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|Dame May Whitty
|Born||Mary Louise Whitty
19 June 1865
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, UK
|Died||29 May 1948
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Ben Webster (1892-1947; his death); 2 children|
Dame Mary Louise Webster DBE (19 June 1865 – 29 May 1948), known professionally as May Whitty and later Dame May Whitty, was an English stage and film actress.
Born in Liverpool, England, to William Alfred Whitty (ca. 1837–1876) and Mary Louisa (née Ashton, ca. 1837–1894), she made her first stage appearance in Liverpool in 1881, later moving to London to appear in the West End.
She married actor-manager Ben Webster in 1892 in St Giles's Parish Church, London, and in 1895 they visited the United States, where Whitty appeared on Broadway. Their first child, a son, died at birth. Their only surviving child, a daughter born in the USA in 1905, Margaret Webster, was a stage actress and held dual US/UK citizenship. Whitty's stage career continued for the rest of her life. In March 1910, she made her transition to middle-aged and elderly character roles, playing Amelia Madras in Harley Granville-Barker's four-act comedy The Madras House.
In the 1918 New Year Honours, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE, gazetted under her legal married name Mary Louise Webster) in recognition of her charitable work during World War I. She was the first film and stage actress to receive a damehood, along with the opera singer Nellie Melba, who was also thus honoured in 1918.
Film career and death
She made her first major Hollywood film appearance recreating her stage role in the film Night Must Fall (1937), which also starred Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, and received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This led to several supporting roles in films, including that of the vanishing lady, Miss Froy, in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938).
She moved permanently to the USA (although she never became a U.S. citizen) in 1939 and appeared both on stage and in Hollywood films, usually playing wealthy dowagers. It was one such part, as Lady Beldon in Mrs Miniver (1942), that brought her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: forty familiar Hollywood faces from the thirties to the fifties. Jefferson, N.C.: Mcfarland & Co. p. 209. ISBN 0786427469.