Accustomed to Her Face

Thirty-Five Character Actresses of Golden Age Hollywood

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About the Book

Drawing on historical documents and newspaper reports, this book provides a fascinating portrait of a diverse group of character actresses who left their stamp on Hollywood from the early sound era through the 1960s. The lives of 35 actresses are explored in detail. Some are familiar: Margaret Hamilton starred in dozens of films before and after her signature role as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz; Una Merkel nearly died when her mother committed suicide in 1945. Others are nearly forgotten: Maude Eburne owed her career to a spectacular fall on the Broadway stage in 1914; Greta Meyer, who played the quintessential German maid, came to Hollywood after years in New York’s Yiddish theater—though she wasn’t Jewish.

About the Author(s)

Axel Nissen is a professor of American literature in the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway.

Bibliographic Details

Axel Nissen
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 288
Bibliographic Info: 60 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9732-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2606-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Introduction 1

What a Joy! Jessie Busley (1871–1950) 3

Raising Caine: Georgia Caine (1876–1964) 11

Mr. and Mrs. Smith: Patricia Collinge (1892–1974) 18

The Trophy Wife: Ruth Donnelly (1896–1982) 25

Falling into Fame: Maude Eburne (1875–1960) 31

The Show Must Go On: Effie Ellsler (1855–1942) 38

I Remember Edith: Edith Evanson (1896–1980) 43

Gone Too Soon: Blanche Friderici (1873–1933) 49

Grace Come Lately: Grace George (1874–1961) 54

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: Connie Gilchrist (1895–1985) 59

Minna’s Modern Marriage: Minna Gombell (1892–1973) 66

“The World’s Oldest Working Actress”: Ethel Griffies (1878–1975) 71

“Old Frozenface”: Sara Haden (1898–1981) 76

From Euclid Avenue to the Yellow Brick Road: Margaret Hamilton (1902–85) 83

“Ivan the Terrible”: Rosalind Ivan (1880–1959) 89

Working Girl: Isabel Jewell (1907–72) 96

Cougar in Evening Dress: Violet ­Kemble-Cooper (1886–1961) 105

Her Wicked Wicked Ways: Doris Lloyd (1891–1968) 111

The Old Doll: Helen Lowell (1865–1937) 116

Meaner than Margaret: Eily Malyon (1879–1961) 121

Bessie’s Daughter: Una Merkel (1903–86) 127

Maids and Masseuses: Greta Meyer (1883–1965) 133

The Quest for Dennie: Dennie Moore (1902–78) 139

The Oregon Belle: Ona Munson (1903–55) 143

Sunset Boulevard: Mary Nash (1884–1976) 151

Tragic Second: Barbara ­O’Neil (1910–80) 157

“The woman you love to hate”: Rafaela Ottiano (1888–1942) 162

The Eternal Landlady: Tempe Pigott (1869–1962) 168

A Woman’s Face: Anita ­Sharp-Bolster (1895–1985) 174

I’m No Lady’s Maid: Libby Taylor (1900-?) 180

Granny’s Got Her Gun: Zeffie Tilbury (1863–1950) 188

Big Enough: Norma Varden (1898–1989) 195

Divinely Dotty: Nydia Westman (1902–70) 201

Ma Jarrett: Margaret Wycherly (1879–1956) 207

Bohemian Rhapsody: Blanche Yurka (1887–1974) 215

Chapter Notes 223

Bibliography 269

Index 271

Book Reviews & Awards

“a must for film buffs…a lot of insight and fascinating info about each of these classic movie actresses”—jlneibaur-writer; “exhaustively researched…after reading this book you’ll enjoy the performances all the more, thanks to Nissen’s incredible insights”—Pop Culture Classics.