Jessie Royce Landis

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Jessie Royce Landis
Jessie Royce Landis 1954.jpg
Landis in 1954
Jessie Medbury

(1896-11-25)November 25, 1896
DiedFebruary 2, 1972(1972-02-02) (aged 75)
Resting placeBranchville Cemetery, Ridgefield, Connecticut
Years active1924–1972
Lester Perry Landis
(m. 1915; div. 1935)

Rex Smith
(m. 1937; div. 1944)

(m. 1956)

Jessie Royce Landis (born Jessie Medbury, November 25, 1896 – February 2, 1972) was an American actress. Her name is also seen as Jesse Royce-Landis.[1] She remains perhaps best-known for her mother roles in the Hitchcock films To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959).

Early life[edit]

Jessie Royce Landis was born Jessie Medbury in Chicago, Illinois,[2] to Paul, an orchestra musician, and Ella Medbury. As per, "Royce" does not appear to have been her middle name by birth; her middle initial is cited as either "J." or "T".[3] Her acting surname "Landis" derives from her first husband, although she was married twice more.

A scholarship that Landis received when she was 14 enabled her to attend the Hinshaw Dramatic School, which led to her acting two years later with the Evanston Stock Company.[4]


Landis starring in The Millionairess at the Westport Country Playhouse (1938), the US premiere of George Bernard Shaw's play

Landis was a stage actress for much of her career.

When her first husband's family encountered financial problems, she joined the North Shore Players as leading lady and director. In 1924, she left those dual roles to go on tour with The Highwayman.[2]

Her Broadway career began with The Honor of the Family (1926) and ended with Roar Like a Dove (1964).[1] In her early years on Broadway, she continued to act in touring productions.[5] In the early 1950s, Landis spent three seasons acting on stage in London.[6] Landis was recognized for the "best performance of the year" for her acting in Larger Than Life in London in 1950.[7]

In the era of old-time radio, Landis had the roles of Irene Emerson on Helpmate[8] and the housekeeper on The House on Q Street.[9] She also was part of "a stellar cast of Broadway actors and actresses" in the cast of We Are Always Young on WOR in New York in 1941.[10]

In the 1950s, she began appearing in movies as a character actress, such as her roles in To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959), both starring Cary Grant and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In North by Northwest she played Grant's character's mother, and in To Catch a Thief and The Swan (1956), she played the mother of characters played by Grace Kelly. Landis's appearance in North by Northwest earned her publicity for portraying Cary Grant's mother despite claiming to be nearly a year younger. Landis listed 1904 as the year of her birth.[2][11] However, she had actually shaved eight years off her age. She appears in the 1900 U.S. Census as a 3-year-old born in November 1896;[12] not old enough to be his (biological) mother.

Landis made many television appearances in programs such as The United States Steel Hour, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Boris Karloff's Thriller.[13]

Landis' autobiography You Won't Be So Pretty (But You'll Know More) was published in 1954.[7]


Landis was married three times. In June 1915, she secretly married Perry Lester Landis, "a scion of one of Evanston's prominent families".[2] Their son, Medbury Perry Landis, was born with Down syndrome in 1916. When she returned to the stage, he was put in a special school over his father's objections. The couple never lived together again, although they were not divorced until 1925,[2] and their only son died in 1928.

Landis was married to Rex Smith from 1937 to 1944. In 1956, she married her third husband and widower,[2] United States Army Major General John F. R. "Jeff" Seitz (died 1978).[14]


Landis died of cancer at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut,[15] on February 2, 1972, aged 75.[2]

Complete filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1930 At Your Service Short
1930 Derelict Helen Lorber
1949 Mr. Belvedere Goes to College Mrs. Chase
1949 It Happens Every Spring Mrs. Greenleaf
1949 My Foolish Heart Martha Winters
1950 Mother Didn't Tell Me Mrs. Wright
1952 Meet Me Tonight Olive Lloyd Ransome, segment "Ways and Means"
1953 Main Street to Broadway Jessie Royce Landis - First Nighter Uncredited
1955 To Catch a Thief Jessie Stevens
1956 The Swan Princess Beatrix
1956 The Girl He Left Behind Mrs. Madeline Shaeffer
1957 My Man Godfrey Angelica Bullock
1958 I Married a Woman Mrs. Blake, Janice's Mother
1959 North by Northwest Clara Thornhill
1959 A Private's Affair Elizabeth T. Chapman
1961 Goodbye Again Mrs. Van der Besh
1962 Bon Voyage! Countessa "La Comtesse" DuFresne
1962 Boys' Night Out Ethel Williams
1963 Critic's Choice Charlotte Orr aka Charlie
1963 Gidget Goes to Rome Albertina Blythe
1970 Airport Mrs. Harriet DuBarry Mossman

Partial television credits[edit]

Year Series/TV Movie Role Episode
1952 Larger Than Life Julia Lambert TV movie
1956 Climax! Olivia Chesney "An Episode of Sparrows"
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Claire Crane "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?"
1960 Thriller Mrs. Killburn "The Mark of the Hand"
1965 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Madame Olga Nemirovitch "The Adriatic Express Affair"
1971 Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones Grandmother Greher TV movie
1971 Columbo Mrs. Chadwick "Lady in Waiting" (final appearance)

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1944 Grand Central Station NA[16]
1953 Theatre Guild on the Air Quiet Wedding[17]



  1. ^ a b "Jessie Royce Landis". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Nissen, Axel (2006). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. McFarland. p. 95. ISBN 0-7864-2746-9.
  3. ^ Source Citation
    Year: 1900
    Census Place: Chicago Ward 4, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 248; Page: 16A
    Enumeration District: 0096; FHL microfilm: 1240248 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.
    Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
  4. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. McFarland. pp. 95–99. ISBN 9780786427468. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  5. ^ Liebman, Roy (2017). Broadway Actors in Films, 1894-2015. McFarland. p. 151. ISBN 9780786476855. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Jessie Royce Landis in 'Celia,' New Mystery at Bucks County". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. June 28, 1953. p. b 9. Retrieved April 8, 2018 – via open access
  7. ^ a b "Jessie Royce Landis Is Dead; Stage and Screen Actress, 67". The New York Times. New York, New York City. February 3, 1972. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  8. ^ "Bob Hope's Show Starts Tuesday Night". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Missouri, St. Louis. September 21, 1941. p. 65. Retrieved April 3, 2018 – via open access
  9. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  10. ^ Lesser, Jerry (March 8, 1941). "Radio Talent: New York" (PDF). Billboard. p. 7. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  11. ^ The New York Times Biographical Service. Vol. 3. New York Times & Arno Press. 1972. p. 353.
  12. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Year: 1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 4, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 248; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 96; FHL microfilm: 1240248.
  13. ^ "Jessie Royce Landis". The Daily News. New York, New York City. February 3, 1972. p. 88. Retrieved April 8, 2018 – via open access
  14. ^ "US Army Officers 1939–1945". Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  15. ^ "Deaths" (PDF). Broadcasting. February 14, 1972. p. 54. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  16. ^ "Broadway Stars Heard on "Grand Central Station"". Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. Harrisburg Telegraph. October 21, 1944. p. 15. Retrieved December 27, 2015 – via open access
  17. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved June 25, 2015 – via open access

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