Mary Elizabeth Hartman (December 23, 1943 – June 10, 1987) was an American actress, best known for her performance in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue, playing a blind girl named Selina D'Arcy, opposite Sidney Poitier, a role for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award. The next year, she appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now (1966) as Barbara Darling, for which she was nominated for a second Golden Globe Award.
On stage, she was best known for her interpretations of Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Emily Webb in Our Town. By the late 1970s, Hartman's career had begun to slow, and she quit acting in 1982 after finishing the voice role of Mrs. Brisby in Don Bluth's animated film The Secret of NIMH (1982). She committed suicide five years later by jumping from her apartment window in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mary Elizabeth Hartman was born December 23, 1943 in Boardman, Ohio, the daughter of Claire (née Mullaly; 1918–1997) and B.C. Hartman (1914–1964). She had a sister, Janet, and a brother, William. She was a standout dramatic student at Boardman High School, where she graduated in 1961. She won a state-wide award for Best Actress in a high school production for her performance as Laura in The Glass Menagerie. She performed in several productions at the Youngstown Playhouse during her youth, including A Clearing in the Woods by Arthur Laurents and Our Town. She attended Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where she met her future husband, Gill Dennis, and spent her summers acting with the Kenley Players.
Hartman also performed at the Cleveland Playhouse in several productions, including The Madwoman of Chaillot and Bus Stop. She was encouraged to move to New York City and begin auditioning for plays there. In 1964, Hartman was signed to play the ingénue lead in the comedy Everybody Out, the Castle is Sinking, which was not a success, however her performance was again positively received, and film producers took notice.
In 1964, Hartman was screen-tested by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Brothers. In the early autumn of 1964, she was offered a leading role in A Patch of Blue, opposite Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters. The role won Hartman widespread critical acclaim, a fact proudly noted by the news media in her hometown. During this time, her father, who worked in construction, died. The role also won Hartman an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. At the time of her nomination in 1966, Elizabeth Hartman (who was 22 years old) was the youngest nominee ever in the Best Actress category. That same year, Hartman received an achievement award from the National Association of Theater Owners. Hartman won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for her performance. In 1966, she starred as Laura opposite Mercedes McCambridge as Amanda in a production of The Glass Menagerie in Pittsburgh.
She went on to star in three well-received films, The Group (1966), You're a Big Boy Now (1966), and The Beguiled (1971). A role as Pauline, the wife of former Sheriff Buford Pusser in Walking Tall (1973) was followed a decade later by voice work in 1982's critically acclaimed animated feature The Secret of NIMH, wherein she voiced mouse-heroine Mrs. Brisby. She was highly praised for her performance as Mrs. Brisby, however this proved to be her last Hollywood film role. Hartman's last on-screen role was in 1981's horror-comedy, Full Moon High, where she appeared as the villainous Miss Montgomery.
In 1975, Hartman starred in the premiere of Tom Rickman's play Balaam, a play about political intrigue in Washington, D.C. The production was mounted in Old Town Pasadena, California, by the Pasadena Repertory Theatre located in The Hotel Carver. It was directed by Hartman's husband, Gill Dennis. In 1981, she starred in a touring production of Morning's at Seven, but left the tour due to declining mental health.
Throughout much of her life, Hartman suffered from depression. In 1978, she was treated at The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1984, she divorced her husband, screenwriter Gill Dennis, after a five-year separation. In the last few years of her life, she gave up acting altogether and worked at a museum in Pittsburgh while receiving treatment for her condition at an outpatient clinic. Her sister and caretaker, Janet, told the Los Angeles Times:
"She was very suicidal," she recalls. "As soon as I arrived, she took an overdose of sleeping pills and was rushed to intensive care. But, the next night, she appeared on stage and she was wonderful. I spent two weeks with her to try to get her to the theater every night. She was frightened of everyone and everything. We'd go to breakfast, and she'd get up and dash out as though somebody was after her."
On June 10, 1987, Hartman committed suicide by jumping from the window of her fifth floor apartment. Earlier that morning, she had reportedly called her psychiatrist saying that she felt despondent. Hartman was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in her home town: her mother, who outlived her by 10 years, is buried next to her.
|1965||A Patch of Blue||Selina D'Arcey||Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
|1965||A Cinderella Named Elizabeth||Herself||MGM promotional film for A Patch of Blue|
|1966||You're a Big Boy Now||Barbara Darling||Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy|
|1970||Pursuit of Treasure|
|1971||The Beguiled||Edwina Dabney|
|1971||Night Gallery||Judith Timm||Episode: "The Dark Boy"|
|1973||Walking Tall||Pauline Pusser|
|1973||Love, American Style||Wilma More||Segment: "Love and the Locksmith"
|1975||Wide World Mystery||Camilla||Episode: "A Little Bit Like Murder"|
|1975||Doctors' Hospital||Bobbie Marks||Episode: "Come at Last to Love"|
|1980||Willow B: Women in Prison||Helen||Alternative title: A Matter of Survival (pilot not produced)|
|1981||Full Moon High||Miss Montgomery|
|1982||The Secret of NIMH||Mrs. Brisby||Voice; final film role|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elizabeth Hartman.|