Spring Byington

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Spring Byington
Spring Dell Byington

(1886-10-17)October 17, 1886
DiedSeptember 7, 1971(1971-09-07) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1904–1968
Known for
Roy Carey Chandler
(m. 1909; div. 1920)

Spring Dell Byington (October 17, 1886 – September 7, 1971) was an American actress.[1] Her career included a seven-year run on radio and television as the star of December Bride. She was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1960s. Byington received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Penelope Sycamore in You Can't Take It with You (1938).

Early life[edit]

Byington was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the daughter of Edwin Lee Byington, an educator and superintendent of schools in Colorado, and his wife Helene Maud (Cleghorn) Byington, a doctor. She had a younger sister, Helene Kimball Byington. Her father died in 1891, and her mother sent her younger daughter to live with her grandparents in Port Hope, Ontario, while Spring remained with relatives in Denver. Helene Maud Byington moved to Boston and enrolled in the Boston University School of Medicine, where she graduated in 1896. She then returned to Denver and opened a practice with her classmate, Dr. Mary Ford.

Byington performed occasionally in amateur shows as a student, graduating from North High School in 1904. She soon became a professional actress with the Elitch Garden Stock Company.[2] When their mother died in 1907, Spring and Helene were legally adopted by their aunt Margaret Eddy. Byington stated in a 1949 interview that she briefly tried newspaper reporting. However, since she was already of legal age, she decided to start her acting career in New York City, saying that she enjoyed it, and, "I can't do anything else very well."[3]



In 1903, Byington joined a repertory company, Belasco De Mille Company of New York, that was touring Buenos Aires, Argentina. Among the plays that she performed in Buenos Aires was Dr. Morris, written by Dr. Alberto del Solar.[4] Between 1903 and 1916, the company performed American plays, translated into Spanish and Portuguese in Argentina and Brazil. Upon returning to New York, Byington divided her time between working in Manhattan and staying with her daughters. Her daughters were living with friends J. Allen and Lois Babcock, in Leonardsville, New York, who were taking care of them while Byington worked in the city. She began touring in 1919 with a production of The Bird of Paradise, which brought the Hawaiian culture to the mainland, and in 1921 began work with the Stuart Walker Company, for which she played roles in Mr. Pim Passes By, The Ruined Lady, and Rollo's Wild Oat, among others. This connection landed her a role in her first Broadway performance in 1924, George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly's Beggar on Horseback which ran for six months. She renewed the role in March and April 1925, and continued on Broadway with an additional 18 productions from 1925 to 1935. These included roles in Kaufman and Moss Hart's Once in a Lifetime, Rachel Crothers's When Ladies Meet, and Dawn Powell's Jig Saw.

Films, radio and television[edit]

In her last years on Broadway, Byington began work in films. The first was a short film titled Papa's Slay Ride (1930), performing the role of Mama, and the second role, and better known, was in Little Women (1933) as Marmee, with Katharine Hepburn as her daughter Jo. For MGM, she played Midshipman Roger Byam's (Franchot Tone) mother in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). She became a household name during The Jones Family series of films, and continued as a character actress in Hollywood for several years.[2] Byington was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for You Can't Take it with You (1938), which was won by Fay Bainter for Jezebel (in which Byington also had a role as antebellum society matron, Mrs. Kendrick).[citation needed]. In 1941, she played “Mrs. Mitchell”, mother to Barbara Stanwyck’s star character, in Meet John Doe.

During World War II, Byington worked in radio, and decided to continue working in this medium, as her film career began to decline after the war. In 1952, she joined CBS Radio to become the lead role of the widowed Lily Ruskin, in the sitcom December Bride. In 1954, the television company Desilu Productions produced a pilot of the show for a sitcom, also starring Byington. The pilot was successful, and the new hit sitcom aired in its first two seasons immediately following I Love Lucy. December Bride broadcast 156 episodes through 1959.

Byington appeared with Tab Hunter in a 1960 episode of The Tab Hunter Show. She also guest-starred as herself in the CBS sitcom Dennis the Menace, starring Jay North, in the episode titled "Dennis' Birthday" (1961), with character actor Vaughn Taylor also appearing in the segment.

From 1961 to 1963, Byington was cast as the wise, matronly housekeeper, Daisy Cooper, in the NBC Western series Laramie, starring John Smith and Robert Fuller. On Laramie, Daisy serves as a surrogate grandmother to orphaned Mike Williams, played by the child actor Dennis Holmes.

After Laramie, Byington guest-starred in "Oh, Those Hats!", a 1963 episode of Mister Ed, playing Karen Dooley, an influential Beverly Hills columnist. She later appeared as Mrs. Jolly on Dennis Weaver's NBC comedy drama Kentucky Jones, and as wealthy J. Pauline Spaghetti in two episodes of Batman in 1966. Her penultimate role before her death from cancer was in 1967, as Larry Hagman's mother on NBC's I Dream of Jeannie. Her final role was in 1968 as Mother General on ABC's The Flying Nun, starring Sally Field.

