Van Fleet, a California native, was schooled for her craft by Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. She made her stage debut in "Uncle Harry" at Washington, DC's National Theater in 1944 and quickly made a name for herself as a forceful character actress. She made her Broadway debut in "The Winter's Tale" (1946), and went on to success after success: "The Trip to Bountiful" (1953, for which she won Tony and Donaldson Awards); "Look Homeward, Angel" (1957); "The Glass Menagerie" (1959, and again in 1965); and "Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad" (1962). She also acted in countless plays around the country."East of Eden" was her first film, and Van Fleet won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as James Dean's mother, the tough madam of a brothel. She played supporting character roles, often hard-bitten in nature, in another dozen films, a respectable number of them hits. These included "The Rose Tattoo" (1955); "I'll Cry Tomorrow" (also 1955), as Susan Hayward's mother; "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), "Wild River" (1960), strikingly effective as an 80-year old woman; "Cool Hand Luke" (1967); and "The Tenant" (1976). Her most recent onscreen appearance has been opposite Robin Williams in "Seize the Day" (1986, shown on PBS in 1987), the first film adaptation of a Saul Bellow novel.TV also offered Van Fleet some nice opportunities; her most fondly remembered role was as Lesley Ann Warren's wicked stepmother in an adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" (CBS, 1965). She also guested on "Cosmopolitan Theater" (DuMont, 1951) and appeared in such TV-movies as "Heidi" (NBC, 1955), "The Family Rico" (CBS, 1972), "Satan's School for Girls" (ABC, 1973), and the miniseries "Power" (NBC, 1980). The imposing-looking actress has generally played older than her years, generally as mothers to performers ranging from Anthony Perkins to Ben Gazzara to Paul Newman. She died at the age of 80 in 1996.
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