How Barbara Bel Geddes Revealed the Sad State of Online Cultural Posterity

There are really only three reasons to see 1947’s The Long Night: Henry Fonda, Vincent Price and Barbara Bel Geddes. Bel Geddes is, strictly speaking, what made me stick around for what is undeniably one of the most ludicrous films noir ever made.

Lengthy aside: Fonda, holed up as a lodger, refuses to come out of his room. So what do the local police do? Call up the entire police force and shoot the hell out out of the place. Hundreds of bullets tear through the walls. And it is at this moment that the police decide that tear gas might be an option. To understate the obvious, it’s pretty clear that writer John Wexley — writer of Angels with Dirty Faces! — and director Anatole Litvak (the Nick Castle of his day; not exactly the brightest bulb helming in the 1940s; see also Sorry, Wrong Number, which turns the sumptuous Stanwyck into a one-dimensional puppet, as prima facie — riding on the coattails of Frank Capra as a directorial clone after co-directing Why We Fight) have no understanding of police procedure. Fonda, of course, stays alive, with enough vigor to spend the entire movie flashbacking to what got him into this ignoble spot.

But let’s go back to Bel Geddes. The woman is stunningly beautiful. Her acting is nuanced. On the basis of one movie alone, I am what you might call a fan, in the same way that I’m a fan of Liz Scott and Paulette Godard. Which is to say in a slightly unhealthy and decidedly masculine way.

One would hope that this (ahem) passion might be rewarded through the informational conduits of the Internet. If Google is a purported deity, we should be able to find all sorts of information about her, right? Nope. Because Bel Geddes is barely a blip on the cultural radar, here’s where the Internet’s powers are sorely lacking.

The Internet Movie Database, for example, suggests that Bel Geddes’ “career was damaged during the 1950s by McCarthyism” (as does Wikipedia). Okay, she’s had some sort of interesting political existence. But is there anything to corroborate this claim? Nope. Not even my dogeared copy of Victor Navasky’s Naming Names references her.

An interview with Larry Hagman reveals that Bel Geddes was one of the reasons he appeared on Dallas — largely because Bel Geddes was the first lady to say “pregnant” on the American stage. Is there anything to back this up? Not at all.

Hagman also reveals that Bel Geddes has become extremely reclusive and is hard to get a hold of. Further interest! But is there anything to back this up? No, not really.

So all any random person has to go on is unconfirmed rumors. There are no books. No newspaper citations. No abstracts. Almost nothing for someone who may have been a key figure in the political froth and who revolutionized theatre.

And the reason you can’t find anything on Barbara Bel Geddes is the same reason you can’t find much on John P. Marquand or even Sally Cruikshank’s wonderful animated shorts. If a person is not of the moment, then they are doomed to fall through the cracks of posterity.

I would suggest that bloggers and online enthusiasts have a duty to reference the people they love and back up their findings with links and citations. Because if we don’t keep these people alive, then who will?

[UPDATE: A reader writes in to remind me that Bel Geddes played the unfortunate Midge in Vertigo. I suppose I overlooked this because I’ve always been troubled by this misogynistic aspect (one of many) of Hitchcock’s overrated classic and the Midge character in particular.]


  1. Ah, but Midge gets the best line in the film: “Works on the principle of the cantilevered bridge” *and *the most heartbreakingly humane moment in that cold-souled flick, that fade to blinding whiteness after she visits Scotty in the hospital.

    But then, I’m always on the side of the Thelma Ritter types in cinema…

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