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Byington in the Little Women trailer (1933)
Spring Dell Byington|
October 17, 1886
Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
September 7, 1971 (aged 84)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Roy Carey Chandler (m. 1909–1920)
Spring Dell Byington (October 17, 1886 – September 7, 1971) was an American actress. Her career included a seven-year run on radio and television as the star of December Bride. She was a former MGM 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).
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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. 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 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. When their mother died in 1907, Byington 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."
In 1903, Byington had 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. 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 Village, New York, who were taking care of them while Byington worked in the city. She began touring in 1919 with a production of Birds in 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 Oats, 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 in the ten years 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
In her last years on Broadway, Byington began work in films. The first was a short film titled Papa's Slay Ride (1930), where she played 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. 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).
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 111 episodes through 1959.
Byington 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 this 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 as Mrs. Jolly on Dennis Weaver's NBC sitcom, Kentucky Jones, and as wealthy J. Pauline Spaghetti in an episode 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.
Byington spoke some Spanish, which she learned during the time spent with her husband in Buenos Aires; and she studied Brazilian Portuguese in her golden 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."
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, and read The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
Marriage and engagement
In 1909, Spring 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.
In the late 1930s, Byington was once again engaged to be married, this time to an Argentine industrialist. Following an engagement of a few years and several months before they were to be married, he died unexpectedly. Following this, she chose to devote her life to her career and family.
A number of Hollywood historians have claimed that Byington was a lesbian. Actress Marjorie Main's biographer Michelle Vogel has noted that Main and Byington were reported widely as having had a long-term relationship. When asked about Byington's sexual orientation, Main acknowledged: "It's true, she didn't have much use for men."
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.
- Little Women (1933) as Marmee March
- Werewolf of London (1935) as Miss Ettie Coombes
- Love Me Forever (1935) as Clara Fields
- Broadway Hostess (1935)
- The Great Impersonation (1935)
- Ah, Wilderness! (1935)
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) as Mrs. Byam
- Dodsworth (1936)
- Stage Struck (1936)
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) as Lady Octavia Warrenton
- Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
- The Girl on the Front Page (1936)
- Palm Springs (1936)
- Penrod and Sam (1937)
- A Family Affair (1937)
- It's Love I'm After (1937)
- The Buccaneer (1938)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) as Widow Douglas (uncredited)
- Jezebel (1938)
- You Can't Take It with You (1938)
- Chicken Wagon Family (1939)
- Quick Millions (1939)
- The Blue Bird (1940)
- Laddie (1940)
- Lucky Partners (1940)
- My Love Came Back (1940)
- The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
- Meet John Doe (1941)
- When Ladies Meet (1941)
- Roxie Hart (1942)
- Rings on Her Fingers (1942)
- The Affairs of Martha (1942)
- The War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942)
- Heaven Can Wait (1943)
- The Heavenly Body (1944)
- I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
- Reward Unlimited (1944, Short)
- The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
- Thrill of a Romance (1945)
- Captain Eddie (1945)
- Dragonwyck (1946)
- A Letter for Evie (1946)
- Living in a Big Way (1947)
- Singapore (1947)
- It Had to Be You (1947)
- Cynthia (1947) as Carrie Jannings
- B.F.'s Daughter (1948)
- In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
- The Big Wheel (1949)
- The Reformer and the Redhead (1950) as Kathy's Mother (voice, uncredited)
- Please Believe Me (1950) as Mrs. Milwright
- Louisa (1950) as Louisa Norton
- The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950) as Agnes Thorndyke
- Devil's Doorway (1950) as Mrs. Masters
- Walk Softly, Stranger (1950) as Mrs. Brentman
- According to Mrs. Hoyle (1951) as Mrs. Hoyle
- Angels in the Outfield (1951) as Sister Edwitha
- Bannerline (1951) as Mrs. Loomis
- No Room for the Groom (1952) as Mama Kingshead
- Because You're Mine (1952) as Mrs. Edna Montville
- The Rocket Man (1954) as Justice Amelia Brown
- Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) as Suzie Robinson
"Jones Family" films
- Every Saturday Night (1936)
- Educating Father (1936)
- Back to Nature (1936)
- Off to the Races (1937)
- The Jones Family in Big Business (1937)
- Hot Water (1937)
- Borrowing Trouble (1937)
- Love on a Budget (1938)
- A Trip to Paris (1938)
- Safety in Numbers (1938)
- Down on the Farm (1938)
- Everybody's Baby (1939)
- The Jones Family in Hollywood (1939)
- The Jones Family in Quick Millions (1939)
- Too Busy to Work (1939)
- Young as You Feel (1940)
- On Their Own (1940)
- I'll Be Seeing You (1944)
- December Bride (1954–1959) – Lily Ruskin
- The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (December 27, 1956) – Herself
- What's My Line? (December 27, 1957) (Episode #386, Season 9 EP.9) Mystery Guest. Was one of only a few Mystery Guests who disguised her voice well enough to fool the panel.
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960) – Alice Wagner, episode "The Man with Two Faces"
- Dennis the Menace (1961) – Played herself on episode "Dennis' Birthday" aired on 02/19/1961.
- Laramie (1961–1963) – Daisy Cooper
- "The Train Don't Stop Till It Gets There", The Greatest Show on Earth (1964)
- Batman (1966) – J. Pauline Spaghetti, episodes "The Catwoman Goeth" and "The Sandman Cometh"
- I Dream of Jeannie (1967) – Mother, episode "Meet My Master's Mother"
- The Flying Nun (1968) – Mother General, episode "To Fly or Not to Fly"
- 1933 Alexandrias: Best Supporting Actress, Little Women
- Won by Mary Astor, The World Changes
- 1938 Oscars: Best Supporting Actress, You Can't Take It with You
- Won by Fay Bainter, Jezebel
- 1950 Golden Globes: Best Actress – Comedy or Musical, Louisa
- Won by Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday
- 1957 Emmys: Best Actress – Drama or Comedy Series, December Bride
- Won by Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best
- 1958 Emmys: Best Actress – Drama or Comedy Series, December Bride
- Won by Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best
- Obituary Variety, September 8, 1971.
- Stumpf, Charles. "Spring Byington: Eternal Spring", ClassicImages.com, June 2000. Archived 5 April 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
- 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.
- 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.
- ""Dennis' Birthday", February 19, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
- "F&SF house advertisement". The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. October 1959. pp. Back cover.
- Fred Sica Says He Was Defending Self in Row. (January 31, 1957). Los Angeles Times, p. 4.
- "Hollywood Star Walk: Spring Byington." Los Angeles Times, September 8, 1971. Retrieved: June 11, 2012.
- Tucker, David C. (2007). The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 69. ISBN 978-0786429004.
- 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.
- Wallace, David (2002). Hollywoodland: Rich and Lively History About Hollywood's Grandest Era. NY: St. Martin's. p. 55. ISBN 0312291256.
- Madsen, Axel (1995). Forbidden Lovers: Hollywood's Greatest Secret: Female Stars Who Loved Other Women. NY: Birch Lane Press. p. 144.
- Vogel, Michelle (2006). Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Ma Kettle". Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 110. ISBN 0786464437.
- "Actress Spring Byington Dies". The Age. 1971-09-09. p. 6. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- Tucker, David C. (2007). The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.
- "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Spring Byington". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
- "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1933 Alexandria Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
- "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1938 Academy Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
- "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1950 Golden Globe Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
- "Past Awards Database: The Envelope, 1957 Emmy Awards." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: May 6, 2010.
- "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.
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