Filled Under: Cathy O’Donnell

Cathy O’Donnell

Cathy O’Donnell was an American actress, best known for her many roles in film-noir movies and for her role as Tirzah, sister of Judah Ben-Hur in “Ben-Hur” (1959).

Cathy O'Donnell


Cathy O’Donnell was born Ann Steely on July 6, 1923 in Siluria, Alabama. She attended Oklahoma City University and studied drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She worked as a stenographer to finance a trip to Hollywood, where she landed a contract under Samuel Goldwyn and changed her name to Cathy O’Donnell. She debuted in “Wonder Man” (1945) and was cast in her first major role in “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946). She was loaned out to RKO for one of her most memorable films, “They Live by Night” (1949) starring with Farley Granger. The two actors later reteamed in 1950, for another movie, “Side Street”.
Her most memorable roles of the 1950s were in classic film-noir such as “Detective Story” (1951). O’Donnell also starred in “The Miniver Story” (1950), as Judy Miniver. She appeared as Barbara Waggoman, the love interest of James Stewart’s character in the western “The Man from Laramie” (1955). Her last film was in “Ben-Hur” (1959) as Judah Ben-Hur’s sister Tirzah.



Cathy O’Donnell as Ben-Hur’s sister ‘Tirzah’ – “Ben-Hur” (1959)


O’Donnell also had bit roles on many television shows, including “Zane Grey Theater” (1958), “Man Without A Gun” (1959), “The Rebel” (1960), and “Perry Mason” (1961). Her last television role was on “Bonanza” (1964).


Cathy O’Donnell – LIFE Magazine Photo


On April 11, 1948 at 25 years of age, O’Donnell married 48-year-old Robert Wyler, older brother of director William Wyler. Samuel Goldwyn, who was feuding with director William Wyler after Wyler left the fold, insisted that Cathy divorce her husband Robert Wyler, William’s brother. When she refused, she was let go by Goldwyn. As a result she had no lasting association with any studio or producer during the 1950’s, but was very successful without a steady studio contract.

Belying Goldwyn’s opinion, her marriage to Wyler proved happy though childless as they remained married until her death. Cathy O’Donnell died on April 11, 1970 in Los Angeles, California of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by cancer at the age of 46, on her 22nd wedding anniversary.


Cathy O’Donnell sunbathing – LIFE Magazine Photo


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