Born 1925 in Denver, Colorado, American actress and singer Barbara Bates studied ballet and worked as a teen fashion model. The shy teen was persuaded to enter a local beauty contes. Not only did she win but meeting Cecil Coan, a United Artists publicist, during that Hollywood trip altered the course of her life forever.
In 1944, Bates signed a contract with Universal Pictures after Cecil Coan introduced her to producer Walter Wanger. She fell in love with Coan, who was married with two sons and two daughters. In 1945, Coan divorced his wife and secretly married Bates days later.
In 1947, Warner Bros. signed her and highlighted her “girl-next-door” image and her acting career took off. She appeared with some of the biggest stars of the day including Bette Davis in June Bride and Danny Kaye in The Inspector General.
In 1949, Bates was fired by Warner Brothers, but quickly signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox later that year. Bates auditioned for the small role of Phoebe in Fox’s upcoming All About Eve and impressed the producers and was given the part. She made a short but important appearance as the devious schemer, Phoebe, at the end of the film. This memorable final scene left critics and audiences intrigued by the young actress, who they thought would star in a sequel to All About Eve.
After her appearance in All About Eve, Bates co-starred in Cheaper by the Dozen, and its sequel Belles on Their Toes, with Jeanne Crain and Myrna Loy. In 1951, she landed a role opposite MacDonald Carey and Claudette Colbert in the comedy Let’s Make It Legal. She co-starred with Donna Reed as the love interests of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the 1953 hit comedy The Caddy.
Barbara was not heard of again until her March 1969 death. It was learned that she had retreated to her hometown of Denver and worked in various minor job capacities, including stints as a secretary, dental assistant and hospital aide. Her much older husband and chief supporter, Cecil Coan, died of cancer in January of 1967, and Barbara fell apart.
Although she remarried in December of 1968 to a childhood friend, sportscaster William Reed, she remained increasingly despondent and committed suicide just four months later. She was found dead in her car by her mother in her mother’s garage of carbon monoxide poisoning. Another sad and tragic ending to a promising Hollywood beauty who seemed destined to having it all.
Take a look at these beautiful photos to see the beauty of young Barbara Bates in the 1940s and 1950s.