Maggie Van Ostrand
Daughter of Texas
didn't have Renee Zellweger's pout, couldn't ride like Dale Evans,
and never golfed like Babe
Didrikson Zaharias. She couldn't sing like Janis Joplin either,
and she was not really pretty like Donna Reed, but Kim Stanley was
probably the greatest American actress who ever lived. Funny thing
is, Kim Stanley told everyone she was a Texan, and said it so many
times and so well, people believed her, even genuine Texans like Horton
Foote of Wharton.
of Kim Stanley by photographer Carl Van Vechten
her many starring roles was Wilma, a star-struck 15-year-old girl
from the Gulf Coast of Texas in Horton Foote's A Young Lady of Property,
which aired on the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse April 5, 1953.
Onscreen in 1958's black and white movie, "The Goddess," by Paddy
Chayevsky, the Marilyn-Monroesque story of an unstable small town
girl who reaches the heights of fame in Hollywood, Kim Stanley gives
a performance perhaps greater than any other on film, one that makes
the audience shift in its seats, as though peeping through the window
of someone's life. It was her first movie.
A Young Lady of Property
Stanley made very few films, and was nominated for the Oscar for nearly
every one, even that of Pancho Barnes in "The Right Stuff" though
she was onscreen fewer than ten minutes. She preferred stage acting,
and electrified audiences with performances as Cherie in "Bus Stop,"
a role she created which was later played onscreen by Marilyn Monroe,
starring roles in "A Touch of the Poet," and "A Far Country," and
was nominated for a Tony for the latter two.
When British critics criticized her 1965 London performance of Masha
in Anton Chekhov's "The Three Sisters," since it was performed using
method acting rather than the traditional style of acting, she vowed
never to perform on stage again. And she never did.
was, like Marlon Brando, to whom she was so frequently compared and
whose female counterpart she was considered by the acting community,
Kim Stanley was self-destructive.
People were in
awe of her talent, when she chose to display it. What she did not
share was everything else. She was secretive and complex and, as described
in her long-awaited biography, "Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley,"
by Jon Krampner, she created a shape-shifting personality.
Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley
Patricia Beth Reid, she told different stories about her origin, depending
on her mood. In the rural Texas version, she was born to a Baptist
family on a farm outside of Lometa
in the hill country
of Texas. She was not allowed to dance, listen to the radio, or go
to the movies, all considered instruments of the devil. "If Christianity
covers the world like Sherwin-Williams, Baptists cover Texas like
a wet blanket," writes Baptist philosopher Raymond Flynn. "As a Baptist,
you can do almost anything as long as you don't enjoy it, drink it
in public, do it to music, or continue it after 10 p.m."
In the urban Texas version, Kim said she grew up in San
Antonio, or sometimes Dallas
or other times, Houston.
The third version has Kim born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a stern
father who's a professor of adult education at the University of New
Mexico or, at other times, he was a professor of philosophy.
"Acting was my ticket out of Texas," said a defiant Kim. Except she
was born in Tularosa New Mexico. Never mind that, she was such an
incredible actress that she even fooled native Texan Horton Foote
who believed Kim was also a native Texan. She did graduate from the
University of Texas with a degree in psychology.
father, Jesse Taylor (J.T.) Reid, was born in 1889 on his family's
ranch near Gonzales,
in a fertile area of South Texas between San Antonio and Houston.
The ranch was on rich bottomland along the Guadalupe River. When floods
created an infestation of malaria-bearing mosquitoes, the Reids moved
to higher ground. Kim's great-grandfather fought at Vickburg and Chickamauga
and lost his arm during the Civil War. Often, during the remainder
of his 95 years, he was known to rub his stump and mutter, "Those
When J.T. was 15, the family moved to a 1400-acre ranch in Lampasas
County near Chadwick's Mill several miles west of Lometa
in the Texas hill country. His dad, "Big Red," used to tell his sons,
"I'm not raising my boys to be soda-jerking sissies or mama boys.
They are he-Texans, aren't you, fellers?"
Kim's maternal grandfather, Milton Miller, farmed and ranched
in the Atherton community a few miles east of Lometa.
He was a former school teacher and a dedicated Baptist who lost an
eye to a mesquite thorn. He married the former Sarah Ann Stanley,
a friend of Nancy Hanks, Abe Lincoln's mother, who had a few non-Baptist
habits such as dipping snuff and taking cocaine. Of their seven children,
Kim's mother, Rubyann, was known to have "a streak of the rebel and
the dreamer in her."
J.T. Reid met Rybyann Miller in Brownwood,
Texas, at Howard Payne, though some say they met in a church in Lometa
and others swear they met at a revival meeting while J.T. played guitar.
