Betsy von Fursternberg, German-Born Broadway Actress, Dies at 83

Obituaries   Betsy von Fursternberg, German-Born Broadway Actress, Dies at 83
Betsy Von Furstenberg, a German-born actress with a royal title on her resume, who was a regular presence on the Broadway stage of the 1950s and '60s, died April 21. The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the New York Times.

Ms. Von Furstenberg, an elegant, sensual blonde with high cheekbones and knowing eyes, always had a vague air of exoticism about her. She was born in Arnsberg, Germany, as Elizabeth Caroline Maria Agatha Felicitas Therese, Frelin von Furstenberg-Hedringen. She was the daughter of Franz-Egon, Count von Furstenberg-Hedringen and his first wife, Elizabeth Foster Johnson, an American from Memphis. That made her a Freiin, or Baroness, by birth.

Among her subsequent stepmothers was Gloria Rubio, one of the pre-eminent socialites of mid-century America and the future Gloria Guinness. During her career, the public--rightly or wrongly--perceived her partly as royalty slumming in show business. However, she also had a distinct allure as a performer. As critic Eric Bentley once dryly put it, "Miss von Furstenberg has a body and a personality to which I am as susceptible as anymore."

Her family left Germany for American before World War II. She grew up in privilege, attending the Gardner School and the Hewitt School, and began modeling while a teenager. Following training at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner, she made Broadway debut in 1951 with Second Threshold, a short-lived comedy. She enjoyed a hit with Edward Chodorov’s Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1953), which ran a year.

Other 1950s credits included Dear Barbarians, What Every Woman Knows, The Chalk Garden, Child of Fortune, Nature’s Way and Much Ado About Nothing. She frequently played debutantes, society ladies and other figures of stylish glamour. New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson referred to her work in Nature’s Way as "another lean, slinking, skillful performance."

She was part of the cast of the monster hit by Jean Kerr, Mary, Mary, which began in 1961, playing opposite Barbara Bel Geddes and Barry Nelson. Other '60s roles included The Paisley Convertible and Avanti!. In 1970, she co-starred in the Neil Simon play The Gingerbread Lady. In 1954, she married Guy Vincent. They had two children, the son Glyn Douglas and the daughter William Gerry. The two divorced in 1966. In 1984, she married John J. Reynolds. He died in 1994.

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