The Santa Fe New Mexican from Santa Fe, New Mexico on December 21, 2007 · Page Z050
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The Santa Fe New Mexican from Santa Fe, New Mexico · Page Z050

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Santa Fe, New Mexico
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Friday, December 21, 2007
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Page Z050
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Robert Nott I The New Mexican s , So how did Ann Steely of Siluria, Alabama, end up as Cathy O'Donnell of Hollywood and just what was she doing in Santa Fe decorating that cholla cactus that was posing as a Christmas tree? O'Donnell was in New Mexico in 1954 to film the Anthony Mann Western The Man From Laramie (released in 1955). How or why she posed for the photo depicted on the cover of this week's Pasatiempo remains a mystery. The bigger mystery might be why O'Donnell didn't become a bigger star, despite some fair chances with top film directors. She started her career by playing the fiancee of disabled war veteran Harold Russell in the 1946 blockbuster The Best Years of Our Lives and ended it as the leper sister of Charlton Heston in 1959's Ben-Hur. Both films were directed by William Wyler, who was one of two directors the other being Mann who gave O'Donnell an opportunity to bite into a role. Yet it was her relationship with Wyler's brother Robert that hampered the actress's film career. She was born Ann Steely in 1923. When she was 12, her family relocated to Oklahoma City, where Steely later studied drama at Oklahoma City University. She headed west to Tos Angeles sometime in the early 1940s, and here's the Hollywood legend of what happened next: she was sitting at the counter in Schwab's Drugstore when agent Ben Medford saw her. He introduced her to independent film producer Sam Goldwyn, who signed her to a seven-year contract and sent her to study drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Goldwyn also changed her name to Cathy O'Donnell because he thought an Irish name would catch on (Maureen O'Hara was big at the box office then). Actor Farley Granger, who made two films with O'Donnell, recalled in his autobiography, Include Me Out, that the actress was "lovely, shy, wistful, and ethereal. I felt an instant urge to protect her." O'Donnell said she was withdrawn in an interview with PM New York: "I was very frightened and shy at the beginning of The Best Years. But Mr. Wyler, he has this wonderful sympathy for you. He got me over this shyness by being mean. As soon as he was mean I was all right. He wouldn't let me get away with anything. He sort of made me stand on my own feet, which was good." It helped that the actress in The Best Years of Our Lives was surrounded by a star-studded cast that included Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Myrna Toy, and Teresa Wright. The picture was a big commercial and critical hit, racking up seven Oscars, including one for best picture. Goldwyn loaned her out to RKO to make the now-classic 1948 noir They Live by Night (originally titled Thieves Like Us) opposite Granger. Nicholas Ray of Rebel Without a Cause fame directed, and the duo play young lovers caught up in a gang of robbers and cutthroats. It wasn't their fault that the film was shelved for a while after eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes took over the studio. "Cathy O'Donnell was one of the most natural actresses working in Hollywood in the '40s," noir historian and author Eddie Muller said by e-mail. "She effortlessly radiated an inherent sweetness, but when a brilliant director mussed her up like Nick Ray did in They Live by Night she was a revelation. Her portrayal of Keechie in that film is one of the high-water marks of film noir for me." From the late 1940s through the early 1950s, O'Donnell appeared in several noir films, including Side Street (1950), a re teaming with Granger at MGM, directed by Mann, and less impressive programmers like Bury Me Dead (1 947) and The Amazing Mr. X ( 1 948) . In 1948 Goldwyn cast O'Donnell and Granger in a "big" picture, Enchantment. In his autobiography, Granger recalled O'Donnell running onto the set, sobbing. She had just married Wyler's screenwriter-producer brother Robert, which made Goldwyn furious because William Wyler had just left Goldwyn to start his own production company. Goldwyn, according to Granger, "went ballistic. He called Cathy into his office and screamed at her that William Wyler had put his brother up to marrying her to get even with him. Cathy either would get the marriage annulled or she was fired, and he would see to it that she never worked in Hollywood again." She didn't cancel the marriage, but Goldwyn did cancel her contract. (Evelyn Keyes replaced A pensive Cathy O'Donnell in her noir period. ; " ,, - , Cathy O'Donnell and James Stewart on location in New Mexico for The Man From Laramie her in Enchantment.) William Wyler used O'Donnell again in 195 l's Detective Story, but the film belonged to leads Kirk Douglas and Eleanor Parker, and most of O'Donnell's movies in the 1950s were standard fare, like Never Trust a Gambler (1951) and Eight O'clock Walk (1954). She worked in television into the early 1960s but did little of note on the big screen after The Man From Laramie, apart from her supporting role in Ben-Hur. She remained married to Robert Wyler until she died of cancer on April 11, 1970 the couple's 22nd wedding anniversary Her husband died in 1971. A 50 December 21 - 27, 2007 m

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