Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Edna May Oliver (Nov 9, 1883 – Nov 9, 1942)
Edna May Oliver (November 9, 1883 – November 9, 1942)
American film actress. During the 1930s, she was one of the American screen's best-known character actresses often playing tart-tongued spinsters.
Born Edna May Nutter in Malden, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ida May and Charles Edward Nutter, Edna was a descendant of the sixth American president, John Quincy Adams. She quit school at age fourteen in order to pursue a career on stage and achieved her first success in 1917 on Broadway in Jerome Kern's musical comedy Oh, Boy!, playing the hero's comically dour Quaker Aunt Penelope.
In 1925, Oliver appeared in The Cradle Snatchers co-starring Mary Boland, Margaret Dale, Gene Raymond, Raymond Hackett & a young Humphrey Bogart. Oliver's most notable stage appearance was as Parthy, wife of Cap'n Andy Hawks, in the original 1927 stage production of the musical Show Boat. She repeated the role in the 1932 Broadway revival, but turned down the chance to play Parthy in the 1936 film version of the show so that she could play the Nurse in that year's film version of Romeo and Juliet, her only role in a Shakespeare film or play.
Her film debut occurred in 1923 in the film Wife in Name Only and she continued to appear in films until Lydia in 1941. Oliver first gained major notice in films for her appearances in several comedy films starring the team of Wheeler & Woolsey including Half Shot at Sunrise, her first film under her RKO Radio Pictures contract in 1930.
While most often playing featured parts, she starred in 10 films, including the women's stories Fanny Foley Herself and Ladies of the Jury. Edna May Oliver's most popular star vehicles were mystery-comedies starring Oliver as spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers from the popular Stuart Palmer novels. The series ended prematurely when Oliver left RKO to sign with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1935; the studio attempted to continue the series with Helen Broderick and then ZaSu Pitts as Withers, but these later films were not well-received.
Since Oliver was cast in several film versions of classic British literature, including Alice in Wonderland (1933), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), David Copperfield (1935), the 1936 film version of Romeo and Juliet, and Pride and Prejudice (1940), many film-goers have incorrectly assumed that she is British. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for her appearance in Drums Along the Mohawk.
Oliver was one of the many movie stars caricatured in the 1937 cartoon Porky's Road Race, and her notably "bottom-heavy" physique was satirized in cartoons such as Friz Freleng's The Hardship of Miles Standish (1940).
Oliver died on her 59th birthday in 1942 following a short intestinal ailment that proved terminal, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glenda, California.