Coleen Gray (Doris Bernice Jensen)

Coleen Gray

Coleen Gray was born Doris Bernice Jensen on October 23, 1922 in Staplehurst, Nebraska, the daughter of a farmer. After graduating from high school, she studied drama at Hamline University, and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts. She travelled to California, and worked as a waitress in a restaurant in La Jolla. After several weeks there, she moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in the University of California. She also worked in the school’s library and at a YWCA while a student. She had leading roles in the Los Angeles stage productions Letters to Lucerne and Brief Music, which won her a 20th Century Fox contract in 1944. After playing a bit part in State Fair (1945), she became pregnant and briefly stopped working, only to return a year later as the love interest of the character played by John Wayne in Red River (1948), which was shot in 1946 but held for release until 1948. Gray appeared in two 1947 films noir: In Kiss of Death as ex-con Victor Mature’s wife and as Richard Widmark’s target; and in Nightmare Alley as Tyrone Power’s carnival performer wife, “Electra.” In 1950, Gray used her musical abilities as she sang her part (rather than having her voice dubbed) opposite Bing Crosby in Riding High, directed by Frank Capra. Riding High wasn’t a success and Fox ended her contract in 1950. Gray worked steadily in the 1950s, but mostly in smaller movies. She played a crooked nurse in The Sleeping City (1950) and appeared in Kansas City Confidential (1952) and in the Stanley Kubrick film noir The Killing (1956), in which she played a lonely woman desperate for love. Her hidden depths were seen to advantage in the 1953 Western The Vanquished, when at one point she attacks Jan Sterling with a pair of scissors in a crazed attempt to exonerate the man she loves (John Payne). Other films included Father Is a Bachelor (1950), the cult horror film The Leech Woman (1960), The Phantom Planet (1961), and P.J. (1968).

Gray appeared in The Late Liz (1971), and acted in the films Forgotten Lady (1977), and Mother (1978) with Patsy Ruth Miller. Mother had a premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Both Mother and Forgotten Lady were written for Gray by Brian Pinette, who also served as director and producer. She appeared in the religious film Cry From the Mountain (1986, in the USA), directed by James F. Collier. From the 1950s, Gray guest-starred in episodes of television series such as Four Star Playhouse, Maverick, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, Mr. Ed, Rawhide in 1962 in the episode “The Devil and the Deep Blue” as Helen Wade, 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Deputy, Have Gun Will Travel, The Dakotas, Family Affair, Ironside,The Name of the Game and Branded. On May 23, 1962, she was cast as Miss Wycliffe in the series finale, “A Job for Summer”, of the CBS comedy/drama series, Window on Main Street, starring Robert Young as a widowed author in his hometown. She made four guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the title role of defendant Lorraine Kendall in the 1960 episode, “The Case of the Wandering Widow.” Gray was a regular on the daytime dramas Bright Promise and Days of Our Lives.

Gray married Rod Amateau, a screenwriter, on August 10, 1945; they divorced on February 11, 1949, and had one daughter, Susan (born 1946). Gray’s second husband was William Clymer Bidlack, an aviation executive. They were married from July 14, 1953 until his death in 1978. The union produced a son, Bruce Robin Bidlack (born 1954). In 1979, Gray married widowed biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser; they remained together until his death in March 2012. They were active with the non-profit organization, Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976 by Chuck Colson, a convicted felon in the Watergate scandal. Prison Fellowship assists the church in ministering to prisoners and their families and victims. Gray was a staunch conservative Republican. In 1964, along with actors Victor Jory and Susan Seaforth, Gray testified before the United States Congress as part of “Project Prayer,” arguing in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer. Gray died in her Bel Air, Los Angeles home on August 3, 2015, of natural causes. She was 92. She is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA, beside her husband Fritz Zeiser, who predeceased her in March 2012.

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Born

  • October, 23, 1922
  • USA
  • Staplehurst, Nebraska

Died

  • August, 03, 2015
  • USA
  • Los Angeles, California

Cause of Death

  • natural causes

Cemetery

  • Westwood Memorial Park
  • Los Angeles, California
  • USA

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