|Honored by:||Kay Kirkman|
|Brick location:||F:16 map|
Everyone should have an Aunt Kathryn in their lives. Vibrant, exciting, exotic -- at least she seemed that way to two girls growing up in a middle-class Kansas home. She was the relative we bragged about to our friends -- oh yes, my aunt is an actress on Broadway; she's Glenn Ford's sister in The Big Heat; she's touring with Groucho Marx; she's on the Bob Hope Show. Although we rarely saw her, we tried to borrow a little of her glamour and preened whenever someone saw a resemblance. We had no understanding of the discipline and energy she gave to her work. For us, she was our aunt, the actress. It has only been in recent years that we've come to know her better as a person and to appreciate how much work lies behind her elegant facade.
Kathryn was born in Kiowa, Kansas, in 1908, to Lorenzo and Katie Bridenstine; she was the youngest of their five children. Her mother gave poetry readings, painted china and theorems, and insisted that each of her children learn a musical instrument - Kathryn kept and played the violin her father gave her as a child throughout her life, and donated it to Iowa State University at her death. In the little town of Hoisington where she grew up, she was in every play or musical or performance of any kind, but she didn’t imagine herself as a professional actress.
Recuperating from an automobile accident when she was a young bride gave her some extra time to enroll in classes at the University of Arizona and she chose drama, thinking she might enjoy writing a play someday. Instead she moved quickly into acting and won a national award for her portrayal of Lillom in The Typewriter. The award included a chance to train with Madam Tamara Daykarhanova in New York. Kathryn chose her mother's maiden name for her stage name, packed her bags, left her husband, and never looked back.
Her professional debut was on Broadway in Moss Hart’s Winged Victory. She was in Broadway and off-Broadway productions of Lamp at Midnight; Church Street; Book of Job; Portrait of a Madonna; In White America; Beyond the Horizon; Escape Me Never; The Brothel; Home Room; and Hot House. In 1992, she was in Democracy and Esthe" at the Triangle Theater, almost 50 years after her Broadway debut.
Kathryn toured in The Cat and the Canary; Anniversary Waltz; Marat/Sade; and"Morning’s at Seven which played in Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University. She was a guest artist in various national university productions including Henry IV; Exit the King; and Ah! Wilderness.
If you watched television through the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, you probably saw Kathryn on the Bob Hope Chrysler Show; Day in Court; I Spy; Sgt. Bilko; Armstrong Theater; Look Up and Live or Lamp Unto My Feet. She was in several soap operas including Secret Storm; Love of Life; Another World; and Loving. She was in movies such as The Big Heat; Roseland; Coop; Diary of a Mad Housewife; and Starlight"
Groucho Marx insisted that Kathryn play opposite him whenever he performed in Time for Elizabeth. She played with Shirley Booth in The Torchbearers; with George Montgomery in Toys in the Attic; and with Rita Moreno in I Am a Camera. She was also featured with Kaye Ballard, Eddie Bracken, Tom Ewell, Robert Alda. Virginia Mayo, and Gloria de Haven.
Kathryn became the ultimate New Yorker and she never wanted to live anyplace else except Paris. She lived in the same apartment on the upper east side from the 1940s and buzzed up and down two steep flights of stairs with an energy that left us panting in her wake. In her 60s, she enrolled in tap dancing lessons. In her 70s, she took French lessons. In her 80s, she was still auditioning and winning parts (asked if she could do pushups for a commercial, she plopped down on the floor and did half a dozen. Then they asked for one-arm pushups --"They were hard but I did them," she reported.)
Kathryn returned to Iowa State University in the spring of 1993 as artist in residence. Her conversations with students ranged from how to approach an audition to working in television. Perhaps the most important thing she taught is that it takes talent, discipline, and a great deal of work to succeed in an acting career. Kathryn supported herself almost entirely through acting because of her unusual versatility and willingness to explore new avenues for performance. Kathryn is one of the people who form the supporting structure for theater and make possible the plays that win the Tonys and the movies that win the Oscars.
For her family, she remained the exotic and entertaining woman whom we bragged about and often envied. But she was also the warm-hearted friend who was quick to call or write and still had the capacity to charm her youngest relatives. When she was 92, she played games on the floor with her six- and eight-year-old great-great nephews who obviously adored her. Is it any wonder that we're glad Kathryn was a member of our family?
Kathryn passed away in 2004 at the age of 96.