A cornerstone of Houston's theater scene
"A master class in class": Legendary Alley Theatre actress Bettye Fitzpatrickdies
Legendary Houston actress Bettye Fitzpatrick passed away Friday afternoon after several bouts with cancer. She was 79.
A member of the Alley Theatre company for over 50 years, Fitzpatrick was a cornerstone of the Houston theater scene, working with some of the city’s most celebrated actors and directors. Throughout her impressive career she has played numerous roles, including Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Name Desire, Juno in Juno and the Peacock, Friar in Much Ado About Nothing, Janet Mackenzie in Witness for the Prosecution and Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible.
"Bettye was a master class in class," posts former Alley intern Robert Neblett. "On behalf of the thousands of Alley interns she mentored over the years, I raise a glass to her memory."
A beloved figure in Alley circles, she won raves from critics and audiences for playing the cantakerous Ouiser Boudreaux in Alley productions of Steel Magnolias in 1989 and 2005. Fitzpatrick debuted in the 1957 Alley production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Later in her career, she became a character actress, shining as the Mormon mother of a gay son in Angels in America and the stage manager in Our Town.
Over the years, when not acting, Fitzpatrick held Alley staff positions, including production manager, stage manager and director of interns.
In 2006, Fitzpatrick was surprised during a curtain call for Witness for the Prosecution with a celebration of her 50th year with the theater. Artistic director Gregory Boyd and 100 Alley staff members joined her onstage. Actress Elizabeth Heflin recalled that Fitzpatrick told her when she auditioned for Alley founder Nina Vance many years earlier, she was so inexperiencd that the only notation that Vance made on her application was that Fitzpatrick "had a car." But she learned quickly.
For 20 holiday seasons, Fitzpatrick performed the role of Cousin Sook in Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston. She ended the performances in 2004. It was the longest run in Houston theater history and drew devoted audiences.
In 1980, Fitzpatrick was cast along side John Travolta and Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy, playing the role of Winger’s mother.
She retired from the Alley in 2009, after 53 seasons. In 2010, the Alley Theatre’s Fitzpatrick Internship program was established in her honor.
Wonderful memories of the actress are flooding into the Fans of Bettye Fitzpatrick Facebook page.
"It saddens my heart to report that Ms. Bettye passed away at 2:28 PM today. It was a peaceful moment and she was surrounded by loved ones," writes Dennis Draper, director of operations & events at the Alley. "She touched so many of our lives and will be greatly missed."
"Bettye was a master class in class," posts former Alley intern Robert Neblett. "On behalf of the thousands of Alley interns she mentored over the years, I raise a glass to her memory and proclaim that we were all Bettye's children. And if we can shine half as bright, we will be blessed."
"There are many people around the globe with heavy hearts right now, but yet very thankful that they had the privilege to work with Bettye and of witnessing true artistry," writes Chris Kawolsky, who was general manager at the Alley from 1987 to 1989. "I know of many recollecting their favorite Bettye stories, but for me, thinking about so many amazing performances proves the real power of great theatre."
A memorial service is planned at the Alley Theatre on Oct. 10. Fitzgerald is survived by her longtime partner, Beth Sanford.