Cara Williams, Star of ‘The Defiant Ones’ and ‘Pete and Gladys,’ Dies at 96

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.”

Born as Bernice Kamiat in Brooklyn, N.Y. 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 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.”

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 running 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 1980’s, Williams had stepped away from acting.

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 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.