She was born Doris Bernice Jensen on October 23, 1922, in Staplehurst, Nebraska. At age 7, she and her family moved to Hutchinson, Minnesota, and she studied drama at Hamline University in St. Paul.
With only $26 to her name, she took a Greyhound bus to Hollywood. She enrolled at USC and then drama school and starred in the play Brief Music. She was seen by an agent and signed with Fox, where she made her movie debut for the studio in State Fair (1945).
In 1949, Gray starred on Broadway in "Leaf and Bough" with Charlton Heston.
Gray was “introduced” to audiences in Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947) as Nette, the girlfriend and future wife of ex-con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), who battles psychopathic killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in a bid to go straight once and for all.
The Nebraska native then segued to a role as scheming carnival barker Tyrone Power’s aide in Nightmare Alley (1947), then appeared as Wayne’s sweetheart Fen in Red River.
|Coleen Gray (left) and the cast of Days of our Lives celebrate|
the show's first anniversary in 1966.
Gray starred opposite John Wayne in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948) and played crook Sterling Hayden’s attractive accomplice in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956).
Her other film credits included The Sleeping City (1950), Kansas City Confidential (1952), The Vampire (1957), The Leech Woman (1960), and the Frank Capra horse picture Riding High (1950), where her scene with Bing Crosby and Clarence Muse singing “Sunshine Cake” was the favorite film moment of her career.
Gray spent much of the 1960s on television, with guest-starring roles on such shows as Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, Mister Ed, Perry Mason and Family Affair.
On daytime soap operas, she played Diane Hunter of Days of our Lives (1966-1967) and Ann Boyd Jones on Bright Promise (1969-1970).
Later, on the NBC drama McCloud, she played the wife of police chief Peter B. Clifford (J.D. Cannon) in a few episodes.
Gray was married three times, the first to screenwriter, producer and future TV director Rod Amateau and the last to biblical scholar Joseph “Fritz” Zeiser, who died in 2012 (they were together for more than 30 years). Survivors include her daughter Susan, son Bruce, stepsons Rick and Steve and several grandchildren. A memorial service at Bel Air Presbyterian Church is being planned.