The couple married and, after living in Goldthwaite
and Rusk, Texas, eventually
relocated to New Mexico where J.T. became superintendent of schools
in Tularosa, and where Kim was born. He announced at his first teachers'
meeting, "You have been chosen because you are well-qualified. The
janitor will provide a paddle, God has provided a place for its use.
Put the fear of God in their hearts and teach them something."
The one thing J.T. failed to understand was girls. "He couldn't
have understood Kim if they put a gun to his head," says a relative.
He pooh-poohed acting. Kim later said, "My father always thought acing
was very silly and I wanted his approval... I think he still regards
fishing as more important."
It was later said by her colleagues that Kim's conflicts with her
father created the climate of personal chaos which produced great
emotional scenes on the stage. Kim spent a lifetime creating new rejections
to control and use on stage. Kim's tortured relationship with her
father brought trouble in her relations with all men. She married
four times and had countless affairs, including one with the brother
of Montgomery Clift, while married to another man, which produced
Kim was eight years old, Rubyann divorced J.T. on grounds of adultery,
after 18 years of marriage, and fluttered from one man to another
and eventually returned to Texas.
It was in at the Texas Theater in San Antonio in 1940 that young Kim
had an epiphany. She saw Katharine Hepburn onstage in "The Philadelphia
Story," on a national tour after the film's release. "I was overcome.
I was transfixed," Kim later said. "The impact of Katharine Hepburn's
personality was fantastic.... I wanted it to go on all night."
San Antonio didn't work for Rubyann, nor did Houston or Galveston,
so she returned with her children to Albuquerque, always called by
Kim, "Dad City."
The Philadelphia Story
Kim, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Paul Zindel said "The secret
lies with the father. It's also the secret to her anger, her disappointment
in life. It's the secret to her power. When you explore it, I think
you're going to find that she could never please her father, that
more than anything she wanted to be her father. This was the power
that hung over her and made her demons all focus and go wild and come
out. I think it was the secret of her talent and what made Kim Stanley
what she was."
Kim was "tossed back and forth between the parents," according to
Jon Krampner's bio of her, and early warning signs of her later drinking
problem appeared as early as her sorority days at UNM. Kim was also
head and shoulders above every other drama student at UNM. Kim later
told Lillian Ross of the New Yorker "Although I really did feel something
about this girl I played [in a UNM production], I wasn't thinking
seriously about an acting career."
was while at UNM that Kim was discovered by director John Kerr, who
encouraged her to come to the Pasadena Playhouse. She left the University,
and followed Kerr to California. The Pasadena Playhouse's alumni eventually
included Horton Foote, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Lee J. Cobb,
Frances Farmer (whose smothering, controlling mother Kim would play
in 1982's "Frances" for which she was nominated for an Oscar), and
In early 1946, Kim left the Pasadena Playhouse and went to Louisville
Kentucky to work in winter stock at the National Theater. It was here
that she changed her name from Patty Reid to Kim Stanley. After the
troupe broke up, Kim boarded a Greyhound Bus headed for Broadway.
She had $21.00 in her pocket.
the rounds is like trying to sell yourself, as if you were something
on the hoof," she later said. "I would get paralyzed, once in an office,
and would be unable to remember the name of the play I was trying
to get a job in. I hated the whole procedure. it was humiliating.
They'd ask me what I had done on Broadway, and I couldn't speak. Emotionally,
I couldn't take it. My hands would start sweating. I would feel like
a cipher. Nothing was worth that."
Driven and intense, she began to get parts in summer stock. She once
was fired because, according to the producer, "When this girl did
not show up for rehearsals, I asked her why and she said, "I don't
feel like working this week."
Kim supported herself by modeling in the fashion house of Herbert
Sondheim, whose son, Stephen, would later become a theater legend
in his own right. Details of her life appear to be quite hazy at this
time as to where and with whom she lived, whether or not she actually
toured Southern towns modeling dresses, as she told Lillian Ross of
the New Yorker, and it appears she was married. She was still drinking
too much, worrying her friends and her mother, who sometimes lived
with her, and who suffered a breakdown sending her back to Texas.
Kim joined the Interplayers, a semi-professional theater group, where
she sold lemonade and cleaned out the men's room. "Very embarrassing,"
she later recalled. "Me, about to be an Eleanora Duse, yelling, 'Lemonade,
Get your lemonade.'"
Kim's breakthrough role came in William Inge's 1953 play, "Picnic,"
and she finally saw her name go above the title in Horton Foote's
1954 "The Traveling Lady." It was the first time in the history of
he Playwrights Company that it had voted to elevate a performer to
above-the-title status. She was also one of the first members of The
Sťance on a Wet Afternoon
|If anyone wants
an acting lesson, just take a look at 1964's "Sťance on a Wet Afternoon"
and watch the last 10 minutes of Kim Stanley's Oscar-nominated performance.
Her talent was so immense that she truly deserves to be remembered
proudly as she wished to be remembered -- as a daughter of Texas.