Darwell as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
October 15, 1879
Palmyra, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||August 13, 1967 (aged 87)|
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, U.S.|
Jane Darwell (born Patti Woodard; October 15, 1879 – August 13, 1967) was an American actress of stage, film, and television. With appearances in more than 100 major movies spanning half a century, Darwell is perhaps best-remembered for her poignant portrayal of the matriarch and leader of the Joad family in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and her role as the Bird Woman in Disney's musical family film Mary Poppins. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Born to William Robert Woodard, president of the Louisville Southern Railroad, and Ellen Booth Woodard in Palmyra, Missouri, Darwell originally intended to become a circus rider, then later an opera singer. Her father, however, objected to those career plans, so she compromised by becoming an actress, changing her name to Darwell to avoid sullying the family name.
Woodard vs. Woodward
Some sources give Darwell's birth name as Patti Woodward. They include Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965, Missouri Biographical Dictionary, Screen World 1968, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, and Dictionary of Missouri Biography.
Darwell studied voice culture and the piano, followed by dramatics. At one point, she decided to enter a convent, then changed her mind and became an actress. She began acting in theater productions in Chicago and made her first film appearance in 1913. She appeared in almost 20 films over the next two years, then returned to the stage. After a 15-year absence from films, she appeared in Tom Sawyer (1930), and her career as a Hollywood character actress began. Short, stout and plain, she was quickly cast in a succession of films, usually as the mother of one of the main characters. She also appeared in five Shirley Temple films, usually as the housekeeper or grandmother.
She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), a role she was given at the insistence of Henry Fonda, the film's star. A contract player with 20th Century Fox, Darwell was memorably cast in The Ox-Bow Incident, and occasionally starred in B movies and played featured parts in scores of major films.
Darwell had noted appearances on the stage as well; in 1944, she was popular in the stage comedy Suds in Your Eye, in which she played an Irishwoman who had inherited a junkyard.
By the end of her career, she had appeared in more than 170 films, including Huckleberry Finn (1931), Jesse James (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), and My Darling Clementine (1946).
Darwell was among the guest stars on an episode of Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town, a variety series that aired on CBS from 1951 to 1952 in which hostess Faye Emerson visits a different city each week to accent the local music. In 1954, Darwell appeared with Andy Clyde in the episode "Santa's Old Suit" of the series The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse. This same episode was re-run the following Christmas 1955 on Studio 57. In 1959, she appeared with child actor Roger Mobley in the episode "Mr. Rush's Secretary" on Buckskin, starring Tom Nolan and Sally Brophy. She guest starred on John Bromfield's crime drama Sheriff of Cochise.
On July 27, 1961, Darwell appeared as Grandmother McCoy in an episode of the sitcom The Real McCoys. In the story, the series characters played by Walter Brennan, Richard Crenna, and Kathleen Nolan return to fictitious Smokey Corners, West Virginia for Grandmother McCoy's 100th birthday gathering. Darwell was 15 years older than "son" Walter Brennan. Pat Buttram and Henry Jones appeared in this episode as Cousin Carl and Jed McCoy, respectively.
During her last years, Darwell was in poor health. She died August 13, 1967, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital from a myocardial infarction at the age of 87 and was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
- Brewster's Millions (1914) as Mrs. Dan De Mille
- The Master Mind (1914) as Milwaukee Sadie
- The Only Son (1914) as Mrs. Brainerd
- The Man on the Box (1914) as Mrs. Chadwick
- Ready Money (1914) as Mrs. Tyler
- Rose of the Rancho (1914) as Senora Castro Kenton / Juanita's Mother
- The Hypocrites (1915) as Madam (uncredited)
- The Goose Girl (1915) as Irma
- After Five (1915) as Mrs. Russell - Aunt Diddy
- The Rug Maker's Daughter (1915) as Mrs. Van Buren
