Cornelia Otis Skinner

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Cornelia Otis Skinner
Cornelia Otis Skinner.jpg
Skinner in 1955
Born(1899-05-30)May 30, 1899
DiedJuly 9, 1979(1979-07-09) (aged 80)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeOak Grove Cemetery, Fall River, Massachusetts
Occupation(s)Actress, playwright, screenwriter
Years active1920–1970
SpouseAlden Sanford Blodget (1928–1964; his death)
Parent(s)Otis Skinner
Maud Durbin

Cornelia Otis Skinner (May 30, 1899 – July 9, 1979) was an American writer and actress.


Skinner was the only child of actor Otis Skinner and actress Maud Durbin. After attending the all-girls' Baldwin School and Bryn Mawr College (1918–1919), and studying theatre at the Sorbonne in Paris, she began her career on the stage in 1921.

Skinner appeared in several plays before embarking on a tour of the United States from 1926 to 1929 in a one-woman performance of short character sketches which she had written. She also wrote numerous short, humorous pieces for publications such as The New Yorker. These pieces were eventually compiled into a series of books, including Nuts in May, Dithers and Jitters, Excuse It Please!, and The Ape in Me, among others.[citation needed]

In a "comprehensive study" of Skinner's work, G. Bruce Loganbill (1961) refers to Skinner's scripts as "monologue-dramas," which were extensions of the "linked monologues" developed by Ruth Draper. Skinner's work differed in structure and content, however, as she created and performed full-length monologue-dramas that were based on the lives of historical figures. Such work was described as a "unique" and important contribution to the one-person show in America.[1]

She appeared with Orson Welles on The Campbell Playhouse radio play of "American Cavalcade: The Things We Have" on May 26, 1939.[2]

With Emily Kimbrough, Skinner wrote Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, a light-hearted description of their European tour after college. Kimbrough and Skinner went to Hollywood to act as consultants on the film adaptation of the book, produced as a film of the same name, with Gail Russell playing Skinner. The book was also adapted as a 1950 television series The Girls, in which Skinner was portrayed by Bethel Leslie (replaced by Gloria Stroock).[3]

In 1952, Skinner's one-woman show Paris '90 (music and lyrics by Kay Swift) premiered on Broadway. An original cast recording was produced by Goddard Lieberson for Columbia Records, and is now available on compact disc. In later years Skinner wrote Madame Sarah (a biography of Sarah Bernhardt), and Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals about the Belle Epoque.

In a 1944 conversation with Victor Borge, Skinner reportedly told the Danish comedian that she decided to drop the term "diseuse" from her act after reading in a Scottish newspaper: "Cornelia Otis Skinner, the American disease, gave a program last night."[4]


Cornelia Otis Skinner married Alden Sanford Blodget on October 5, 1928 in Warm Springs, Virginia. On August 28, 1930, she gave birth to her only child, a son, Otis Skinner Blodget, who died on March 11, 2007, aged 76.


Portrait of Cornelia Otis Skinner by Gladys Rockmore Davis

As an actress[edit]

As herself[edit]


Our Hearts Were Young and Gay on display at Macy's (December 1942)


  • Skinner, Cornelia Otis (1962). Elegant wits and grand horizontals; a sparkling panorama of "la belle epoque," its gilded society, irrepressible wits and splendid courtesans.
  • Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (with Emily Kimbrough, 1942; Dodd, Mead and Company Inc.)
  • Family Circle (1948) – an autobiographical work (entitled Happy Family in the UK)
  • Skinner, Cornelia Otis (January 7, 1950). "Those Friends of His". The New Yorker. 25 (46): 27–29. Humorous autobiographical piece.
Essay compilations
  • Tiny Garments (1932)
  • Excuse It, Please! (1936)
  • Dithers and Jitters (1937)
  • Soap Behind the Ears (1941)
  • Popcorn (1943)
  • That's Me All Over (1948) – a collection of the best essays from the prior 4 compilations.
  • Nuts in May (1950)
  • Bottoms Up! (1955) Dodd, Mead, and Company, New York
  • The Ape in Me (1959)

Playwriting, screenwriting, scriptwriting[edit]

  • Edna, His Wife (1937), play based on the 1935 novel of the same name by Margaret Ayer Barnes
  • The Girls (1950) TV series
  • The Pleasure of His Company (1958) play (adapted as a film in 1961)


  • The Wives of Henry VIII (1931)
  • The Empress Eugenie (1932)
  • The Loves of Charles II (1933)
  • The Mansion on the Hudson (1935)

Critical studies and reviews of Skinner's work[edit]

  • Cast of One: One Person Shows from the Chautauqua Platform to the Broadway Stage (1989)- Section on Skinner


  1. ^ Gentile, John S. (1989). Cast of One. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 112.
  2. ^ "The Campbell Playhouse: American Cavalcade". Orson Welles on the Air, 1938–1946. Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  3. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows - 1946-Present (9 ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 540. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  4. ^ Hopper, Hedda (June 2, 1944). "Screen has Taken Over 'Duffy's Tavern'". The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah). p. 14. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  5. ^ What's My Line? - Cornelia Otis Skinner; Dore Schary (panel) (Mar 29, 1959)

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Cornelia Skinner papers". Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester.