“I’m not an outstanding personality and I’m certainly no beauty. Acting ability is all I’ve got to trade on.” ~ Betty Field
Betty Field was born on February 8, 1913 in Boston, Massachusetts to George Field and Katharine Lynch. (Ancestors on her father’s side were Mayflower colonists Priscilla and John Alden.) Her parents divorced while she was young and Betty eventually learned to speak Spanish while traveling with her mother to various Spanish-speaking countries during her childhood. They settled in Newton, Massachusetts, after her mother remarried. Betty’s love for the theatre was sparked during her early teens and by 1932 she was enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. She made her professional debut in a 1933 summer stock production of “The First Mrs. Fraser” and soon was cast in stage roles elsewhere. Field also found work in a London theater production of “She Loves Me Not” in early 1934. Her Broadway debut came about as an understudy in the comedy “Page Miss Glory” in November of 1934, courtesy of George Abbott, in which Betty also had a minor role. Therafter she performed frequently in the comedies, and in the service of Abbott, in such plays as “Three Men on a Horse (1935), “Boy Meets Girl” (1936) “Room Service” (1937) and “The Primrose Path (1939), earning good reviews for the last two. Field loved Broadway and while performing for Abbott again in “Ring Two” (1939), she met the show’s playwright Elmer Rice and the couple married in 1942. Betty also enhanced husband Rice’s plays “Flight to the West” (1940) and “A New Life” (1943), which were designed especially for her.
Field made her film debut in “What a Life” (1939) for Paramount Pictures. A starring role in “Of Mice and Men” (1939) with Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney established Field as a dramatic actress. She starred opposite John Wayne in the 1941 film “The Shepherd of the Hills”. Field then had supporting roles in films such as “Blues in the Night” and “Kings Row” (1942). She stayed busy with consistent, quality roles and was afforded the opportunity to work with some of Hollywood’s finest leading men, including Fredric March in “Victory” (1940) and “Tomorrow, the World!” (1944), John Wayne in “The Shepherd of the Hills” (1941), Robert Cummings in “Flesh and Fantasy” (1943) and Joel McCrea in “The Great Moment” (1944). Field’s best role was her heart-tugging performance as the anguished daughter victimized by father Claude Rains in the classic soaper “Kings Row” (1942) which also starred Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan.
After another great performance in “The Southerner” (1945), Field took a long break from film work. Back on Broadway, she appeared in such distinguished plays as “The Voice of the Turtle” and her husband’s “Dream Girl” (1945). She won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for the latter in 1946. Her Hedvig in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” was also critically lauded. She returned to film in 1949 to star in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. The movie was a big disappointment for her. It had mixed reviews (some felt she was miscast and not glamorous enough for the part), the movie itself was extensively trimmed, and her underwhelming co-star Alan Ladd were also cited as problems. Field was still a marquee player on Broadway however, displaying great range over the next few years in such plays as “Twelfth Night”, “The Rat Race”, “Peter Pan” (taking over for Jean Arthur), “The Fourposter” (she and Burgess Meredith replaced Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn) and “Ladies of the Corridor”.
In 1955, Field again returned to Hollywood and had roles in hits such as “Picnic” (1955), starring Kim Novak, “Bus Stop” (1956) with Marilyn Monroe, “Peyton Place” (1957) with Lana Turner and Hope Lange, “Butterfield 8” (1960) with Elizabeth Taylor and “Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962) with Burt Lancaster and Carl Malden. Her final film role was in Clint Eastwood’s “Coogan’s Bluff” (1968). During this period of her career she also appeared on many television shows and in several stage plays such as “The Seagull”, “Waltz of the Toreadors”, “Touch of the Poet”, “Separate Tables” and “Little Foxes”.
Betty Field was married three times. The first time was to playwright Elmer Rice in 1942. The couple had three children John, Paul and Judith. They were divorced in 1956. Her second marriage, to Edwin J. Lukas, lasted from 1957-1967. Her third marriage, to Raymond Olivere in 1968 lasted until her death in 1973.
Betty Field died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on September 13, 1973 in Hyannis, Massachusetts.