Mothers, Mammies and Old Maids

Twenty-Five Character Actresses of Golden Age Hollywood


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About the Book

Continuing the exploration which began in Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties (McFarland, 2006), this companion volume analyzes the contributions of female supporting players in the films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The twenty-five actresses profiled herein range from the easily recognizable (Marie Dressler, Ethel Waters) to the long forgotten (Esther Howard, Evelyn Varden), and from the prolific (Clara Blandick, Mary Forbes) to the “one-work wonders” (Jane Cowl, Queenie Vassar).
Each profile captures the essence of the individual performer’s on-screen persona, unique talents and popular appeal—with special emphasis on a single definitive performance of the actress’s motion picture career (who, for example, could ever forget Josephine Hull in Harvey?). The appendix offers a list of “The 100 Top Performances by Character Actresses in Hollywood, 1930–1960.”

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: 250
Bibliographic Info: 70 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6137-0
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9045-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by Siân Phillips      1
Introduction      3

Mother, May I? Clara Blandick in Shopworn (1932)      5
What a Pal: Helen Broderick in Top Hat (1935)      12
Lady Detective: Constance Collier in Shadow of Doubt (1935)      18
Déclassée: Jane Cowl in Payment on Demand (1951)      27
Mother Courage: Henrietta Crosman in Pilgrimage (1933)      35
Auntz: Cecil Cunningham in The Awful Truth (1937)      43
Old Reliable: Esther Dale in My Reputation (1946)      49
The Dilapidated Diva: Marie Dressler in Dinner at Eight (1933)      56
The Last Dowager: Isobel Elsom in Ladies in Retirement (1941)      65
Larger Than Life: Hope Emerson in Cry of the City (1948)      74
Deep Freeze: Mary Forbes in You Can’t Take It with You (1938)      81
Clothes Horse: Marjorie Gateson in Cocktail Hour (1933)      88
Monster Mom: Louise Closser Hale in Another Language (1933)      95
Madame Noir: Esther Howard in Born to Kill (1947)      106
Asylums and Old Lace: Josephine Hull in Harvey (1950)      114
Maid in America: Patsy Kelly in Private Number (1936)      122
Grandmommie Dearest: Alma Kruger in These Three (1936)      131
The Real Thing: Aline MacMahon in Side Streets (1934)      139
Woman of the People: Beryl Mercer in Outward Bound (1930)      148
Her Girl Friday: Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life (1959)      156
Killing Your Babies: Marjorie Rambeau in Slander (1957)      166
Big Mama: Evelyn Varden in Hilda Crane (1956)      176
Grandma from Hell: Queenie Vassar in Primrose Path (1940)      184
Thoroughly Modern Mammy: Ethel Waters in The Member of the Wedding (1952)      191
Dowager Deluxe: Helen Westley in Splendor (1935)      199

Appendix: The 100 Top Performances by Character Actresses in Hollywood, 1930–1960      207
Notes      211
Bibliography      229
Index      233