Obituary: Gene H. Ellis, 82, actress and writer
Gene H. Ellis, 82, a longtime resident of Ridgefield passed away peacefully at Danbury Hospital on October 16, 2016, surrounded by her loving family.
Born In Seattle, Washington on October 23, 1933, to Grace and C. William Hufeisen, she moved at an early age to Fairbanks, Alaska, where her father owned a prominent construction firm. As a grammar school student she developed a passion for ice skating and what would become a lifelong devotion to dance. Taking private classes with a young man, who at the time was serving in the U.S. Army, later to become the renowned choreographer Donald Saddler, greatly furthered that devotion.
Gene returned to Seattle to complete her high school education at Highland High School when she was a sophomore and where she continued to pursue both skating and dance. She skated in many various competitions and spent a month at Lake Placid in the summer figure skating program. It was dance, however that ultimately stole her heart and she soon retired her skates.
As a teenager, and later as a drama major at the University of Washington, she studied theatre with Professor Glenn Hughes while continuing to take daily ballet classes with Mary Ann Wells, a most highly regarded Pacific Northwest teacher. Classmates included Bob Joffrey and Gerald Arpino.
She attended the University for a year, acting in the school’s major productions at both The Penthouse and Showboat theatres before deciding to go to New York City and Europe to further her education. She dubbed films in Rome, where she lived for six months, then Paris for a year, where she continued to study dance.
Gene returned to the States and moved to New York City in 1953 to pursue her theatrical career in earnest. It began with her first job, dancing in the chorus in summer stock at the Gateway Theatre in Somers Point NJ. She quickly followed with her Broadway debut in the Josh Logan production of “Wish You Were Here,” (complete with on stage swimming pool), where she lied about not being able to swim so she wouldn’t have to get wet eight performances a week. At the end of the run, she continued with the show to Chicago and a hopeful national tour, but hopes were dashed by the Tribune’s critic, Claudia “Acidy” Cassidy whose unmerciful pan forced its immediately closure. Casting disappointment aside she quickly joined the national tour of the musical “The Boy Friend” staying with it to the end of its successful run.
Returning to New York City, she acted in several off-Broadway shows, including a well-received revival of Shaw’s “Buoyant Billions” and “Mrs. Warrens Profession” and became a featured performer in both Winter and Summer Stock.
She played all the major musical tents, Hyannis, Wallingford, Cohasset, Warren, etc. as well as the larger stages of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and the Casa Manana in Fort Worth, Dallas Texas. Appearing with such notables as John Raitt and Howard Keel, she experienced special acclaim dancing such balletic roles as Bonnie Jean in “Brigadoon,” Laurie in “Oklahoma” and Billy and Julie’s daughter, Louise, in “Carousel.”
Gene appeared on television in the 1957 musical special of “Pinocchio” with Mickey Rooney and Walter Slezak, and donned her skates once again for the 1958 TV musical special, “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” with Tab Hunter and Dick Button.
In 1961 she met and married Ralph Ellis, a fellow actor, and future television writer. She continue to act and dance until her final performance in 1963 as Anybodys in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “West Side Story.” She was two months pregnant at the time with the couple’s first child, Stephen.
By 1964 Ralph had stopped acting and become a full time writer of daytime television, a move that would soon completely alter Gene’s career.
A second child, Thomas, was born in 1965 and when a third child, Susan, was born in 1971, the couple bade the city farewell and moved to Ridgefield where daughter Catherine was born in 1972. Later that year, Ralph, needing help, persuaded Gene to try her own hand at writing and a new career was launched. Writing with Ralph, and also separately, during the ensuing years, Gene, under the name Eugenie Hunt, enjoyed great success in her new venture. Working together the couple were the head writers of “Search for Tomorrow, “The Doctors” and “As the World Turns.” On her own, Gene wrote scripts for “Loving,” “One Life to Live” and “General Hospital.”
In 1973 she and her husband were the recipients of the First Annual Population Script Award for “outstanding achievement in the presentation of the population issue in television drama.” The script for “Search for Tomorrow” was cited for excellence in dialogue regarding attitudes toward parenthood, legitimate reasons for and for not having children, and awareness of alternate life roles for women. Gene was particularly proud of the award and of the additional praise Ms. magazine gave the show that same year for the same reason.
In 1974 she and Ralph won and shared the Writer’s Guild of America award for best daytime show, “Search for Tomorrow.”
In the years that followed she was nominated for the Writer’s Guild Award for her work on “One Life to Live” and “Loving”
She retired from writing in 1994 and spent her remaining years enjoying the company of friends, the beauty of Ridgefield, her membership in the Caudatowa Garden Club, volunteering at the Keeler Tavern Museum and later as a grandmother to her three grandchildren.
She will be dearly missed by her husband of fifty-five years, her beloved grandchildren, Rory, Trip and Owen Dulecki, the aforementioned children, Stephen, Tom, Susan, Catherine Dulecki, son-in-law Randy and everyone who ever had the pleasure of knowing her.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the non-profit dance studio, The Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance. Checks can be made out and mailed to RCD at PO Box 615 Ridgefield Ct 06877.