Boardman woman remembered for Oscar-worthy performance

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BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – It was 50 years ago this week that Boardman’s Elizabeth “Biff” Hartman was nominated for the “Best Actress” Oscar. That year, the awards show was in April.

Hartman didn’t win. The winner was Julie Christie in the movie “Darling.”

With the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, WKBN wanted to recall the career of Elizabeth Hartman — the high points and the tragedy that ended it all.

It was the 1965 film “A Patch of Blue,” which earned Hartman with the Best Actress nomination. She starred alongside Sidney Poitier and played a blind white teenager who falls in love with a black man, set during a racially-divided America.

A WKBN reporter interviewed Hartman during a premiere of the movie.

“I don’t know that I’m a Hollywood sensation. I feel very happy. Of course, I’m honored,” she said at the time.

Even though she didn’t win, she was in the national spotlight. And six years later, she returned home and was given a key to the city.

Hartman was born in Youngstown and graduated from Boardman High School in 1961. It was there that she began her acting career, starring as the lead in the senior play. A yearbook caption called her “actress supreme.”

And before she made her way to Hollywood, she got her start at the Youngstown Playhouse.

Joe Scarvell performed alongside Hartman at the Playhouse in the late 50s and 60s. In 1959, she performed in “Clearing in the Woods.” In 1961, she was in “Our Town.”

Scarvell said she was a talented actress.

“She was honest, that’s it, honest. She never acted, she just reacted. It was what she was,” Scarvell said.

There would be other starring roles for Hartman after “A Patch of Blue,” most notably the wife of Bufford Pusser in “Walking Tall.”

In the “Beguiled,” she smacked a woman on the face, kissed Clint Eastwood and then threw him down the stairs.

But by the mid 1980s, with her career and marriage failing, Hartman suffered from depression. On June 10, 1987, she jumped from the fifth floor window of her Pittsburgh apartment and committed suicide. She was only 43.

“That was so sad. I remember reading about the circumstances. We knew that she was not well,” Scarvell said.

Though her final scene was tragic, Hartman did have her moment moment in the spotlight — a nomination for best actress and so close to winning an Oscar.

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