Beatrice Straight was an American actress who won an Academy Award for her supporting role in the 1976 film Network. She also had a distinguished career on stage and television, appearing in classics such as The Crucible, The Nun’s Story and Poltergeist. But how did she die and what was her cause of death?
Early Life and Career
Beatrice Straight was born in Old Westbury, New York, on August 2, 1914, to a wealthy and influential family. Her father, Willard Dickerman Straight, was an investment banker, diplomat and army officer who died of influenza during World War I. Her mother, Dorothy Payne Whitney, was a socialite and philanthropist who remarried to a British agronomist, Leonard K. Elmhirst, and moved to Devon, England. There, Straight received her education at Dartington Hall and began acting in amateur theater productions.
Straight returned to the United States in the 1930s and made her Broadway debut in the play The Possessed in 1939. She soon established herself as a versatile and acclaimed actress, performing in Shakespearean plays such as Twelfth Night, Macbeth and The Heiress. She won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible in 1953. She was also a founding member of the Actors Studio, where she studied with Robert Lewis and worked with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Sidney Lumet.
Straight also appeared in many television shows, such as Armstrong Circle Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Studio One, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, The Defenders, Route 66, Mission: Impossible and St. Elsewhere. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in the miniseries The Dain Curse in 1978.
Oscar-Winning Role in Network
Straight’s most famous role was in the 1976 film Network, directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Paddy Chayefsky. The film was a satirical and prophetic commentary on the media industry and its impact on society. Straight played Louise Schumacher, the wife of Max Schumacher (William Holden), a veteran news executive who has an affair with Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), a ruthless and ambitious network programmer.
Straight’s performance was brief but powerful, as she confronted her husband about his infidelity and expressed her anger, pain and dignity in a five-minute monologue. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role, making it the shortest ever to win an Oscar for acting. She also won the BAFTA Award and the National Society of Film Critics Award for the same category.
Later Years and Death
Straight continued to act in films, such as The Nun’s Story (1959), where she played Mother Christophe, a nun who suffers from tuberculosis and dies in the Congo. She also played Dr. Martha Lesh, a parapsychologist who investigates the paranormal phenomena in the haunted house in Poltergeist (1982).
Straight reportedly had Alzheimer’s disease in her last years. In 2001, she died from pneumonia in Northridge, Los Angeles, at the age of 86. She was buried at the William Henry Lee Memorial Cemetery in New Marlborough, Massachusetts.
Straight was married twice, first to Louis Dolivet, a French journalist and producer, from 1942 to 1949, and then to Peter Cookson, an actor and producer, from 1949 until his death in 1990. She had three children, two from her first marriage and one from her second.
Beatrice Straight was a talented and respected actress who left a lasting impression on the stage, screen and television. She was also a member of a prominent and wealthy family who had a significant impact on the arts, education and social causes. She will be remembered for her Oscar-winning role in Network and her other memorable performances. According to Wikipedia, she once said, “I wanted to be an actress, and I was a woman, and I was a Whitney. It was a hell of a lot to overcome.” She certainly did.