If ever there was a major star of the 40s and 50s who has almost totally faded from memory it is the beautiful actress, Coleen Gray.
She started off as the girl next door type, but Gray soon joined the ranks of the strong and spicy women who peopled the dark circles of Film Noir.
She may not be as revered today as her noir sisters (such as Lizabeth Scott, Gloria Grahame, Audrey Totter or Jane Greer) but she played in the Forties and Fifties key roles in some of the biggest and nastiest genre titles ever made.
She also worked extensively outside of noir arena with some of classic Hollywood’s sturdiest directors.
Did you know about her performances in some of the leading Film Noir classics such as the one that inspired the picture above (with John Payne in 1952’s Kansas City Confidential)? A fine outing, worth another look.
She was called “the most utilitarian of Dark City dames” by noir scholar Eddie Muller. She was that and more.
To borrow from our previously published Q & A about Collen, her are some interesting tidbits:
1) Question: In which one of the following titles did Gray say, “I may not be pretty and I may not be smart”? a) Kiss of Death; b) State Fair; c) The Killing; or d) The Sleeping City.
1) Answer: Not sure what this bit of dialogue means since Gray was both pretty and smart. In any case, it comes from (c) 1956’s The Killing in which she plays Sterling Hayden’s confused sweetheart.
2) Question: In fact, Gray was pretty and smart, a highly sophisticated product of an affluent midwestern family. a) True; b) False?
2) Answer: b) False. Gray was born in 1922 in Staplehurst, Nebraska. She studied acting at Hamline Univ. in St.Paul, Minnesota, then migrated to California where she caught the attention of studio scouts. Her family was solid but not exactly affluent nor sophisticated.
3) Question: From mid-career on, Gray made a ton of tv appearances. Which one of the following tube series was she most identified with? a) Perry Mason; b) The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet; c) McLoud; or d) The Virginian.
3) Answer: Gray worked a ton on tv from early on in her career, especially in (a) the Perry Mason series in the mid-Sixties
4) Question: Which one of the following was NOT among Gray’s leading men? a) Tyrone Power; b) John Payne; c) Montgomery Clift; or d) Charles McGraw.
4) Answer: d) Charles McGraw. She worked with Tyrone Power in 1947’s Nightmare Alley, with Montgomery Clift in 1948’s Red River. And, of course, with John Payne (see above).
5) Question: Gray’s first of three husbands was a famous tv director with ties to George Burns and Gracie Allen. Can you name him?
5) Answer: Gray’s first husband was Rod Amateau, a tv producer-director who worked a lot in the Fifties and supervised The Burns and Allen Show. He later had a hand in producing Dukes of Hazard.
6) Question: Which one of the following is the name that Coleen Gray was born with? a) Doris Jensen; b) Johnnie Collier; c) Rita Cansino; or d) Lucille LeSueur.
6) Answer: a) Doris Jensen. The other choices are the birth names of, respectively, Ann Miller, Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford.
7) Question: Which one of these directors did Gray NOT work with? a) Howard Hawks; b) Alfred Hitchcock; c) Stanley Kubrick; or d) Edmund Goulding.
7) Answer: b) Alfred Hitchcock.
8) Question: Coleen Gray share one notable personal characteristic with our previous two Monday Quiz subject, Marie Windsor and Audrey Totter. What is it?
8) Answer: All three noir vixens were registered Republicans.
9) Question: One of Gray’s male costars in 1952’s Kansas City Confidential went on to international stardom thanks to the roles he played alongside Clint Eastwood in “spaghetti westerns” directed by Sergio Leone. Can you name him?
9) Answer: Lee van Cleef.
10) Question: In the early Seventies, Gray costarred with this famous actress in an MGM melodrama about religion and alcohol. Can you name this famous actress? (Hint: Think The Magnificent Ambersons).
10) Answer: Anne Baxter. The picture was 1971’s The Late Liz.