Personal life[edit]

Byington spoke some Spanish, which she learned during the time spent with her husband in Buenos Aires; and she studied Brazilian Portuguese in her later years. In July 1958, she confided to reporter Hazel Johnson that she had acquired a "small coffee plantation" in Brazil the month before and was learning Portuguese. "Miss Byington explained that she first listens to a 'conditioning record' before she goes to sleep. An hour later, her Portuguese lessons automatically begin feeding into her pillow by means of a small speaker."[2]

Byington was fascinated by metaphysics and science-fiction novels, including George Orwell's 1984. She surprised her co-stars in December Bride with her knowledge of the Earth's satellites and the constellations in the night sky,[2] and read The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.[5]

In August 1955, Byington began taking flying lessons in Glendale, California, but the studio made her stop because of insurance problems.[2]

In January 1957, she testified in the trial of the Sica brothers as a character witness on behalf of DaLonne Cooper, who was a "part-time script girl" for December Bride.[6]

Marriage and engagement[edit]

In 1909, Byington married Roy Chandler, the manager of the theater troupe with which she worked in Buenos Aires. They remained there until 1916, when Spring returned to New York to give birth to her first daughter, Phyllis Helene. Her second daughter, Lois Irene, was born in 1917. The couple divorced about 1920. Between then and the mid 1930s, she devoted her time to developing her career.[7]

In the late 1930s, Byington was engaged to be married to an Argentine industrialist. Following an engagement of a few years and several months, he died unexpectedly. She then devoted her life to her career and family.

A number of Hollywood historians have claimed that Byington was a lesbian.[8][9][10][11] Actress Marjorie Main's biographer Michelle Vogel has noted that Main and Byington were reported widely as having had a long-term relationship.[12] When asked about Byington's sexual orientation, Main observed: "It's true, she didn't have much use for men."[8]


On September 7, 1971, Byington died of cancer at her home in the Hollywood Hills.[7][13] At her request, her body was donated to medical research.[14]

For her contributions to the film and television industries, Byington has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a motion pictures star at 6507 Hollywood Boulevard, and a television star at 6231 Hollywood Boulevard.[15][7]

Broadway credits[edit]

Partial filmography[edit]


"Jones Family" films[edit]




  • 1933 Alexandrias: Best Supporting Actress, Little Women[16]
    • Won by Mary Astor, The World Changes
  • 1938 Oscars: Best Supporting Actress, You Can't Take It with You[17]
    • Won by Fay Bainter, Jezebel
  • 1950 Golden Globes: Best Actress – Comedy or Musical, Louisa[18]
    • Won by Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday
  • 1957 Emmys: Best Actress – Drama or Comedy Series, December Bride[19]
    • Won by Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best
  • 1958 Emmys: Best Actress – Drama or Comedy Series, December Bride[20]
    • Won by Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Obituary Variety, September 8, 1971.
  2. ^ a b c d e Stumpf, Charles. "Spring Byington: Eternal Spring", ClassicImages.com, June 2000. Archived 5 April 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Heyn, Howard C. (1949). "Motherly Spring Byington Says She Is Actress Solely Because She Likes It", St. Petersburg Times, July 24, 1949; retrieved July 16, 2013.
  4. ^ El Doctor Morris: Comedia en un Prólogo y Tres Actos. In Obras completas de Alberto del Solar: IV. Paris: Garnier Hermanos, Librero-Editorea. 1903. p. 390.
  5. ^ "F&SF house advertisement". The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. October 1959. pp. Back cover.
  6. ^ "Fred Sica Says He Was Defendign Self in Row". Los Angeles Times. January 31, 1957. p. 4. Retrieved December 19, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ a b c "Hollywood Star Walk: Spring Byington". Los Angeles Times. September 8, 1971. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Tucker, David C. (2007). The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 69. ISBN 978-0786429004.
  9. ^ Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. New York: Basic Books. p. 48. ISBN 9780465022885.
  10. ^ Wallace, David (2002). Hollywoodland: Rich and Lively History About Hollywood's Grandest Era. NY: St. Martin's. p. 55. ISBN 0312291256.
  11. ^ Madsen, Axel (1995). Forbidden Lovers: Hollywood's Greatest Secret: Female Stars Who Loved Other Women. NY: Birch Lane Press. p. 144.
  12. ^ Vogel, Michelle (2006). Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Ma Kettle". Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 110. ISBN 0786464437.
  13. ^ "Actress Spring Byington Dies". The Age. 1971-09-09. p. 6. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  14. ^ Tucker, David C. (2007). The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.
  15. ^ "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Spring Byington". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  16. ^ "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1933 Alexandria Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
  17. ^ "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1938 Academy Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
  18. ^ "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1950 Golden Globe Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
  19. ^ "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1957 Emmy Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
  20. ^ "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1958–1959 Emmy Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.


  • Brooks, Tim and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present. New York: Ballantine Books, Ninth edition 2007, First edition 1979. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  • Tucker, David C. Verna Felton. Duncan, Oklahoma: BearManor Media, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59393-524-5.
  • Tucker, David C. The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2007. ISBN 978-0-7864-2900-4.

External links[edit]