- The Reform Candidate (1915) as Mrs. Haggerty
- Little Church Around the Corner (1923) as Anxious Woman at Mine Disaster (uncredited)
- Tom Sawyer (1930) as Widow Douglas
- Fighting Caravans (1931) as Pioneer Woman (uncredited)
- Huckleberry Finn (1931) as Widow Douglas
- Ladies of the Big House (1931) as Mrs. Turner
- No One Man (1932) as Patient (uncredited)
- Young America (1932) as Schoolteacher (uncredited)
- The Strange Case of Clara Deane (1932) as Mortimer's Wife (uncredited)
- Back Street (1932) as Mrs. Adolph Schmidt
- Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932) as Alice's Aunt (uncredited)
- Hot Saturday (1932) as Mrs Ida Brock
- Women Won't Tell (1932) as Mrs. Walter Robinson
- Air Hostess (1933) as Ma Kearns
- The Past of Mary Holmes (1933)
- Child of Manhattan (1933) as Mrs. McGonegle
- Murders in the Zoo (1933) as Banquet Guest (uncredited)
- Bondage (1933) as Mrs. Elizabeth Wharton
- The Girl in 419 (1933) as Nurse Esmond (uncredited)
- Emergency Call (1933) as Head Nurse Brown (uncredited)
- Jennie Gerhardt (1933) as Boardinghouse Keeper (uncredited)
- Bed of Roses (1933) as Mrs. Webster - Head Prison Matron (uncredited)
- Before Dawn (1933) as Mrs. Marble
- He Couldn't Take It (1933) as Mrs. Case
- One Sunday Afternoon (1933) as Mrs. Lind
- Ann Vickers (1933) as Mrs. Gage (uncredited)
- Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men (1933) as Mrs. Spence - Landlady (uncredited)
- Only Yesterday (1933) as Mrs. Lane
- Design for Living (1933) as Curtis' Housekeeper
- Roman Scandals (1933) as Roman Spa Proprietress (uncredited)
- King for a Night (1933) as Mrs. Williams (uncredited)
- Cross Country Cruise (1934) as Mrs. O'Hara (uncredited)
- Fashions of 1934 (1934) as Customer at Maison Elegance (uncredited)
- Wonder Bar (1934) as Baroness (uncredited)
- Heat Lightning (1934) as Gladys
- David Harum (1934) as Mrs. Woolsey (uncredited)
- Journal of a Crime (1934) as Dinner Guest (uncredited)
- Once to Every Woman (1934) as Mrs. Wood
- Finishing School (1934) as Maude - interns' Receptionist (uncredited)
- The Scarlet Empress (1934) as Miss Cardell, Sophia's Nurse (uncredited)
- Change of Heart (1934) as Mrs. McGowan
- Let's Talk It Over (1934) as Mrs. O'Keefe
- The Most Precious Thing in Life (1934) as Mrs. O'Day
- Blind Date (1934) as Ma Taylor
- Million Dollar Ransom (1934) as Ma McGarry (uncredited)
- Embarrassing Moments (1934) as Mrs. Stuckelberger
- One Night of Love (1934) as Mrs. Barrett - Mary's Mother (uncredited)
- Desirable (1934) as Frederick's Mother (uncredited)
- Wake Up and Dream (1934) as Landlady
- Happiness Ahead (1934) as Mrs. Davis - the Landlady
- Tomorrow's Youth (1934) as Mary O'Brien
- The Firebird (1934) as Mrs. Miller - Apartment House Tenant (uncredited)
- The White Parade (1934) as Miss 'Sailor' Roberts
- Gentlemen Are Born (1934) as Landlady (uncredited)
- Bright Eyes (1934) as Elizabeth Higgins
- One More Spring (1935) as Mrs. Mary Sweeney
- McFadden's Flats (1935) as Nora McFadden
- Life Begins at 40 (1935) as Ida Harris
- Curly Top (1935) as Mrs. Henrietta Denham
- Navy Wife (1935) as Mrs. Louise Keats
- Metropolitan (1935) as Grandma (uncredited)
- We're Only Human (1935) as Mrs. Walsh
- Paddy O'Day (1936) as Dora
- The Country Doctor (1936) as Mrs. Graham
- The First Baby (1936) as Mrs. Ellis
- Captain January (1936) as Mrs. Eliza Croft
- Private Number (1936) as Mrs. Meecham
- Little Miss Nobody (1936) as Martha Bradley
- The Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) as Woodward
- White Fang (1936) as Maud Mahoney
- Star for a Night (1936) as Mrs. Martha Lind
- Ramona (1936) as Aunt Ri Hyar
- Craig's Wife (1936) as Mrs. Harold
- Laughing at Trouble (1936) as Glory Bradford
- Love Is News (1937) as Mrs. Flaherty
- Nancy Steele Is Missing! (1937) as Mrs. Mary Flaherty
- The Great Hospital Mystery (1937) as Miss Sarah Keats
- Fifty Roads to Town (1937) as Mrs. Henry
- Slave Ship (1937) as Mrs. Marlowe
- The Singing Marine (1937) as "Ma" Marine
- Wife, Doctor and Nurse (1937) Mrs. Krueger
- Dangerously Yours (1937) as Aunt Cynthia Barton
- Change of Heart (1938) as Mrs. Thompson
- The Jury's Secret (1938) as Mrs. Sheldon
- Battle of Broadway (1938) as Mrs. Rogers
- Three Blind Mice (1938) as Mrs. Killan
- Little Miss Broadway (1938) as Miss Hutchins
- Time Out for Murder (1938) as Polly - Helen's Supervisor
- Five of a Kind (1938) as Mrs. Waldron
- Up the River (1938) as Mrs. Graham
- Jesse James (1939) as Mrs. Samuels
- Inside Story (1939) as Aunt Mary Perkins
- The Zero Hour (1939) as Sophie
