Shirley wanted to be an actress from a very young age. At a family party when she was about 11, she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her reply, "I want to go on the stage," was met with laughter. She silenced that with a piercing scream. (Ironically, later she found fame on "Dark Shadows," a show noted for its screaming leading ladies.)
In the 1940s, Shirley did take the stage at Temple
University, where she was studying. She later majored in drama at Cornell University. However, she did not graduate, and instead moved to New York City to further her career. She appeared on stage and in the still-new medium of live television--with a new stage name: Shirley Grayson. In the early 1950s, she met young playwright Sam Hall, whom she later married. Sam called her Grayson, so eventually her stage name became Grayson Hall.
She continued acting on stage, but in August of 1958, she gave birth to son Matthew Hall and took time off to concentrate on being a mother. By 1960, however, she was lured back to the stage.
In 1963 Grayson was cast by John Huston in the film version of Tennessee Williams' play "Night of the Iguana." Her performance in the supporting role of Judith Fellowes earned her an Oscar nomination.
In 1965 she appeared in the Disney film "That Darn Cat," as well as an hour-long color television film, "Back to Back," opposite Shelley Winters and Jack Hawkins. The following year, she went to Paris to star in the title role of American expatriate William Klein's satire of French fashion and society, "Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?" (French title: "Qui Etes-vous, Polly Maggoo?") Her character was closely modeled after William Klein's former boss Diana Vreeland, the infamous editor of Vogue magazine.
Upon her return to the U.S., in 1966 Grayson played an evil assassin in the TV show "The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (She later appeared in the spin-off, "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.")
In 1967, Grayson was approached to join the cast of Dark Shadows, and she originally intended to take the role of Julia Hoffman for only a few weeks. She ended up staying until the series' end, in 1971. Her husband, Sam, joined the show as a writer, which may or may not have influenced the fact that she appeared in just about every episode for quite some time, playing several meaty roles, including the Countess du Pres in the 1795 story line, and Magda, a colorful gypsy fortune teller in 1897 who placed a werewolf curse on Quentin Collins.
Grayson described her primary character to "Saturday Evening Post" writer George Fox for a 1968 article: "I play Dr. Julia Hoffman, a kind of female mad scientist. She's one of the few people who know Barnabas is more than a harmless nut who hates sunlight. Actually, I'm in love with him, and I get jealous as hell because he bites young girls in the neck but refuses to bite me. Middle-aged housewives are always sending me letters saying they understand the situation perfectly."
While on DS, Grayson appeared in a few films, including "End of the Road" and "Adam at Six a.m." In 1970 she played Julia Hoffman again in "House of Dark Shadows." Then in 1971, she played Carlotta Drake, the housekeeper in "Night of Dark Shadows."
She made TV commercials in the early '70s, taking a brief break from more-demanding roles, but she soon returned to the stage and the television screen. Among her many roles, in 1972, she played a hard-drinking, tough-talking character named Mrs. Parks in the camp-c TV movie "Gargoyles." In April 1973, she portrayed a magazine reporter named Marge in a few episodes of "All My Children." And in 1977, Grayson acted with her former DS co-star David Selby in a play called "Rib Cage" in New York City. (Over the years, she also maintained contact with Nancy Barrett and Joan Bennett.)
In 1982 Grayson joined the cast of "One Life to Live," another soap opera written by her husband, Sam. (She played a character with the unusual name Euphemia Ralston.) Grayson and Nancy Barrett joined their fellow former DS-er, Anthony George, in a "One Life to Live" scene in 1983.
Grayson's final performance was in a revival of Jean Giraudoux's "Madwoman of Chaillot" at the Theatre at St. Peter's Church, but she had to leave the cast in early 1985, due to illness. She died of lung cancer on August 7, 1985.
Note: Much of the basic information for this biography is from an article written by S. R. Shutt at: "Remembering Grayson" a loving tribute you can visit at: http://hometown.aol.com/lynn1dave/index.htm.