Geraldine Fitzgerald, 91, the Irish-born actress whose cerebral beauty was highlighted in such Hollywood films as "Wuthering Heights" and "Dark Victory" and who enjoyed an eclectic career on stage, died July 17 at her home in New York. She had Alzheimer's disease.
A British film critic once wrote that Fitzgerald, of all the actors in "Wuthering Heights" (1939), "alone looked as if she'd read the book."
Ms. Fitzgerald received an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role as Isabella Linton, the spurned wife of Heathcliff. Laurence Olivier, who played Heathcliff, said decades after the movie appeared: "It's a bloody awful film. Geraldine Fitzgerald is the only thing that still holds up in that one."
Ms. Fitzgerald, whose deep voice was described as honey on sandpaper, was an admired stage actress lured to Hollywood and never seemed to let anyone forget it. She spent most of her film days bemoaning the awfulness of script choices, risking studio suspension. She turned down the femme fatale role in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), among others.
To her credit, she managed a variety of parts with equal aplomb and usually outshone her material. Her best roles included the pal of dying socialite Bette Davis in "Dark Victory" (1939); first lady Edith Bolling Galt in "Wilson" (1944); the wealthy widow spotted by a con man in "Nobody Lives Forever" (1946) with John Garfield; and a schemer in "Three Strangers" (1946) with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.
Back onstage, she performed classics, started a theater troupe for inner-city children and became a cabaret artist. She returned for small film parts in "Ten North Frederick" (1958), as Gary Cooper's distant wife; "The Pawnbroker" (1964), as a widow who tries to befriend Holocaust survivor Rod Steiger; and "Arthur" (1981), as Dudley Moore's balmy grandmother.
"I didn't have a hard time in Hollywood," she once told writer Carolyn Coman. "I gave myself a hard time. . . . I wanted every script to be perfect, which is hopeless, because no one really can tell a good movie from a bad one in script form -- it is so much a visual medium.
"For instance -- and I have to throw names around to tell you this story -- when I was at Warner Brothers, I had lunch one day with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. They were in despair. They could hardly eat. They were trying to get out of a film. She said it was absurd and ridiculous. He said it was rubbish. All I could say was, 'Try. I hope you can.' That was 'Casablanca.' "
Ms. Fitzgerald was born in Dublin on Nov. 24, 1913, to a family of entertainers and white-collar professionals. Her father's law office appeared in James Joyce's "Ulysses." Her great-grandmother, she said admiringly, was a novelist who once scandalized readers by featuring a girl who rode a bicycle, a brazen act.
Educated at a convent in London, Ms. Fitzgerald rebelled in an atmosphere she described as having "many earmarks of prison." She enrolled at a Dublin art school and used family connections, including the playwright Denis Johnston and the actress Shelah Richards, to start her theatrical career.
An early triumph came as the jaded Ellie Dunn in a 1938 Broadway production of George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House," directed by Orson Welles. Her beauty and ability attracted Hollywood producers, and she signed to Warner Bros.
Financially secure through her second marriage, to Stuart Scheftel, an heir to the Macy's fortune, Ms. Fitzgerald took occasional stage roles and grew involved with New York City arts programs. She helped start the Everyman Company, which expressed the works of Shakespeare and other masters through rock music.
Ms. Fitzgerald had a secret desire to sing but acknowledged her limitations when she saw herself as a crazy, warbling preacher in the film "Rachel, Rachel" (1968), directed by Paul Newman. She studied music rigorously and, in time, toured nationally with the cabaret show "Streetsongs."
Ms. Fitzgerald received a Tony Award nomination as best director of the play "Mass Appeal" (1981), about the conflicts between an older and younger priest, and wrote screenplays in her spare time.
Her marriage to Edward Lindsay-Hogg ended in divorce. Her second husband died in 1994. Survivors include a son from her first marriage, film and television director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and a daughter from her second marriage, Susan Scheftel.