May Robson

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May Robson
May Robson in Broadway to Hollywood trailer.jpg
Robson in Broadway to Hollywood (1933)
Born Mary Jeanette Robison
(1858-04-19)April 19, 1858
Melbourne, Australia
Died October 20, 1942 (aged 84)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Spouse(s) Charles L. Gore (1874/1875 – 1883)
Augustus H. Brown (1889 – 1920; his death)
Children Edward Hyde Leveson Gore (1876-1954)
1 daughter
1 other son

May Robson (April 19, 1858 – October 20, 1942) was an actress and playwright whose career spanned 58 years, starting in 1883 when she was 25 years of age. A major stage actress of the late 19th and early 20th century, Robson is best known today for the dozens of 1930s motion pictures she appeared in when she was well into her seventies, usually playing cross old ladies with hearts of gold.

Robson was the earliest-born person to enjoy a major Hollywood career and receive an Academy Award nomination.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Mary Jeanette Robison was the fourth child born to Captain Henry Robison and his wife, Julia, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Capt. Robison served in the British Royal Navy and retired in Australia for his health. He died when Mary was seven years old. Julia Robison packed up her family and returned to London. She was educated in England, Brussels, and Paris.

At age 17, in 1875, Mary married her first husband, Charles Leveson Gore, in London.[2][nb 1][nb 2] The couple first ran a cattle ranch in Fort Worth, Texas, and later moved to New York City, where most sources agree that Charles Gore died in or around 1883. Biographer Jan Jones posits that Robson and Gore divorced because Robson did not wish to return to England. Without her husband, Mary did embroidery work and gave painting lessons to support her three children.[5]

By the time she began her acting career in 1883, two of Robson's three children had died;[clarification needed][why?] the surviving child was Edward Hyde Leveson Gore (December 2, 1876[6] - September 23, 1954[7]).[4][8] Six years after beginning her stage career, Robson married Augustus Homer Brown, a police surgeon, on May 29, 1889. They remained together until his death on April 1, 1920.[4][9]

Career[edit]

On September 17, 1883, she became an actress on the Brooklyn Grand Opera House stage. Her name was incorrectly spelled "Robson" in the billing, which she used from that point forward "for good luck".[10] Over the next several decades, she flourished on the stage as a comedienne and character actress. Her success was partly due to her affiliation with powerful manager and producer Charles Frohman and the Theatrical Syndicate. Robson established her own touring theatrical company by 1911.[3]

She appeared as herself at her Long Island home in a cameo with one of her adult daughters in the 1915 silent How Molly Made Good, a film that's available on DVD. She starred in the 1916 silent film A Night Out, an adaptation of the play she co-wrote, The Three Lights.[11]

In 1927 Robson attended Edinburgh University, then went to Hollywood where she would have a successful film career as a senior aged woman.[12] Among her starring roles was in The She-Wolf (1931) as a miserly millionaire businesswoman based on the real-life miser Hetty Green.[13][14] She also starred in the final segment of the anthology film If I Had a Million (1932) as a rest home resident who gets a new lease on life when she is given a $1,000,000 check by a dying business tycoon.[15] She played the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1933), Countess Vronsky in Anna Karenina (1936), Aunt Elizabeth in Bringing Up Baby (1938), Aunt Polly in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), and a sharp-tongued Granny in A Star Is Born (1937). Robson was top-billed as late as 1940, starring in Granny Get Your Gun at age 82. Her last film was 1942's Joan of Paris.[13][16][17]

Academy Award nomination[edit]

In 1933, Robson was nominated for an Academy Award at age 75 in the Best Actress category for Lady for a Day. She lost to Katharine Hepburn; the two actresses would both appear in the Hepburn-Grant classic film, Bringing Up Baby.

Robson was the first Australian-born person to be nominated for an acting Oscar, and for many years she held the record as the oldest performer nominated for an Oscar.[18][19]

Stage[edit]

The following is a partial list of her stage performances:[4][20]

  • Called Back (1884)
  • An Appeal to the Muse (1885)
  • Robert Elsmere (1889)
  • The Charity Ball (1890)
  • Nerves, adapted from Les Femmes Nerveuses (1891)
  • Gloriana (1892)
  • Lady Bountiful (1892)
  • Americans Abroad (1893)
  • The Family Circle (1893)
  • The Poet and the Puppets (1893)
  • Squirrel Inn (1893)
  • No. 3A (1894)
  • As You Like It (1894)
  • Liberty Hall (1894)
  • The Fatal Card (1895)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
  • A Woman's Reason (1895)
  • The First Born (1897)
  • His Excellency, The Governor (1900)
  • Are You a Mason? (1901)
  • Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1904)
  • Cousin Billy (1905-1907)
  • The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary (1907)
  • The Three Lights (A Night Out) (1911)

Selected filmography[edit]

The following is a partial list of the more than 60 films that Robson made during her career:[21]

Death[edit]

May Robson died at age 84 at her Beverly Hills, California, home and was buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, next to her second husband, Augustus Brown.[4] The New York Times obituary for Robson called her the "dowager queen of the American screen and stage".[1]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gore's name is also given as Charles Leveson Gore.[3]
  2. ^ Gore's name is also given as Edward H. Gore.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8. 
  2. ^ "England and Wales, Marriage Registration Index, 1837-1920". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  3. ^ a b Jones, Jan. Renegades, Showmen & Angels: A Theatrical History of Fort Worth, 1873-2001. Texas A & M University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-87565-318-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S. Boyer (1971). Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, vol 2. Radcliffe College. p. 185. ISBN 0-674-62734-2. 
  5. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8. 
  6. ^ "England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837-1920". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  7. ^ "California, Death Index, 1940-1997". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  8. ^ Munsey's Magazine 26. New York, New York: Frank A. Munsey. 1901. pp. 324, 587–88. 
  9. ^ New York State Medical Association, Medical Society of the State of New York (1920). New York State journal of medicine, Volume 20. p. 170. 
  10. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8. 
  11. ^ "Screenplay Info for A Night Out (1916)". Turner Classic Movies (tcm.com). Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  12. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8. 
  13. ^ a b Palmer, Scott (1988). A Who's Who of Australian and New Zealand Film Actors: The Sound Era. p. 142. ISBN 0-8108-2090-0. 
  14. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (May 28, 1931). "The She-Wolf (1931)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2012. 
  15. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (December 3, 1932). "If I Had a Million (1932)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2012. 
  16. ^ John C. Tibbetts, James M. Welsh, ed. (2010). American Classic Screen Features. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-81087678-1. 
  17. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 3, 187–8. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8. 
  18. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 3, 187. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8. 
  19. ^ Edwards, Anne (2000) [1985]. Katharine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 456. ISBN 0-312-20656-9. 
  20. ^ Brown, Thomas Allston (1903). A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901, Volume 3. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 42, 63, 180, 217, 263, 265, 267, 349, 352, 366, 425–6, 427, 429, 431, 439, 523, 533, 536, 538. 
  21. ^ "May Robson IMDb profile". Retrieved August 3, 2012. 

External links[edit]