Barbara Ann McNeese, whose professional acting name was Barbara Ann Stuart, was born in Paris and raised in Hume. She was determined as a young woman to become a successful actress and worked hard to reach stardom. Stuart had a long career playing a variety of roles on television, but she also performed on stage and in film. (Special to The Prairie Press)

A star shines from Hume

Many children grow up watching television. 

They pick one, or in some cases, several favorite shows and perhaps a character whose persona sparks dreams of growing up to be an entertainer. 

Most do not get that chance but for some lucky ones the glimmer they held in their eyes as children becomes a reality.

It did for one Edgar County native.

Barbara Ann McNeese was born on a cold Jan. 3, 1930, at Paris, the daughter of Orville Franklin McNeese and Lillian Richi. She grew up in Hume with her brother, Richard. 

McNeese was like every other kid who attended school. It was not until after graduation that her life took off.

After high school, McNeese moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she got her first experience with acting. She enrolled in the Schuster-Martin School of Drama and eventually decided New York was the place to be. She packed up and moved again. 

McNeese really started to hone her craft in New York under Stella Adler and Uta Hagen. Acting classes were expensive and McNeese took a side job as a model to support herself and her aspirations. She also decided for professional purposes to use an old family name. So, Barbara Ann McNeese the young, attractive woman from Edgar County became Barbara Ann Stuart the actress and model.

1954 proved a great year for Stuart. She was cast in her first role as Comrade Martine Fenton in the cold war drama “I Led Three Lives.” 

She tried out for the national touring production of “Lunatics and Lovers” with star Zero Mostel and got a part in “The Great Gildersleeve.” From that point, the roles came in like the opening of floodgates.

For the next several years, Stuart found roles dropping at her feet. Her numerous television appearances included “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” “Rawhide,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and others. She also had roles in movies like “Airplane” and “Hellfighters.”

Her most familiar role was that of “Bunny” on “Gomer Pyle USMC.” From 1964 to 1969, Stuart had people laughing with her recurring appearances as the girlfriend of Sergeant Carter. 

The longevity of her role on Gomer Pyle seemed a rarity in Stuart’s acting career as most often she appeared in only a few episodes of a show before the character was written out of the cast. 

Off-screen, Stuart fell in love with actor Dick Gautier. They were married from 1967 until their 1979 divorce. They did not have children. 

After the divorce, Stuart’s acting career still prospered and she has credits for appearances in “Highway to Heaven,” “Simon and Simon” and “L.A. Law.” It seemed nothing could slow her down. 

Stuart retired from acting in 2006 and her final role was in the television show “Huff.” 

The Edgar County native  lived out her life in St. George, Utah. Her final curtain call was May 15, 2011, when she passed away, leaving a brother and three stepchildren.

Barbara Ann Stuart may not have originally dreamed of becoming a famous actress, and many people may even have looked at her and said there was no way for a girl from Hume to ever amount to anything. Stuart’s determination did not let anything stop her from reaching the goals she finally set for herself.

Children today still strive for the same greatness. They see a doctor or a lawyer on television and some say that is what I am going to be. Others may see a racecar driver and next thing you know they are driving the cars we watch on television. 

All it proves is that when something is wanted so badly whether as an adult or child – some like Barbara Stuart will not stop until they reach the top.

 

The Prairie Press

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