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Distinguished stage actress who was a member of the innovative, politically committed Group Theater in the 1930s and played character roles in Hollywood films of the 40s.
Nelson joined the Group Theater at its inception and shared in its popular and critical triumph with Clifford Odets' short play, "Waiting for Lefty" (1935). Portraying the wife of a cab driver moving toward union activism, Nelson established a style that would endure through the next decade: she brought a similar plaintive persona and subdued, understated performance style to her Hollywood films of the 40s, mostly playing supportive, working-class women in films like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945), "Humoresque" (1946), "Till the End of Time" (1946) and "Mother Wore Tights" (1947).
When her second husband, director John Cromwell, was blacklisted in the early 50s on suspicion of being a member of the Communist party, Nelson turned down a role in "Death of a Salesman" that would have required her to leave him in Los Angeles to return to the New York stage. Later years saw her primarily onstage, notably in the successful 1966 revival of "The Skin of Our Teeth," but she did return to screen work occasionally, including portraying Robert De Niro's mother in "Awakenings" (1990).
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