Geraldine Fitzgerald, a feisty, gravel-voiced Dublin redhead who drew instant acclaim in her first Hollywood films, including a 1939 Oscar nomination for "Wuthering Heights," before carving out a long, varied career in films, television, cabaret and theater, died on Sunday afternoon at her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She was 91.United Artists
Geraldine Fitzgerald in the 1939 film "Wuthering Heights."
She had Alzheimer's disease for more than a decade and was essentially incapacitated in recent years, leading to a respiratory infection that finally killed her, said her daughter, Susan Scheftel, a clinical psychologist in New York.
Ms. Fitzgerald appeared on the New York stage and as a highly coveted character actress in dozens of Hollywood films, including "Watch on the Rhine" in 1943, "Ten North Frederick" in 1958, "The Pawnbroker" in 1964, "Harry and Tonto" in 1974 and "Arthur" in 1981. But she may have been best known in New York for what many critics considered one of the definitive Mary Tyrones, opposite Robert Ryan, in a 1971 revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
Witty and intelligent, she was also notoriously combative and blamed herself for sabotaging her early Hollywood success by battling with studio executives over roles. "My mother was just way too feisty to be in bondage to the Warner Brothers," Ms. Scheftel said.
Born in 1913, the daughter of a Dublin solicitor, Geraldine Fitzgerald was drawn into the legendary Gate Theater by her aunt, Shelagh Richards, one of its stars. Ms. Fitzgerald performed there alongside James Mason and Orson Welles. She married Edward Lindsay-Hogg, an Irish aristocrat, and after a stint at art school in England she moved to New York in 1938 to further her husband's songwriting ambitions.
Money grew tight, and she noted that her old friend Welles was directing something called the Mercury Theater. She called and he hired her for a role in "Heartbreak House."
Norman Lloyd, a longtime friend and founding member of the Mercury Theater, described the effect she had. "She was a staggeringly beautiful girl with the most delightful speech, a slight Irish tinge, not a thick brogue, and this glorious red hair," he said.
Hal Wallis, a major Hollywood producer, saw her in Shaw's "Heartbreak House" and signed her to a Warner Brothers contract. She was told to play best friend to the dying Bette Davis in "Dark Victory" (1939), and her performance persuaded Samuel Goldwyn to cast her as the tragic Isabella Linton in "Wuthering Heights."
In the 1940's she mingled with Hollywood's intellectual elite, counting among her friends Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin, Davis, Welles and the screenwriter Charles Lederer.
When World War II separated Ms. Fitzgerald from her husband, then back in England, she stayed in Los Angeles with their son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, later to become an acclaimed film, television and Broadway director. Her first marriage ended in 1946.
By then, she had worked her way up to leading roles. A performance as Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith, in "Wilson" (1944) earned her a glamorous photo on the cover of Life magazine. It also attracted the attention of Stuart Scheftel, the grandson of Isador Straus, the co-owner of the R. H. Macy Co. who went down with the Titanic. Scheftel asked a friend to introduce them, and they were married in 1946.
They moved to New York and joined the rarefied circles in which the city's cultural and political worlds mingled. The couple stayed together until his death in 1994.
She continued to work steadily and in the 1960's formed the Everyman Street Theater, which ventured into the city's poorest neighborhoods to recruit and train street performers. This led to an interest in directing, and she staged several productions, including all-black productions of O'Neill classics. In 1982, she received her only Tony nomination, as a director, for "Mass Appeal." Among the directors she aced out of a nomination that year was her son, who staged "Agnes of God" a couple of blocks away. He survives her, along with Ms. Scheftel, two grandchildren and one step-grandchild.
In the 1970's, after a small role in "Rachel, Rachel" required her to sing on camera, the unpleasant results caused her to take voice lessons. Thus she began yet another career, as a cabaret artist. Her show "Streetsongs" was a nightclub hit and appeared three times in Broadway theaters over the years.
When young actresses went to her for advice, she remembered her own regrets about having looked down her nose at early Hollywood offers. "Her advice to young actresses was to always say yes," Ms. Scheftel said. "She had learned that the hard way by saying no all the time. So she would tell them, when offered work, always say yes."