Edna May Oliver

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Edna May Oliver
Studio publicity Edna May Oliver.jpg
c. 1930s
BornEdna May Nutter
(1883-11-09)November 9, 1883
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedNovember 9, 1942(1942-11-09) (aged 59)
Malibu, California, U.S.
OccupationActress
Years active1917–1941
Spouse(s)David Welford Pratt (1928-1933; divorced)
 
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Not to be confused with the stage actress Edna May.
Edna May Oliver
Studio publicity Edna May Oliver.jpg
c. 1930s
BornEdna May Nutter
(1883-11-09)November 9, 1883
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedNovember 9, 1942(1942-11-09) (aged 59)
Malibu, California, U.S.
OccupationActress
Years active1917–1941
Spouse(s)David Welford Pratt (1928-1933; divorced)

Edna May Oliver (November 9, 1883 – November 9, 1942) was an American stage and film actress.[1] During the 1930s, she was one of the best-known character actresses in American films, often playing tart-tongued spinsters.

Early life[edit]

Born Edna May Nutter in Malden, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ida May and Charles Edward Nutter, Oliver was a descendant of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. 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 Aunt Penelope.[2]

Career[edit]

In 1925, Oliver appeared on Broadway in The Cradle Snatchers, co-starring Mary Boland, Gene Raymond and a young actor named Humphrey Bogart.[3] 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.[4] She repeated the role in the 1932 Broadway revival,[5] but turned down the chance to play Parthy in the 1936 film version of the show to play the Nurse in that year's film version of Romeo and Juliet.

Her film debut was in 1923 in Wife in Name Only. 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 usually playing featured parts, she starred in ten films, including the women's stories Fanny Foley Herself and Ladies of the Jury.

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. It is often said that she was also considered to play the Wicked Witch of the West in MGM's 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the role which eventually went to Margaret Hamilton, but it is not true. She was briefly considered for a different conception of the role of Glinda, which eventually went to Billie Burke.

When asked why she played predominantly comedic roles, she replied, "With a horse's face, what more can I play?", however she was cast in such decidedly non-comedic films as Cimarron (1931), Ann Vickers (1933), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), David Copperfield (1935), and Romeo and Juliet (1936).

Death[edit]

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 Glendale, California.

Awards and honors[edit]

Oliver received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for her appearance in Drums Along the Mohawk.

In popular culture[edit]

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).

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]