Kim Stanley, the actress who distinguished herself in the 1950s in William Inge's Picnic and Bus Stop on Broadway, and earned two Academy Award nominations, died Aug. 20 in Sante Fe, N.M., after a long illness, The New York Times reported.
Ms. Stanley, who was 76, had not acted on a New York stage in 36 years but made an impression on critics and audience as the shabby nightclub singer Cherie in Inge's 1955 play, Bus Stop, about a band of misfits trapped in a Kansas bus stop during a snow storm. She also played Millie Owens in Inge's Picnic. Her Inge work did not earn her Tony Award nominations, however (and the role of Cherie would be immortalized by Marilyn Monroe in the film version of the story). Her Best Actress Tony noms came in 1959 for A Touch of the Poet and in 1962 for A Far Country. She was Academy Award-nominated for "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" and for playing Frances Farmer's mother in "Frances" (1982). The latter film starred Jessica Lange, who also acted with Ms. Stanley in a 1984 TV production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Ms. Stanley won an Emmy Award for playing Big Mama. A quarter century before, in 1958, in London, she had played the Lange role — seething, sultry Maggie the Cat. She would also appear in the film, "The Right Stuff."
Ms. Stanley was born Patricia Kimberly Reid in Tularosa, N.M. Her father was a professor of philosophy and her mother was a painter and interior decorator. Her first stage appearance was in Thunder Rock at the University of New Mexico in 1942. She graduated from the University of Texas in 1945 with a bachelor's degree in psychology, and also studied and acted at the Pasadena Playhouse and later with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City. For Strasberg, she would appear in The Three Sisters, in 1964. It was her last New York acting appearance.
Ms. Stanley acted in stock productions in New Jersey and Louisville and in what would today be considered Off-Broadway, in him at the Provincetown Playhouse, Yes Is for a Very Young Man at the Cherry Lane Theatre and the title role in St. Joan at Equity Library Theatre. She made her Broadway debut replacing Julie Harris in Montserrat in 1949. Ms. Stanley was respected and busy in the 1950s but would pull away from the industry in later years. She was married three times and her three children survive her.
Broadway appearances include Horton Foote's The Traveling Lady (playing Georgette Thomas, a role she repeated for a TV production) in 1954, A Clearing in the Woods in 1957, Cheri (drawn from Collette's works) in 1959 and Natural Affection in 1963. She made her film debut in "The Goddess." She won the New York Drama Critics Award for playing Cherie in Bus Stop.
Actress Anne Jackson told Playbill On-Line that the American theatre lost someone special. "We were friends a long time ago when we were young women," Jackson said. "We were both married actresses with children, so we had that in common as well as being each other's fans as actors. Kim, unfortunately, kind of grew away from all of her friends and from the theatre. She made herself an alien to us."
Off-stage, Ms. Stanley suffered from depression and she dipped too deeply in the Method acting, Jackson said. "She would give more than what was necessary to a role," Jackson said. "It was overly emotional. Acting was a painful job for her. She made it painful for herself. There was no question about her talent and the beauty of her work. When she was on stage, she was a delight."
Jackson said that Ms. Stanley could have had a much larger career, but the actress pulled away. Of Ms. Stanley's stage work, Jackson said, "She had a quality of stopping the moment with such a sense of truth that it was awesome. I loved her in Bus Stop, I thought she was marvelous. I loved to see her do something light like that. The other psychological plays that she was drawn to, I would worry about her."
In summer 1979, Ms. Stanley offered acting classes in New York City and formed a theatre company from her students (which also included students from New Mexico), with the intent of producing a season. Only one play was staged — Tennessee Williams' Two-Character Play. Ms. Stanley was known to be a drinker and have erratic off-stage behavior over the years. More productions from the company, which worked out of Theatre on Vandam in Soho, never materialized and Ms. Stanley returned to Los Angeles, where she continued to teach.
Students praised her. "I learned a blueprint for attacking a role that my years at NYU didn't teach me," said Chuck Blasius, who took her acting classes in 1979 and later became a playwright. "She was very much anti-text in that she wouldn't let you work with the text until you reached a certain level of emotional truth. When you worked on a scene, you would improvize with nonsense words. You would improvize around the scene not using the text. Not using sentences. She would want you to communicate what the scene was about — to communicate the emotional circumstances."
— By Kenneth Jones