Jo Van Fleet

Jo Van Fleet

in East of Eden (1955)
Born Catherine Josephine Van Fleet[1]
(1915-12-29)December 29, 1915
Oakland, California, U.S.
Died June 10, 1996(1996-06-10) (aged 80)
Jamaica, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 19541986
Spouse(s) William Bales (1946-90; his death); 1 child

Catherine Josephine "Jo" Van Fleet (December 29, 1915[1] June 10, 1996) was an American theatre and film actress. Known primarily for playing roles older than she was, her career spanned over three decades, and she won an Academy Award as well as a Tony Award.[2]


Born in Oakland, California to Roy Van Fleet and Elizabeth "Bessie" Catherine (née Gardner), Jo Van Fleet established herself as a notable dramatic actress on Broadway over several years, beginning in 1946 in Dorcas in A Winter's Tale, and played Regan in King Lear opposite Louis Calhern in 1950.[2] She won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1954 for her performance as Jessie Mae Watts in Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, costarring Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint.

After her success on the stage, director Elia Kazan brought her to Hollywood to work on screen. Kazan, who had directed her on stage in 1952's Flight to Egypt and 1953's Camino Real, cast her as Cathy Ames in his film adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden (1955); this was her film debut.[2] She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Her subsequent film work was steady through 1960, and included such films as The Rose Tattoo (1955), I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), The King and Four Queens (1956), and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). However, her career did not progress as she had hoped. Her friend and mentor, Kazan, once said "Jo stagnated, and, since she knew it, was bitter. And as she became bitter, she became more difficult."[2]

In 1958, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in Look Homeward, Angel, in which she played the acquisitive mother of Anthony Perkins' character. Her later films included Wild River (1960) -- though only 46, Fleet would spend five hours every morning getting into her make-up and applying wrinkles to play the role of an 89-year-old matriarch[2] -- Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1965), as Paul Newman's mother in Cool Hand Luke (1967), and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968). Her television work included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Bonanza and The Wild Wild West.[3]

Personal life

Van Fleet was married to William Bales from 1946 until his death in 1990. Van Fleet died in a Jamaica, Queens hospital from undisclosed causes at the age of 80. Her interment was at Flushing Cemetery. She was survived by her son Michael Bales, and a grandson, Arden Rogow-Bales.[4][5]

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to Motion Pictures, at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Max Liebman Spectaculars Aunt Dete episode: Heidi
Star Tonight Irene Rankin episode: Concerning Death
East of Eden Kate Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
The Philco Television Playhouse Shirley episode: A Business Proposition
The Rose Tattoo Bessie
I'll Cry Tomorrow Katie Roth
1956 Kraft Theatre Ma episode: Snapfinger Creek
The King and Four Queens Ma McDade
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Mrs. Shrike episode: Shopping for Death
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Kate Fisher
This Angry Age Mme. Dufresne
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Anna Kaminsky episode: Reward to Finder
1958 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Mrs. Lombe episode: The Crazy Hunter
1959 Alcoa Theatre Mrs. Weiss episode: 30 Pieces of Silver
G.E. True Theatre Miss Wanda Kelsey episode: Disaster
1960 Wild River Ella Garth
Play of the Week Canina episode: Volpone
1961 The DuPont Show of the Month Callie episode: The Night of the Storm
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Molly episode: Servant Problem
Thriller Mrs. Cissy Hawk episode: The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk
1962 Naked City Dr. Anna Chaloupka episode: The Night the Saints Loss Their Halos
Frontier Circus Amelia Curtis episode: The Courtship
1963 Route 66 Hazel Quine episode: The Stone Guest
77 Sunset Strip Jane Patterson episode: Don't Wait for Me
1964 Summer Playhouse Velma Clarke episode: Satan's Waitin'
Kraft Suspense Theatre Hildy Hesse episode: The World I Want
1965 Cinderella Stepmother (TV movie)
1966 The Virginian Lee Calder episode: Legacy of Hate
1967 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Emily Cooper episode: Verdict for Terror
Cool Hand Luke Arletta
1968 I Love You, Alice B. Toklas Mother
1969 The Wild Wild West Amelia Bronston episode: The Night of the Tycoons
80 Steps to Jonah Nonna
1970 Mannix Alexandra Pulvarenti episode: One for the Lady
Mod Squad Annie Crabtree episode: 'A' is for Annie
Bonanza Amy Wilder episode: The Trouble with Amy
1971 Great Performances Clara episode: Paradise Lost
Bonanza Miss Ellen Dobbs episode: The Stillness Within
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight Big Momma
Medical Center Margaret episode: Martyr
1972 The Family Rico Mama Rico (TV movie)
1973 Medical Center Leah episode: Time of Darkness
Satan's School for Girls Headmistress
1976 The Tenant Madame Dioz
1977 Police Woman Irini Karabetas episode: The Buttercup Killer
1980 Power Mother Vanda (TV movie)
1986 Seize the Day Mrs. Einhorn
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  1. 1 2 Date of birth for Jo Van Fleet,; accessed 2 September 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Obituary: Jo Van Fleet,, June 20, 1996; accessed November 21, 2013
  3. 1 2 Jo Van Fleet at the Internet Movie Database
  4. Arden Rogow-Bales profile,; accessed August 4, 2015.
  5. Obituary,, June 11, 1996; accessed August 4, 2015.
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