Hope Emerson

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Hope Emerson
Studio publicity Hope Emerson.jpg
Studio Publicity Photo, 1950s.
Born (1897-10-30)October 30, 1897
Hawarden, Iowa, U.S.
Died April 24, 1960(1960-04-24) (aged 62)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Cause of death Liver disease
Occupation Actress, vaudeville performer, strongwoman, nightclub performer
Years active 1900-1960

Hope Emerson (October 30, 1897 – April 24, 1960[1][2]) was an American actress, vaudeville and nightclub performer, and strongwoman. She stood 6'2" and weighed 190 lbs in her prime.

Early life[edit]

Emerson was born in Hawarden, Iowa to John Alvin and Josie L. (née Washburn) Emerson, the middle and only surviving child of three (her two siblings died in infancy). She began her career at age 3, touring Iowa with her mother, a character actress. Following her graduation from West High School in Des Moines in 1916, she moved to New York City, where she performed in vaudeville.[3]


Emerson made her Broadway debut in Lysistrata in 1930, when theatrical producer Norman Bel Geddes cast her for the role of Lamputo, an Amazon. She made her film début in Smiling Faces (1932) but then returned to the theater. In 1947, critic Brooks Atkinson called her performance in Street Scene "vastly entertaining as the garrulous old crone."[4] In the 1940s, Emerson was also known as the voice of Elsie the Cow in Borden Milk commercials on radio.[5]

Standing 6 ft.-2 in. (1.88m), Emerson's most memorable roles were as a circus strongwoman in the film Adam's Rib (1949), lifting actor Spencer Tracy up in the air; a masseuse-conspirator in the noirish Cry of the City (1948); and a mail-order bride in Westward the Women (1952). Her most famous role, as sadistic prison matron Evelyn Harper in Caged (1950), garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[6]

On television, Emerson guest starred on the series finale ("The Housekeeper") of It's a Great Life, playing a bossy housekeeper who temporarily takes charge while Amy Morgan, played by Frances Bavier, is away on vacation.[7]

She had a regular role in Peter Gunn (1958), for which she received an Emmy nomination,[8] and the CBS sitcom The Dennis O'Keefe Show (1959), starring with Dennis O'Keefe and Ricky Kelman. Emerson also sang and performed in nightclubs.[citation needed]


Emerson died of liver disease in 1960 at age 62 in Hollywood on April 24, 1960. She is interred in Grace Hill Cemetery in her hometown of Hawarden, Iowa. She never married or had children.


  1. ^ New York Times obituary dated April 25, 2016 (stating she died "last night"), nytimes.com; accessed April 24, 2016. (subscription required)
  2. ^ California, Death Index, 1940-1997 gives Hope Emerson (SS# 060-10-6781)'s date of birth as October 30, 1897 and her date of death as April 24, 1960.
  3. ^ Hope Emerson profile at Find a Grave; accessed July 28, 2016.
  4. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (January 10, 1947). "New York Times" – via ProQuest. 
  5. ^ "Hope Emerson profile". Soylent Communications. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  6. ^ Alex Heigl (June 15, 2016). "From Caged to Orange Is the New Black: A Brief History of Incarcerated Women on Screen". People. Retrieved August 12, 2016. 
  7. ^ ""It's a Great Life": "The Housekeeper"". tv.com. Retrieved March 19, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Hope Emerson profile". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 

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