One of the most unusual, stunning looking gals who ever graced Hollywood, Elizabeth Threatt’s burst of fame and all to short and insignificant, and all her considerable potential was lost forever after a few short months.
Elizabeth Coyote (pronounces Coyte and not like the animal) Threatt was born to William Threatt, a Cherokee Indian who worked for the US army, and his wife, Bessie Pearl Furr, on April 12, 1926 in Kershaw, South Carolina. She and her mother moved to Concord, Cabarrus, North Carolina, and lived with her maternal grandparents until cca. 1933, when the family moved to Escambia, Florida. They lived in a small house with a big porch where her father kept exotic plants.
One day in the 1940s, her father left her mother. This proved to be traumatic for the young Elizabeth, for demanded from her mother that they move to Concord, where her maternal grandparents lived – this meant leaving behind friends and school mates, but she did not care. Her mother was reluctant, but Betty insisted and got what she wanted.
Elizabeth attended her junior and senior year at the Concord high school and graduated from there in 1943. Her mother wanted her to go to college, but Betty refused, feeling like it would only deter her from her true goal: to learn more about people. She got a job at an Army air base where she “learned about people fast.”
In order to continue her exploration of the human spirit, she moved to the ultimate melting pot city, New York. Her mother did not want her to go, so she snuck out and took the first train tot he Big Apple. It was a hard, painful time of her life, separated from her parents for the first time ever and alone in a strange town, but Betty managed. A friend of hers send her photo to Harry Conover, and he suggested she try modeling.
Her beauty warranted her a post at the John Powers agency, and she became one of the most sought after models in the US, earning 900$ per week. Her cousins testified years later how careless she was with all the money, keeping them in drawers and plucking them out as she needed to pay something.
In 1950, she broke her hip in a “sidewalk mishap”, and had to stay at the hospital for almost a year. When she returned to work, she found out she could not stand on her feet for long periods of time, a must for any model. It a very nifty coincidence that just at the time when she was seeking a second career, noted director Howard Hawks noticed her and insisted she play in his next feature, the western “The Big Sky”.
Elizabeth made only one movie in her whole career. The Big Sky was a Howard Hawks western with a strong cast – Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin – and, logically, it got tons of press upon it’s release. Her story, half fabricated (they claimed she was a Cherokee Indian), was featured in every newspaper in the country. One thing was true – Betty never acted before that, not even in amateur productions, thus had zero experience in all things related to movies.
Now, for someone whose first role was not a trivial one, Betty did rather well. Don’t get me wrong, her role of an Indian princess is by no means a complex, mutilayered role like Lady Macbeth or Blanche Dubois, but it’s definitely more than the standard, bland and decorative leading lady fare all actresses had to endure at one point in their careers. There is obvious chemistry between her and Kirk Douglas, and her unique blend of drop-dead -gorgeous-high-society-belle-looks and earthy, natural and exotic features made her something different, an actress once seen whom you remember for a long time after, too unusual to be drowned in the sea of identical Hollywood blondes and brunettes.
It looked like a bright future was in front of Betty after the film was released and met with critical and public acclaim, with her winning kudos for her performance. Several strokes of bad luck conspired to end those paths of light.
She was signed and then dropped by RKO (in fact, they traded her for Dewey Martin and than nobody would take her). By 1953, she was back in New York modeling. She ended her working life in 1956, when she married her third husband.
Elizabeth married not long after she landed in New York as a model, to a Missouri native Louis Cushed. Their daughter Rona was born in 1947. The union was extremely rocky, and the “sidewalk” mishap she suffered in 1949 was in fact not a mishap, but her husband’s fault – he threw her off a moving car! They divorced in 1950 in Florida. Cushed died in 1997 at the age of 87.
Howard Hawks took more than just a professional interest in the pretty model. They dated for several months staring in 1950, but Howard proved to be too much for Elizabeth – not only did he date Jane Wyman at the same time they started the romance – but he met his future wife, Dee Hartford, on New Years Eve 1951, and broke up with Elizabeth a few weeks later. They still managed to have a civil working relationship.
When Elizabeth Threatt met him, Kirk Douglas was already an established actor, building up his reputation and an impressive filmography by 1950. Also his private life was quite a chaotic whirl – he was separated from his wife, Diana Dill, not yet divorced, but goofed around town with pretty starlets frequently. To be perfectly frank, Kirk was a womanizer back then, a guy who was handsome, famous and wealthy and who could have the best of them, and just getting separated, he enjoyed the high life to the hilt. Elizabeth just came at the wrong time for the relationship to work.
They started dating in cca. September 1951. Betty, as a practical joker, even pulled a stunt on Kirk Douglas – namely, his drivers licence had expired and he had not yet renewn it. She found this out, and called a friend to do her a favor – while Kirk was driving, a somebody who looked like a police officer stopped him and asked for his licence. Kirk almost had a heart attack, but then the prankster revealed his true colors. Needless to say, he was not amused, but admired her spunk.
1952 started well enough for the couple, as they were seen everywhere hand in hand, and all seemed fine and dandy. The problems began when Kirk went back to California, his permanent home base back then. Betty started dating other people on the sly, like Otto Fenn. They went left and right, not breaking up but still never having a proper relationship, almost for a year after that.
To try and salvage it, he took a role that would bring him back to New York, but Betty was then dating agent Ray Stark and the chances of achieving a permanent, stable relationship were nill. They broke up for good in mid 1953. Betty dated Stewart Crowley, a modeling agency boss in June 1953. A short time later, she was noted as the girl bandleader Gene Williams will marry after his divorce. Gene was a well known singer and band leader, performed with the orchestras of Johnny Long, Les Elgart, Vincent Lopez, Bobby Sherwood, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill. The two indeed married in 1953 but divorced shorty thereafter in 1954.
The next we hear about Betty, in 1956, she is in Guatemala and married to a millionaire french viscount, Antoine Marie Fancois de Contandes. Known as Anthony or Tony to the English speaking gents, De Constandes was born on April 2, 1932 in Paris to a noble family, – his father was Jean, Vicomte de Contades and his mother, Jacqueline du Bouays de la Bégassièrre. The family emigrated to Brazil in 1945. Tony was a part of the jet set, constantly traveling, and was at one time a commercial and international representative for the famous French firm Coty (fashion & perfumes). How they met and married is still a mystery to me.
Betty’s second child, a son, Jean De Contandes, was born on March 20, 1957 in Guatemala.
Betty and her husband divorced in October 1963 in Florida, and he married Daphne Jean Jefferson a month later, on November 15. They had another son, Yves, in 1964. Betty returned home, to Concord.
In the meantime, her daughter Rona moved to California and married twice, first time to David M Kennedy (in 1971), the second time to Timothy J Nichols (in 1976) .
Her son Jean grew up in Concord. Jean served in the Marines in Florida for a time, but died at age 20 in 1977 as a result of a car accident. He is buried in Concord in Betty’s family plot.
Betty continued to live in Concord, and became quite religious in her later years.
Elizabeth DeContandes died on November 22, 1993, in Concord, South Carolina. Her end was a sad one – she died in a Carrabus nursing home, alone. With an unlucky coincidence, her former husband, Antoine De Contandes, also died as a deeply unhappy man in 1990.