Born in Old Westbury, New York, Straight was the daughter of Dorothy Payne Whitney, of the Whitney family, and Willard Dickerman Straight, an investment banker, diplomat, and career U.S. Army officer. Her maternal grandfather was political leader and financier William Collins Whitney. She was four years old when her father died in France of influenza during the great epidemic while serving with the US Army during World War I. Following her mother’s remarriage to British agronomist Leonard K. Elmhirst in 1925, the family moved to England. It was there that Straight was educated and began acting in amateur theater productions. Returning to the United States, she made her Broadway debut in 1939 in the play The Possessed. Most of her theatre work was in the classics, including Twelfth Night (1941), Macbeth, and The Crucible (1953), for which she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
From its inception, Straight was a member of the Actors Studio, attending the class conducted three times weekly by founding member Robert Lewis; her classmates included Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Jerome Robbins, Sidney Lumet, and about 20 others. Straight was active in the early days of television, appearing in anthology series such as Armstrong Circle Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One, Suspense, The United States Steel Hour, Playhouse 90, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and dramatic series like Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, The Defenders, Route 66, Mission: Impossible, and St. Elsewhere. Further television performances include the role of Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman series, and Marion Hillyard, the icy, controlling mother of Stephen Collins in The Promise. Straight worked infrequently in film and is perhaps remembered best for her role as a devastated wife confronting husband William Holden’s infidelity in Network (1976). She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance which, at five minutes and forty seconds, remains the shortest ever to win an Oscar. Her most widely seen film appearance after Network was the role of the paranormal investigator Dr. Martha Lesh in the 1982 horror film Poltergeist. Straight reportedly suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her last years. She died from pneumonia in Northridge, Los Angeles at age eighty-six. Her interment was at William Henry Lee Memorial Cemetery in New Marlborough, Massachusetts.
- August, 02, 1914
- Old Westbury, New York
- April, 07, 2001
- Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death
- William Henry Lee Memorial Cemetery
- New Marlborough, Massachusetts