- Unexpected Father (1939) as Mrs. Callahan
- Grand Jury Secrets (1939) as Mrs. Keefe
- The Rains Came (1939) as Aunt Phoebe - Mrs. Smiley
- 20,000 Men a Year (1939) as Mrs. Allen
- Gone with the Wind (1939) as Mrs. Merriwether
- Miracle on Main Street (1939) as Mrs. Herman
- The Grapes of Wrath (1940) as Ma Joad
- Untamed (1940) as Mrs. Maggie Moriarty
- Brigham Young (1940) as Eliza Kent
- Youth Will Be Served (1940) as Supervisor Stormer
- Chad Hanna (1940) as Mrs. Huguenine
- Thieves Fall Out (1941) as Grandma Allen
- Private Nurse (1941) as Miss Adams
- The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) as Ma Stone
- All Through the Night (1942) as Mrs. 'Ma' Donahue
- Young America (1942) as Grandmother Nora Campbell
- On the Sunny Side (1942) as Annie
- Small Town Deb (1942) as Katie
- It Happened in Flatbush (1942) as Mrs. Maguire
- Men of Texas (1942) as Mrs.Scott aka Aunt Hattie
- The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942) as Mrs. Mariah Clemm
- Highways by Night (1942) as Grandma Fogarty
- The Great Gildersleeve (1942) as Aunt Emma Forrester
- Gildersleeve's Bad Day (1943) as Aunt Emma Forrester
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) as Ma Grier
- Stage Door Canteen (1943) as Herself
- Government Girl (1943) as Miss Trask (uncredited)
- Tender Comrade (1943) as Mrs. Henderson
- Reckless Age (1944) as Mrs. Connors
- The Impatient Years (1944) as Minister's Wife
- Music in Manhattan (1944) as Mrs. Pearson
- She's a Sweetheart (1944) as Mom
- Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944) as Mrs. Helen Dobson
- I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945) as Mrs. Patterson
- Captain Tugboat Annie (1945) as Tugboat Annie
- The Dark Horse (1946) as Aunt Hattie
- Three Wise Fools (1946) as Sister Mary Brigid
- My Darling Clementine (1946) as Kate Nelson
- Keeper of the Bees (1947) as Mrs. Ferris
- The Red Stallion (1947) as Mrs. Aggie Curtis
- Train to Alcatraz (1948) as Aunt Ella
- 3 Godfathers (1948) as Miss Florie
- Red Canyon (1949) as Aunt Jane
- The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950) as Mrs. Murphy
- Wagon Master (1950) as Sister Ledyard
- Caged (1950) as Isolation Matron
- Surrender (1950) as Molly Hale
- Redwood Forest Trail (1950) as Hattie Hickory
- Three Husbands (1950) as Mrs. Wurdeman
- The Second Face (1950) as Mrs. Lockridge
- Father's Wild Game (1950) as Minverva Bobbin
- The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) as Nellie Thursday
- Excuse My Dust (1951) as Mrs. Belden
- Journey into Light (1951) as Mack
- We're Not Married! (1952) as Mrs. Bush
- The Sun Shines Bright (1953) as Mrs. Aurora Ratchitt
- It Happens Every Thursday (1953) as Mrs. Eva Spatch
- Affair with a Stranger (1953) as Ma Stanton
- The Bigamist (1953) as Mrs. Connelley
- Hit the Deck (1955) as Jenny
- There's Always Tomorrow (1955) as Mrs. Rogers
- A Life at Stake (1955) as Landlady
- Girls in Prison (1956) as Matron Jamieson
- The Last Hurrah (1958) as Delia Boylan
- Hound-Dog Man (1959) as Grandma Wilson
- Mary Poppins (1964) as The Bird Woman (final film role)
- Obituary Variety, August 16, 1967.
- Associated Press (1967-08-15). "Jane Darwell, 87, Actress, Is Dead" (PDF, fee required). The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
- Morgan, Barbara. "Darwell, Jane (1879–1967)". Encyclopedia.com. Gale Research, Inc. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 174–75. ISBN 9781557835512. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- Onofrio, Jan (2001). Missouri Biographical Dictionary. Somerset Publishers, Inc. p. 197. ISBN 9780403095988. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- Willis, John (1968). Screen World 1968. Biblo & Tannen Publishers. p. 230. ISBN 9780819603098. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- Thomson, David (2014). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. ALFRED A KNOPF. p. 251. ISBN 9780375711848. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- Christensen, Lawrence O.; Foley, William E.; Kremer, Gary (1999). Dictionary of Missouri Biography. University of Missouri Press. p. 230. ISBN 9780826260161. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
- "Jane Darwell | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved 2016-06-19.
- "Jane Darwell". latimes.com. Retrieved 2016-06-19.
- Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Jane Darwell". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 84–87. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.
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