Mary Wickes dies in Los Angeles, 1995. The character actress made movies for more than six decades, supporting the likes of Bette Davis, Doris Day, Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg. She played nurses and nuns, busybodies and plain old bitties, and she had a way with a wisecrack that could steal a scene from a pro. Comedy was her forte, made obvious by her role as Miss Preen in the Broadway play The Man Who Came to Dinner. The play ran for years and, when it came time to film it, Wickes was brought along with the play’s star, Monty Woolley, to recreate their roles for the 1942 screen version. She continued providing ace work in some four dozen feature films, including Now, Voyager (1942), White Christmas (1954), The Music Man (1962), Postcards From the Edge (1990) and Little Women (1994). “I love playing good comedy with a heart,” she once said, “comedy which touches the audience.”
Entries in little women (4)
Janet Leigh dies of vasculitis in Beverly Hills, 2004. As the story goes, Leigh was discovered when Norma Shearer visited a ski resort where her parents worked, saw a photo of Leigh on her father’s desk and arranged a screen test for the young girl. Leigh was signed at MGM and starred in her first movie, The Romance of Rosy Ridge, in 1947. She went on to do Little Women (1949), My Sister Eileen (1955) and Touch of Evil (1958), but it was a 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film that provided her with her most memorable role. “Psycho gave me very wrinkled skin,” the actress recalled. “I was in that shower for seven days—70 setups. At least [Hitchcock] made sure the water was warm.”
Mary Astor dies of a heart attack in Woodland Hills, California, 1987. A beauty contest at the age of 14 led to bit parts in movies, which in turn led to a breakthrough role opposite John Barrymore in Beau Brummel (1924). She continued to impress with Red Dust (1932), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and The Maltese Falcon (1941), and won an Oscar for The Great Lie (1941). Mother roles in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Little Women (1949) followed; she capped her long, 123-film career with a supporting role in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). “There are five stages in the life of an actor,” Astor once said. “Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor Type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?” The actress spent her final years at the Motion Picture and Television Country House retirement community.
Actress Spring Byington dies of cancer in Hollywood, 1971. As Marmee in RKO’s Little Women (1933), she firmly established her wise, caring mother persona. Her role as Mrs. John Jones in 17 Jones family films at 20th Century Fox solidified it further. MGM continued the typecasting by hiring Byington to appear with Lionel Barrymore as the parents of Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) in A Family Affair (1937). The hit movie led to an entire series of Andy Hardy films, though Byington and Barrymore were replaced after A Family Affair with Fay Holden and Lewis Stone. Byington soon afterwards earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her turn as an eccentric mother in You Can’t Take It With You (1938).
She escaped the mother rut from time to time. Dodsworth (1936), Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and Roxie Hart (1942) added variety to her resume. In 1950, she became the love interest of competing suitors Edmund Gwenn and Charles Coburn (above left and right, respectively) in Louisa.
Upon her death, her body was donated to medical research.