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Geraldine Fitzgerald: From Orson Welles to ‘The Golden Girls’

Geraldine Fitzgerald moviesGeraldine Fitzgerald: Renowned movie, stage, and TV actress has died

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Geraldine Fitzgerald, veteran stage and screen actress among whose film credits are Wuthering Heights, Wilson, Harry and Tonto, and the comedy blockbuster Arthur, died on Sunday, July 17, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Fitzgerald (born on November 24, 1913, in Dublin) was 91. (Image: Geraldine Fitzgerald ca. early 1940s.)

Geraldine Fitzgerald movies

Before coming to Hollywood in the late ’30s, Geraldine Fitzgerald was featured in British films, most notably as one of the leads in Tim Whelan’s 1937 screen adaptation of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, also featuring Frank Lawton. Her Hollywood career seemed promising at first, but Fitzgerald, for several years professionally tied to producer Hal B. Wallis, was never to become a top movie star.

Among Geraldine Fitzgerald’s best Hollywood screen roles are those in Wuthering Heights (1939), as the miserable wife of Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff, a performance that brought her a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination; Wilson (1944), the prestigious (and incredibly dull) 20th Century Fox biopic of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, starring Alexander Knox in the title role; Ten North Frederick (1958), excellent as Gary Cooper’s shrewish wife; Harry and Tonto (1974), another outstanding turn as an elderly woman suffering from dementia; and the so-so – but highly popular – neo-screwball comedy Arthur (1981), as a cranky millionairess.

Geraldine Fitzgerald onstage

But whereas Geraldine Fitzgerald didn’t quite make it on film, she did become a renowned name on the New York stage. Among her most important stage roles are Ellie Dunn in the 1938 Mercury Theatre production of Heartbreak House, with Orson Welles (with whom she had an out-of-wedlock child); Mary Tyrone, opposite Robert Ryan, in a 1971 off-Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night; and Nora Melody in a 1977-78 revival of O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet, with Milo O’Shea and Jason Robards.

Television work

Geraldine Fitzgerald also worked extensively on television, beginning in the early ’50s in anthology shows such as Suspense and Goodyear Playhouse. Later on, she guested in several TV series, e.g., Lou Grant and St. Elsewhere, and was featured in about a dozen TV movies and miniseries. Most notable among these was Do You Remember Love (1985), in which she played Alzheimer sufferer Joanne Woodward’s mother.

Fitzgerald won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s Programming for NBC Special Treat (1979), and was a 1988 Primetime Emmy nominee for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series for the Golden Girls episode “Mother’s Day.” Her last appearance in front of the camera was in the TV movie Bump in the Night (1991), starring Meredith Baxter and Christopher Reeve.

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