Actress. She appeared in many popular movies during her lifetime, including “Little Women” (1933), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), “The Devil and Miss Jones” (1941), “Heaven Can Wait” (1943), “Singapore” (1947), “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949), Louisa” (1950), and was featured on the CBS radio and television production of “December Bride” from 1952 until 1959. Born Spring Dell Byington in Colorado Springs, Colorado, her father was an educator and superintendent of schools in Colorado. Her father died when she was five years old and her mother moved to Boston, Massachusetts to study medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, leaving her in the care of relatives. Her mother returned to Denver, Colorado after graduating in 1896 and started up a practice. She played in amateur shows at school and after graduating from north High School in 1904, she became a professional actress with the Elitch Garden Stock Company. After her mother died in 1907, she tried her hand at newspaper reporting but gave it up and moved to New York City, New York to embark on an acting career in the theater. In 1908 she joined a repertory company that was touring Buenos Aires, Argentina. Between 1908 and 1916, the company performed American plays translated into Spanish and Portuguese in Argentina and Brazil. She returned to New York City and in 1919 began touring with a production of “Birds in Paradise,” which brought the Hawaiian culture to the mainland, and in 1921 began work with the Stuart Walker Company, for which she played roles in “Mr Pim Passes By,” “The Ruined Lady,” and “Rollo’s Wild Oats,” among others. In 1924 she acquired a role in her first Broadway performance in 1924, George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly’s Beggar on Horseback which ran for six months. She renewed the role in March and April 1925, and continued on Broadway with an additional 18 productions from 1925 to 1935, including roles in Kaufman and Moss Hart’s “Once in a Lifetime,” Rachel Crothers’s “When Ladies Meet,” and Dawn Powell’s “Jig Saw.” In 1930 she began working in films, first with a short film titled “Papa’s Slay Ride,” released in 1930, where she played the role of ‘Mama’, and the second role, and most famous, was in “Little Women” (1933, for which she was nominated for an Alexandrias Award for Best Supporting Actress), as ‘Marmee’, with Katharine Hepburn as her daughter ‘Jo’. In 1935 she played Midshipman Roger Byam’s (played by Franchot Tone) mother in “Mutiny on the Bounty.” She then became popular during “The Jones Family” series of films (between 1936 and 1940), and continued as a character actress in Hollywood for several years. In 1938 she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as ‘Penny Sycamore’ in the film “You Can’t Take it With You.” During World War II she worked in radio, and decided to continue working in this medium as her film career began to dwindle after the war. In 1952 she joined CBS Radio to become the lead role of the widowed ‘Lily Ruskin’ in the sitcom “December Bride.” In 1954 Desilu Productions produced a pilot of the show for a television sitcom, in which she also starred, and it proved successful, broadcasting 111 episodes through 1959, and she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Actress in 1957 and 1958. She guest starred as herself on one 1961 episode of the television sitcom “Dennis the Menace.” Her other television credits include “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Laramie” (1961 to 1963, as the wise, matronly housekeeper ‘Daisy Cooper’), “Kentucky Jones” (1964 to 1965, as ‘Mrs Jolly’), “Batman” (1966), and “I Dream of Jeannie” (1967, as Larry Hagman’s mother). Her last film appearance was in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) and her final television role was in 1968 as ‘Mother General’ on ABC’s “The Flying Nun.” She died of rectal cancer in her home at the age of 84. During her career, she appeared in over 60 films and 19 Broadway productions. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for films and one for television.
- October, 17, 1886
- September, 07, 1971
- Body Donated to Medical Science