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

by Jonathan Howard

One of the last stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age has passed. Cara Williams, star of The Defiant Ones has died at 96 years old.

Williams passed on Thursday, the information was confirmed by Variety. Her daughter Justine Jagoda and her great-nephew Richard Potter confirmed the news to the outlet. Jagoda gave a statement.

“Not only was she a sparkling actress with impeccable comedic timing, she was also funny, over-the-top, warm-hearted and loving. 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.”

Cara Williams was not always Cara Williams. She was born Bernice Kamiat, the daughter of a Romanian Jewish mother and an Austrian Jewish father. Raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York City, she grew up doing impressions of stars at the movies. After her parents separated, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and that is where she began life as Cara Williams.

She went on to attend the Hollywood Professional school and soon began doing voice actor work for cartoons. She was just 16-years-old when she signed with 20th Century Fox and began her career in earnest.

Cara Williams Took Off in the 1940s and 50s

Once the mid-1940s hit, Cara Williams was well on her way to being a big star. She had taken to the stage in theater and was building a resume of short films. She was cast in Boomerang!, The Helen Morgan Story, and The Girl Next Door.

Then, in Stanely Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, she took the role of a widowed mother. That role was alongside Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Her role was officially as Billy’s mother and she was even nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 1958. While she did not win, she had solidified herself as a serious actress.

Cara Williams would not stop there either. She would act on TV and in other movies for years to come. The best part of her repertoire was her comedic skill, like her daughter mentioned. Following her role in The Defiant Ones, she turned to comedy in full.

Williams’ Comedic Talents Shined

As she came off her nominations in 1958, she turned to comedy. She was cast in Never Steal Anything Small, a comedic musical. Then she co-starred in The Man from the Diner’s Club. She worked with Alfred Hitchcock on the show Decoy a number of times.

When Cara Williams took the role of Gladys in the show Pete and Gladys, she teamed up with Harry Morgan. She earned a nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy at the Emmy Awards in the early 1960s. She worked hard for CBS and earned her own show, The Cara Williams Show.

Williams is one of the last of the Golden Era of Hollywood. She will be missed, but her work will live on for years to come.