death; 1 child: Michael)

Early life

She was born in Oakland, California to Roy Van Fleet and Elizabeth "Bessie" Catherine (née Gardner).


Van Fleet established herself as a notable dramatic actress on Broadway over several years, beginning in 1946 as Dorcas in The Winter's Tale, and playing Regan in King Lear in 1950.[2] She won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1954 for her performance as Jessie Mae Watts in Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, costarring Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint.

After her success on the stage, director Elia Kazan brought her to Hollywood to work on screen. Kazan, who had directed her on stage in 1952's Flight to Egypt and 1953's Camino Real, cast her as Cathy Ames in his film adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden (1955); this was her film debut.[2] She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Her subsequent film work was steady through 1960, and included films such as The Rose Tattoo (1955), I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), The King and Four Queens (1956), and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). However, her career did not progress as she had hoped. Her friend and mentor, Kazan, once said "Jo stagnated, and, since she knew it, was bitter. And as she became bitter, she became more difficult."[2]

In 1958, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in Look Homeward, Angel, in which she played the acquisitive mother of Anthony Perkins' character. Her later films included Wild River (1960) – though only 44, Van Fleet would spend five hours every morning getting into her make-up and applying wrinkles to play the role of an 89-year-old matriarch.[2] Other notable roles include the Wicked Stepmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1965), Paul Newman's mother in Cool Hand Luke (1967), and the mother in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968).

Van Fleet's work on television included such series as Naked City, Thriller, Bonanza, The Wild Wild West, and Police Woman. Among her most emotionally charged dramatic performances on television is her portrayal of the explosive Mrs. Shrike in the 1956 episode "Shopping for Death" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.[3]

Personal life

Van Fleet was married to choreographer William Bales from 1946 until his death in 1990.[4] Van Fleet died in a Jamaica, Queens hospital from undisclosed causes at the age of 80. Her body was cremated and her ashes returned to her family.[5] She was survived by her son Michael Bales and grandson Arden Rogow-Bales.[4]

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to Motion Pictures at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.

Van Fleet was a Democrat who supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign during the 1952 presidential election.[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Max Liebman Spectaculars Aunt Dete Episode: "Heidi"
Star Tonight Irene Rankin Episode: "Concerning Death"
East of Eden Kate Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
The Philco Television Playhouse Shirley Episode: "A Business Proposition"
The Rose Tattoo Bessie
I'll Cry Tomorrow Katie Roth
1956 Kraft Theatre Ma Episode: "Snapfinger Creek"
The King and Four Queens Ma McDade
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Mrs. Shrike Episode: "Shopping for Death"
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Kate Fisher
This Angry Age Mme. Dufresne
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Anna Kaminsky Episode: "Reward to Finder"
1958 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Mrs. Lombe Episode: "The Crazy Hunter"
1959 Alcoa Theatre Mrs. Weiss Episode: "30 Pieces of Silver"
G.E. True Theatre Miss Wanda Kelsey Episode: "Disaster"
1960 Wild River Ella Garth
Play of the Week Canina Episode: "Volpone"
1961 The DuPont Show of the Month Callie Episode: "The Night of the Storm"
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Molly Episode: "Servant Problem"
Thriller Mrs. Cissy Hawk Episode: "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk"
1962 Naked City Dr. Anna Chaloupka Episode: "The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos"
Frontier Circus Amelia Curtis Episode: "The Courtship"
1963 Route 66 Hazel Quine Episode: "The Stone Guest"
77 Sunset Strip Jane Patterson Episode: "Don't Wait for Me"
1964 Summer Playhouse Velma Clarke Episode: "Satan's Waitin'"
Kraft Suspense Theatre Hildy Hesse Episode: "The World I Want"
1965 Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella Stepmother TV movie
1966 The Virginian Lee Calder Episode: "Legacy of Hate"
1967 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Emily Cooper Episode: "Verdict for Terror"
Cool Hand Luke Arletta
1968 I Love You, Alice B. Toklas Mother
1969 The Wild Wild West Amelia Bronston Episode: "The Night of the Tycoons"
80 Steps to Jonah Nonna
1970 Mannix Alexandra Pulvarenti Episode: "One for the Lady"
Mod Squad Annie Crabtree Episode: "'A' is for Annie"
Bonanza Amy Wilder Episode: "The Trouble with Amy"
1971 Great Performances Clara Episode: "Paradise Lost"
Bonanza Miss Ellen Dobbs Episode: "The Stillness Within"
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight Big Momma
Medical Center Margaret Episode: "Martyr"
1972 The Family Rico Mama Rico TV movie
1973 Medical Center Leah Episode: "Time of Darkness"
Satan's School for Girls Headmistress TV movie co-produced by Aaron Spelling
1976 The Tenant Madame Dioz
1977 Police Woman Irini Karabetas Episode: "The Buttercup Killer"
1980 Power Mother Vanda TV movie
1986 Seize the Day Mrs. Einhorn Final film role


  1. Date of birth for Jo Van Fleet,; accessed September 2, 2015.
  2. Obituary: Jo Van Fleet,, June 20, 1996; accessed November 21, 2013
  3. "Shopping for Death", S1E18, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, originally broadcast January 29, 1956. Internet Movie Database (IMDb), a subsidiary of Amazon, Seattle, Washington. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  4. Obituary,, June 11, 1996; accessed August 4, 2015.
  5. Wilson, Scott (September 16, 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland via Google Books.
  6. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
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