Barbara Bates, a lovely, demure, but very troubled young spirit, began her career at age 19. Groomed in obscure starlet bits, it wasn’t until Warner Bros. signed her up in 1947 and perpetuated an appealing girl-next-door image that things started happening for her. Born the eldest of three daughters to a postal clerk on August 6, 1925 in Denver, Colorado, Barbara initially trained in ballet and modeled clothes as a teen. Fighting off a life-long paralyzing shyness, she nevertheless managed to be persuaded to enter a local Denver beauty contest with the winner receiving two round-trip train tickets to Tinseltown. Not only did she win but meeting husband-to-be Cecil Coan, a United Artist publicist, during that trip altered the course of Barbara’s life forever. Settling in Hollywood, it took some time before she started making decent strides as a bobbysoxer ingÃ©nue. During her peak she appeared opposite a number of impressive leading men and ladies including Bette Davis in “June Bride” (1948), Danny Kaye in “The Inspector General” (1949), Elizabeth Taylor in “Rhapsody” (1954), and even Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis in their laugh-inducing vehicle “The Caddy” (1953), to name a few. Interestingly, the one role Barbara will always be identified with is also one of the smallest parts given her during her brief tenure as leading lady. In the very last scene of “All About Eve” (1950), she turns up in the role of Phoebe, a devious school girl/wannabe actress who shows startling promise as a future schemer, goaded on by the equally ruthless star she idolizes, Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter. Barbara’s image is enshrined in the picture’s last scene — posing in front of a three-way mirror while holding Baxter’s just-received acting award. It is this brief, breathtaking moment for which she will always be remembered.
Barbara Bates’ on-and-off stage life started unraveling not long after. She became a victim of extreme mood shifts, insecurity, ill health and chronic depression to the point of being taken off two important movies during filming. By 1954, she was washed up in Hollywood. She tried to salvage her career in England and was picked up by the Rank Organization for a time but her films were mediocre and she proved too emotionally unreliable to continue. She finally abandoned her career altogether in 1957 and was not heard of until her death. It was learned that she had retreated to Denver and worked in various minor job capacities including stints as a secretary, dental assistant and hospital aide. Her much older husband and chief supporter, Cecil Coan, died of cancer in January of 1967, and Barbara fell apart. Although she remarried in December of 1968 to a childhood friend, sportscaster William Reed, she remained increasingly despondent and committed suicide just four months later in her mother’s garage by carbon monoxide poisoning. Another sad, tragic ending to a promising Hollywood beauty who seemed destined to have it all.
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