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Clara Blandick
Born Clara Dickey
June 4, 1880(1880-06-04)
Hong Kong
Died April 15, 1962 (aged 81)
Hollywood, California
Occupation Actress
Years active 1900–1951
Spouse(s) Staunton Elliott (1911-1912) (divorced)

Clara Blandick (June 4, 1880 – April 15, 1962) was an American actress best known for her portrayal of Auntie Em in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

Contents

Early life

She was born Clara Dickey, the daughter of Isaac B. and Hattie (Mudgett) Dickey, aboard the Willard Mudgett—an American ship captained by her father, and docked in Hong Kong harbor. Her parents settled in Quincy, Massachusetts, by 1880.[1]

Acting

She grew up in Boston, and there met famed Shakespearean actor, E. H. Sothern, with whom she appeared onstage in a production of the play Richard Lovelace. She moved from Boston to New York City by 1900, and began pursuing acting as a career. Her first professional appearance came in 1901, when she was cast as Jehanneton in the play If I Were King, which ran for 56 performances at Garden Theatre (an early component of Madison Square Garden). She achieved acclaim for her role in The Christian and was described by newspaper critics as a "dainty, petite, and graceful" heroine. In 1911 she made her first movie, appearing in the short, silent film The Maid's Double. Blandick finally broke onto Broadway in 1912, when she was cast as Dolores Pennington in Widow By Proxy which ran for 88 performances through early 1913 at George M. Cohan's Theatre on Broadway. During this same period she appeared on stages throughout the Northeastern United States as a member of Sylvester Poli's stock theater company, The Poli Players.

She would continue to achieve success on the stage, playing a number of starring roles, including the lead in Madame Butterfly. By 1914 she was reappearing on the silver screen, this time as Emily Mason in the film Mrs. Black is Back.

During World War I, Blandick performed some overseas volunteer work for the American Expeditionary Force in France. She also continued to act on stage and occasionally in silent pictures.

In 1924, she earned rave reviews for her supporting role in the Pulitzer Prize winning play Hell-Bent Fer Heaven, which ran for 122 performances at the Klaw Theatre in New York (later renamed CBS Radio Playhouse No. 2).

In 1929, Blandick moved to Hollywood. By the 1930s, she was well-known in theatrical and film circles as an established supporting actress. Though she landed roles like Aunt Polly in the 1930 film Tom Sawyer (a role she reprised in the 1931 film Huckleberry Finn), she spent much of the decade as a character actor, often going uncredited. At a time when many actors were permanently attached to a single studio, Blandick played a wide number of bit parts for almost every major Hollywood studio (though she would later be under contract with 20th Century Fox). In 1930, she acted in nine different films. In 1931 she was in thirteen different films. As is the case with some other busy character actors, it's impossible to make an exact tally of the films in which Clara appeared. A reasonable estimate would fall between 150 and 200.

The Wizard of Oz and after

In 1939, Blandick landed her most memorable minor role yet — Auntie Em in MGM's classic The Wizard of Oz. Though it was a small part (Blandick filmed all her scenes in a single week), the character was an important symbol of protagonist Dorothy's quest to return home throughout the film. (Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are the only characters from the beginning of the movie not to have true alter ego characters in the Land Of Oz). Blandick beat out May Robson, Janet Beecher, and Sarah Padden for the role, and earned $750 per week. Some believed Auntie Em's alter ego was to be the Good Witch of the North but opted to use different actresses for each role rather than have a dual role for this. The reason was they wanted someone younger looking to contrast the good witch from the bad witches. Ironically, Billie Burke, who played the Witch of the North, was only 4 years younger than Blandick.

Though the Auntie Em character proved memorable to audiences, few fans knew Blandick's name. She was not billed in the opening credits and is listed last in the movie's closing credits.

After The Wizard of Oz, Blandick returned to her staple of character acting in supporting and bit roles. She would continue to act in a wide variety of roles in dozens of films. She played the spiteful Mrs. Pringle in 1940s Anne of Windy Poplars, a surprised customer in the 1941 Marx Brothers film The Big Store, a fashionable socialite in the 1944 musical Can't Help Singing, and a cold-blooded murderer in the 1947 mystery Philo Vance Returns. Her final two roles both came in 1950 – playing a housekeeper and a landlady in Key to the City and Love That Brute respectively.

She retired from acting at the age of 69 and went into seclusion at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Death

Throughout the 1950s, Blandick's health steadily began to fail. She started going blind and began suffering from severe arthritis. On April 15, 1962, she returned home from Palm Sunday services at her church. Her residence was 1735 North Wilcox Avenue, Los Angeles, California. She began rearranging her room, placing her favorite photos and memorabilia in prominent places. She laid out her resume and a collection of press clippings from her lengthy career. She dressed immaculately, in an elegant royal blue dressing gown. Then, with her hair properly styled, she took an overdose of sleeping pills. She lay down on a couch, covered herself with a gold blanket over her shoulders, and tied a plastic bag over her head. Clara left the following note: “I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

Her landlady, Helen Mason, found her body Sunday morning. In preparing to die, Clara had disposed of all her medicines the previous week. She told James Busch, a friend for many years, that they might be discovered if anything happened to her.

She was interred at the Great Mausoleum, Columbarium of Security (Niche 17230) at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale. Blandick was survived by a niece, Mrs. Katherine Hopkins, of Hayward, California. The actress was married December 7, 1905, in Manhattan, to mining engineer Harry Staunton Elliott.[2] They separated by 1910, and are said to have divorced in 1912. They had no children.

Cultural references

  • Clara Blandick appears as a character in the play The Suicide Manual by Marki Shalloe. It tells the story of a troubled woman contemplating suicide, who is visited by the spirits of various celebrities who killed themselves. The play opened March 3, 2005 at Whole World Theatre in Atlanta. Clara Blandick's role was performed by Frankie Earle.

Partial filmography

References

  1. ^ 1880 United States Census Household Record: Isaac B. Dickey family from familysearch.org
  2. ^ Manhattan marriage certificate #26838 

External links

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