Kim Stanley’s movie roles were few and far between; she is perhaps best known for her stellar performances on stage, including successes on Broadway. But when she did step in front of the camera, nothing short of memorable resulted. Her repertoire in movies and on stage covered such diversity from the sensitive glamour-girl Rita Shawn character in the 1958 “Goddess” to the crusty, somewhat salty and sunbaked Pancho Barnes in 1983’s The Right Stuff (1983). Her abilities to play such diverse roles and play them well garnered her two Academy Award nominations: one for her portrayal of the slightly unhinged medium in the 1964 Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and another for her characterization of the domineering and wrathful mother of Frances Farmer in 1982’s Frances (1982). Stanley was born Patricia Reid in Tularosa, New Mexico. When her parents divorced, her mother moved the family, sans father, to Texas where her mother found work as an interior decorator. Drawn to both Texas and New Mexico, Stanley often found herself lonely and unsure of what she wanted. As a child, she wrote poetry and had many a daydream about becoming an artist or, on the other hand, a May Queen. In school, she found she liked acting in plays. At 16, in San Antonio she attended a touring production of “The Philadelphia Story”, which starred Katharine Hepburn. recreating her role from the movie. Overwhelmed by the performance to the point of tears (she didn’t want the play to end), Stanley aspired to do what she had seen Hepburn do. In college, she received a degree in psychology after attending first the University of New Mexico and subsequently, the University of Texas. But acting was still what she aspired to. So pursuing a career connected neither to her college major nor to the states where she grew up, Stanley eventually landed an acting apprenticeship in California with the Pasadena Playhouse. Her stay there was brief and she soon moved on to a winter stock company in Louisville, Kentucky. From there, with $21 to her name, she traveled to Manhattan. The year was 1947 and her Texas accent was still very much a part of her persona — so much so that many in the New York theatre scene advised she go home to Texas. Persevering, however, Stanley made ends meet as a dress model and as a cocktail waitress, all the while honing her skills in off-Broadway productions of the Gertrude Stein ilk. It was in Stein’s “Yes Is for a Very Young Man,” that New York Times theatre critic Books Atkinson singled out Stanley as an actress with promise (incidentally, he did not care much for the play she was in). Stanley was also developing her craft under the tutelage of Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City, and scored her first Broadway success in 1952 when, at the age of 27, she played the 12-year-old Millie Owens in William Inge’s “Picnic”. Subsequently, in the 1954 production of Inge’s “Bus Stop,” as the starry-eyed chanteuse Cherie (a role Marilyn Monroe assumed for the film), Stanley ascended to even greater heights and greater accolades in her acting achievements. Though she preferred stage acting to any other facsimile and often shied away from movies (reportedly, she declined to repeat for the movies roles she mastered on stage), she frequently played roles on television during the 1950s and ’60s on such theatrical programs as “Goodyear TV Playhouse” and “Magnavox Theater,” garnering two Emmy awards in the process (one in 1963 for her contributions to an episode of Ben Casey (1961); the other for her Big Mama part in the 1984 PBS/American Playhouse production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”). In the latter part of her life, she gravitated toward teaching, conducting acting classes in Los Angeles and, later, returning to her roots, securing a position teaching acting at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico.
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