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Blandick (c. 1903) in a photograph by Otto Sarony
June 4, 1880
Hong Kong, China
|Died||April 15, 1962
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery|
She was born Clara Dickey, the daughter of Isaac B. and Hattie (née Mudgett) Dickey, aboard the Willard Mudgett – an American ship captained by her father (named after one of her maternal relatives), and docked in Hong Kong harbor.
Her parents settled in Quincy, Massachusetts, by 1880. In nearby Boston, she met the Shakespearean actor, E. H. Sothern, with whom she appeared in a production of 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 1903 she played Gwendolyn in the Broadway premiere of E. W. Hornung's Raffles The Amateur Cracksman opposite Kyrle Bellew. She started in pictures with the Old Kalem company in 1908 and made a number of appearances like in The Maid's Double in 1911. 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 continued to achieve acclaim for her stage work, playing a number of starring roles, including the lead in Madame Butterfly. By 1914, she was back on the silver screen, 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. In Pre-Code films she often played mothers, including those of characters played by Joan Crawford (Possessed) and Joan Blondell (Three on a Match). At a time when many actors were permanently attached to a single studio, she 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 is impossible to make an exact tally of the films in which Blandick appeared but a reasonable estimate would fall between 150 and 200.
The Wizard of Oz and later years
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 to her beloved aunt and uncle – a snipe at people who revere glitz and tinsel over a happy homelife. (Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are the only characters from the beginning of the movie not to have 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 the studio 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, although Billie Burke, who played the Witch of the North, was only four years younger. Blandick is only credited 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.
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. Blandick 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, Blandick had disposed of all her medicines the previous week. Blandick was survived by a niece, Catherine Hopkins, of Camarillo, California. Blandick's ashes were interred at the Great Mausoleum, Columbarium of Security (Niche 17230) at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. Blandick's cremated remains lie just yards from those of The Wizard of Oz co-star, actor Charley Grapewin (whose remains are in Niche 14639).
- Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp (1917)
- The Girl Said No (1930)
- The Sins of the Children (1930)
- Romance (1930)
- The Last of the Duanes (1930)
- Tom Sawyer (1930)
- The Easiest Way (1931)
- I Take This Woman (1931)
- New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford (1931)
- Possessed (1931)
- Murder at Midnight (1931)
- Huckleberry Finn (1931)
- The Wet Parade (1932)
- Shopworn (1932)
- Life Begins (1932)
- Child of Manhattan (1933)
- Turn Back the Clock (1933)
- Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933)
- Ever in My Heart (1933)
- The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
- The Girl from Missouri (1934)
- Broadway Bill (1934)
- Party Wire (1935)
- Hearts Divided (1936)
- Anthony Adverse (1936)
- The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936)
- The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)
- A Star is Born (1937) (uncredited)
- Wings Over Honolulu (1937)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
- Swanee River (1939)
- Dreaming Out Loud (1940)
- North West Mounted Police (1940)
- The Big Store (1941)
- The Wagons Roll at Night (1941)
- It Started with Eve (1941)
- Rings on Her Fingers (1942)
- Dixie (1943)
- Heaven Can Wait (1943)
- Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)
- Can't Help Singing (1944)
- Pillow of Death (1945)
- A Stolen Life (1946)
- Life with Father (1947)
- The Bride Goes Wild (1948)
- Mr. Soft Touch (1949)
- Key to the City (1950)
- Chicago Daily Tribune, Clara Real 'Ship's Daughter', January 30, 1910.
- Los Angeles Times, Actress Clara Blandick Plays Farewell Scene, April 16, 1962, Page A1.
- 1880 United States Census Household Record: Isaac B. Dickey family at familysearch.org
- Manhattan marriage certificate #26838
- Clara Blandick at the Internet Broadway Database
- Clara Blandick at the Internet Movie Database
- Clara Blandick at AllRovi
- Clara Blandick at Find a Grave