Cara Williams, star of ‘The Defiant Ones’ and ‘Pete and Gladys,’ dies at 96

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Cara Williams, one of the last remaining actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age and an Oscar nominee for her performance in 1958’s The Defiant Ones, died on Thursday. She was 96 years old.

Williams’ death was confirmed to Variety by her daughter Justine Jagoda and her great-nephew Richard Potter.

“Not only was she a sparkling actress with impeccable comedic timing, she was also funny, over-the-top, warm-hearted and loving,” Jagoda told Variety in a statement.

“She could make anyone laugh and smile if they had a bad day. She was everything that you could wish for in a mother and more. It’s a sad loss to lose a woman from this incredible era.”

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American redhead, Channel 2's Cara Williams, making her first appearance in "The Cara Williams Show". April 19, 1961.
American redhead, Channel 2’s Cara Williams, making her first appearance in “The Cara Williams Show”. April 19, 1961. (Fairfax Media)

Born as Bernice Kamiat in Brooklyn, NY on June 29, 1925, Williams began working as an actress when she was a child.

After her parents divorced, she relocated to Hollywood with her mother and began to attend the Hollywood Professional School, giving voice performances in cartoon shorts. At age 16, Williams was signed by 20th Century-Fox and began appearing in small, often unbilled parts in films such as Wide Open Town, Happy Land and In the Meantime, Darling.

Following a turn in a stage production of Born Yesterday, Williams’ career ignited in the late 1940s and ’50s. The actress earned big supporting roles in Boomerang!, The Girl Next Door and The Helen Morgan Story. She even performed alongside screen legend Audrey Hepburn in her first feature, 1951’s We Go to Monte Carlo.

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She garnered an Academy Award nomination in the category of best-supporting actress for her performance as a widowed mother in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, acting opposite Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. She later took on roles in comedies Never Steal Anything Small and The Man From the Diners’ Club.

Never Steal Anything Small -- Mr. and Mrs. - John Smith and Shirloy Jones appear as an honest young lawyer and his over-looking wife in Universal-International's "Never Steal Anything Small," a rugged and raucus story of a waterfront racketeer, filmed in color and CinemaScope with James Cagnoy, Miss Jones, Smith and Cara Williams in the starring roles. Charles Lederer directed and Aaron Rosenberg produced. June 11, 1959. (Photo by Universal-International).6
Never Steal Anything Small — Mr. and Mrs. – John Smith and Shirloy Jones appear as an honest ‘Never Steal Anything Small’ with James Cagnoy, Miss Jones, Smith and Cara Williams in the starring roles (Universal-International)

Williams also worked in television, earning an Emmy nomination for her lead performance as Gladys in CBS’ Pete and Gladys, the network’s spin-off of its 1950’s sitcom December Bride. A Pete and Gladysrunning joke of December Bride involved a supporting character played by Harry Morgan complaining about his dizzy wife, Gladys.

Williams stepped into that unseen role for the spin-off series. Williams also later starred in her own series, The Cara Williams Show, alongside Frank Aletter. By the 1980s, Williams had stepped away from acting.

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Williams married Alan Gray in 1945. The two had a daughter before divorcing after two years. In 1952, Williams wed actor John Drew Barrymore, son of John Barrymore and father of Hollywood star Drew Barrymore, and the two produced actor John Blyte Barrymore before divorcing in 1959.

Williams later wed Los Angeles real estate figure Asher Dann in 1964. The two remained married until Dann’s death in 2018 at the age of 83.

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