Peggy Wood

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Peggy Wood
Photograph of Wood in 1917
Mary Margaret Wood

(1892-02-09)February 9, 1892
DiedMarch 18, 1978(1978-03-18) (aged 86)
Occupation(s)Actress, singer
Years active1910–1969
(m. 1924; died 1938)
William Walling
(m. 1946; died 1973)
Signed drawing by Manuel Rosenberg 1923

Mary Margaret Wood (February 9, 1892 – March 18, 1978) was an American actress of stage, film, and television. She is best remembered for her performance as the title character in the CBS television series Mama (1949–1957), for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series; her starring role as Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, in The Story of Ruth (1960); and her final screen appearance as Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music (1965), for which she received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award.


Peggy Wood and Charles Purcell in the original Broadway production of Maytime (1917)

Mary Margaret Wood was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Eugene Wood, a journalist, and Mary Gardner, a telegraph operator. She studied voice in France with soprano Emma Calvé. Wood was an early member of the Actors' Equity Association, spending nearly 50 years onstage, beginning in the chorus and becoming known as a Broadway singer and star. Wood made her stage debut in 1910, as part of the chorus for Naughty Marietta. In 1917, she starred in Maytime, in which she introduced the song "Will You Remember".[1] She starred in several other musicals before playing the role of Portia in a 1928 production of The Merchant of Venice. From the late 1920s until the late 1930s, Wood had lead roles in musicals staged in London and New York. She was selected by Noël Coward to star in the original London production of his wildly successful operetta Bitter Sweet.[2]

According to a 1920 profile, Wood also wrote plays "in collaboration with her father and with Samuel Merwin."[3] She was a member of the Algonquin Round Table.[4]

In 1941, she starred in the New York premiere of Blithe Spirit as Ruth Condomine, whose husband is tormented by the ghost of his deceased first wife. Wood did not star in many films. Her few film appearances include roles in Jalna, A Star Is Born, Call It a Day, The Housekeeper's Daughter, The Bride Wore Boots, Magnificent Doll, and Dream Girl. From 1949 to 1957, she played matriarch Marta Hansen on the popular series Mama, based on the 1943 Broadway play and 1948 film I Remember Mama. When General Foods cancelled the program, there was so much protest that CBS brought it back on Sunday afternoon, this time as a filmed series. As the network did not have all the affiliate station clearances that were needed, the show was put into syndication, where it was a huge success. Producers filmed 26 episodes.[citation needed]

Following "Mama", Wood was seen in episodes of Zane Grey Theatre and The Nurses. She co-starred with comedian Imogene Coca on Broadway in The Girls in 509. In October 1963, she and Ruth Gates appeared in the one-act play Opening Night, which played in off-Broadway. Wood portrayed Fanny Ellis, a once famous star who prepares for a performance; the play lasted 47 performances. Gates played "Aunt Jenny" on Mama, which starred Wood.[5]

Wood returned to movies in the 1960 CinemaScope production The Story of Ruth in a co-starring role as the mother-in-law, Naomi, of the title character, although she pointed out the lack of verisimilitude in her own casting as a biblical matriarch, i.e. a "blonde, blue-eyed Jewess". Her final screen appearance was as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music (1965), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture. She was thrilled to be in the movie, but she knew she could no longer sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain". She was dubbed (for singing) by Margery McKay. In her autobiography, Marni Nixon, who appeared in the film as Sister Sophia, said Peggy especially liked McKay's singing voice because she sounded as Peggy did in her younger days. In 1969, Wood joined the cast of One Life to Live as Dr. Kate Nolan, and had a recurring role until the end of the year.


Her first autobiography How Young You Look was published by Farrar and Rinehart in 1941. The updated version Arts and Flowers appeared in 1963. She wrote a biography of actor John Drew, Jr. and a novel titled The Star Wagon as well as co-wrote the play Miss Quis. Wood received numerous awards for her theatrical work and for a while was president of the American National Theater and Academy (ANTA).[6]

Personal life[edit]

Wood was married and widowed twice. Her first husband (poet/writer John Van Alstyne Weaver) died at the age of 44. She gave birth to their son (David Weaver) in 1927 at the age of 35. Her second husband (William H. Walling, whom she wed in 1946) was an executive in the printing business who died in 1973. They were married for 27 years.[7] She was a devout Episcopalian and a member of the Episcopal Actors Guild.[6]


Wood died on March 18, 1978, at age 86, in Stamford, Connecticut, following a stroke.[6][8]



Year Title Role Notes
1919 Almost a Husband Eva McElwyn Lost film
1929 Wonder of Women Brigitte Lost film
1934 Handy Andy Ernestine Yates
1935 The Right to Live Nurse Wayland
Jalna Meg Whiteoaks
1937 Call It a Day Ethel Francis
A Star Is Born Miss Phillips (clerk in Central Casting)
1939 The Housekeeper's Daughter Olga
1946 The Bride Wore Boots Grace Apley
Magnificent Doll Mrs. Payne
1948 Dream Girl Lucy Allerton
1960 The Story of Ruth Naomi
1965 The Sound of Music The Reverend Mother Abbess Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture


Year Title Role Notes
1948 The Philco Television Playhouse Mrs. Oliver Jordan episode: Dinner at Eight
1949 The Philco Television Playhouse Florence McDavid episode: Dark Hammock
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Gladys episode: The Skin of Our Teeth
1949–1957 Mama Mama
Marta Hansen
10 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actress (1953)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Continuing Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic Series (1957)
1957 Zane Grey Theatre Sarah Jolland episode: The Bitter Land
1959 The United States Steel Hour Lillian Granet episode: Seed of Guilt
1962 Dr. Kildare Katie Harris episode: An Ancient Office
1963 The Doctors and the Nurses Marcella Higgins episode: The Saturday Evening of Time
1965 For the People Mrs. Murray episode: The Killing of One Human Being
1969 One Life to Live Dr. Kate Nolan Unknown episodes

Stage (partial list of appearances)[edit]

Peggy Wood in Buddies (1919)


  1. ^ Liebman, Roy (February 6, 2017). Broadway Actors in Films, 1894-2015. McFarland. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-7864-7685-5. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  2. ^ Noël Coward: a biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1996. ISBN 978-0-6848-0937-3. Retrieved June 9, 2022.
  3. ^ "That Very Promising Young Author". Photoplay. Vol. XVII, no. 2. January 1920. p. 84. Retrieved June 9, 2022.
  4. ^ "Members of the Algonquin Round Table". Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  5. ^ "Ruth Gates, Actress, Dead at 79". San Francisco Examiner. May 25, 1966. p. 59. Retrieved June 9, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c "Peggy Wood, 86, Star in 'Mama'". The New York Times. March 19, 1978. p. 38. Retrieved June 9, 2022.
  7. ^ Blum, Daniel (1954). Great Stars of the American Stage, A Pictorial Record (2nd ed.). Grosset & Dunlop. p. 105.
  8. ^ "Peggy Wood – Credits". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved June 9, 2022.

External links[edit]