Zina Bethune, 66; balanced careers in ballet and acting

film society of Lincoln Center
Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune starred in Martin Scorsese’s “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,’’ a 1967 film.

NEW YORK - Zina Bethune, who as a petite, blond youngster in the late 1950s and early ’60s balanced careers in ballet and acting, including a regular role on the CBS series “The Nurses’’ when she was 17, was killed in an accident in Los Angeles shortly after midnight Sunday. She would have turned 67 yesterday.

Her mother, Ivy Bethune, confirmed a Los Angeles Police Department report that Ms. Bethune had been struck by two vehicles after getting out of her car, which she had parked on the side of a road, apparently to check on what she thought was an injured animal. It was later identified as a dead opossum.

Ms. Bethune was 7 when she began studying dance in 1952 at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in Manhattan. By 1955 she was performing in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker.’’ At 14, she was a member of the New York City Ballet.


Her parallel acting career started when she was 6 with a small role in the off-Broadway play “Monday’s Heroes.’’ She later appeared on soap operas, including “Guiding Light’’ and “Young Dr. Malone,’’ and earned more than two dozen acting credits, among them roles as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna, in the 1960 film “Sunrise at Campobello,’’ and as an abandoned adolescent who lives by her wits in the 1958 “Kraft Television Theater’’ production of Tennessee Williams’s one-act play “This Property Is Condemned.’’

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“In the part’s eerie alternation between worldliness and childhood she fashioned a mixture that was both credible and lyrical,’’ Jack Gould wrote in The New York Times.

But Ms. Bethune’s best-known role was that of Gail Lucas, a no-nonsense nursing student on “The Nurses’’ (later called “The Doctors and the Nurses’’), an hourlong drama broadcast from 1962 to 1965. While working toward becoming a registered nurse, Ms. Bethune’s character absorbs all she can from, and sometimes struggles with, her mentor, Liz Thorpe (Shirl Conway). The program received several Emmy nominations.

Ms. Bethune bounced between acting and dance well into her 20s. By the mid-1970s, however, dancing had taken its physical toll, and by 1980 she had moved to Los Angeles. There she merged her dual interests by founding Bethune Theaterdanse (now Theater Bethune), a nonprofit dance and drama company that has toured internationally and performed at the White House.

Zina Bianca Bethune was born in Manhattan. Her mother was an actress (Abigail on the soap opera “General Hospital’’), her father, William, an interior designer. Besides her mother, she leaves her husband, Sean Freeley, a dancer whom she married in 1970.


Ms. Bethune’s dance career was all the more remarkable in that it was accomplished despite a childhood diagnosis of scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. In 1980 she created Infinite Dreams, a dance and performance program that has since tutored more than 8,000 children with disabilities throughout Southern California.

“The challenge,’’ she told The Los Angeles Times in 1999, “is to let the children’s creativity and musicality take them beyond where they’ve ever been, to let it move them in whatever ways they can move - and that’s when they soar.’’