Edna May Oliver: American actress (born: 1883 - died: 1942) | Biography
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Edna May Oliver
American actress

Edna May Oliver

Edna May Oliver
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actress
Was Actor Stage actor Film actor
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender female
Birth 9 November 1883, Malden, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 9 November 1942, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA (aged 59 years)
Star sign Scorpio
star on Hollywood Walk of Fame  
Edna May Oliver
The details (from wikipedia)


Edna May Oliver (born Edna May Nutter, November 9, 1883 – November 9, 1942) was an American stage and film actress. During the 1930s, she was one of the better-known character actresses in American films, often playing tart-tongued spinsters.

Early life

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ida May and Charles Edward Nutter, Oliver quit school at age 14 to pursue a stage career. She achieved her first success in 1917 on Broadway in Jerome Kern's musical comedy Oh, Boy!, playing the hero's comically dour Aunt Penelope.


In 1925, Oliver appeared on Broadway in The Cradle Snatchers, costarring Mary Boland, Gene Raymond, and Humphrey Bogart. Oliver's most notable stage appearance was as Parthy, wife of Cap'n Andy Hawks, in the original 1927 stage production of the musical Show Boat. She repeated the role in the 1932 Broadway revival, but turned down the chance to play Parthy in the 1936 film version to play the Nurse in that year's film version of Romeo and Juliet.

Her film debut was in 1923 in Wife in Name Only. She continued to appear in films until Lydia in 1941. She first gained major notice in films for her appearances in several comedies starring the team of Wheeler & Woolsey, including Half Shot at Sunrise, her first film under her RKO Radio Pictures contract in 1930. Usually in featured parts, she starred in ten films, including the women's stories Fanny Foley Herself and Ladies of the Jury. She played wealthy, domineering Aunt March in the 1933 version of Little Women.

Oliver (center) in lobby card for David Copperfield (1935)
John Barrymore, Oliver and Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Oliver's most popular star vehicles were mystery-comedies, starring as spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers from the popular Stuart Palmer novels. The series ended prematurely when she left RKO to sign with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1935; the studio attempted to continue the series with Helen Broderick and then ZaSu Pitts as Withers.

While at MGM, David O. Selznick cast Oliver in two film versions of novels by Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities (1935), starring Ronald Colman, as the prim, acidic Miss Pross; and David Copperfield (also 1935), as the title character's eccentric aunt, Betsy Trotwood.

She appeared in the Shirley Temple film Little Miss Broadway (1938) as the landlord of a hotel for vaudevillians who wants to shut it down.

She was also seen in two 1939 movie musicals: with Tyrone Power in the Sonja Henie skating film Second Fiddle, and in a supporting role as the agent of the title characters in the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. That year she was nominated for a Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance in Drums Along the Mohawk as an early American settler who gives shelter to Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert when their home is burned by Seneca Indians. A 1940 comic performance as Laurence Olivier's Mr. Darcy's domineering aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice and a 1941 role as Merle Oberon's grandmother in Lydia concluded her film career.

She was also cast in noncomedic films such as Cimarron (1931), Ann Vickers (1933), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), David Copperfield (1935), and Romeo and Juliet (1936).


Oliver died on her 59th birthday in 1942 following a short intestinal ailment, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Awards and honors

Oliver received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Drums Along the Mohawk (1939).


(This list is limited to New York/Broadway theatrical productions.)

Date Title Role Ref(s)
Dec 05, 1916 - Jan 1917 The Master
Feb 20, 1917 - Mar 30, 1918 Oh Boy Miss Penelope Budd
Nov 25, 1919 - Jan 07, 1920 The Rose of China Mrs. Hobson
Feb 02, 1920 - May 01, 1920 My Golden Girl Mrs. Judson Mitchell
Nov 01, 1920 - Dec 11, 1920 The Half Moon Mrs. Francis Adams Jarvis
Sep 26, 1921 - (unknown) Wait 'Til We're Married Aunt Meridian
Nov 28, 1921 - Dec 1921 Her Salary Man Mrs. Sophie Perkins
Sep 06, 1922 - Sep 1922 Wild Oats Lane June
Feb 10, 1923 - Jun 1923 Icebound Hannah
Oct 13, 1924 - Nov 15, 1924 In His Arms Mrs. John Clarendon
Jan 13, 1925 - Feb 1925 Isabel Mrs. John Clarendon
Sep 07, 1925 - Oct 1926 Cradle Snatchers Ethel Drake
Dec 27, 1927 - May 04, 1929 Show Boat Parthy Ann Hawks
May 19, 1932 - Oct 22, 1932 Show Boat Parthy Ann Hawks


Year Title Role Silent Sound Studio/Distributor Ref(s)
1923 Wife in Name Only Mrs. Dornham X Pyramid Pictures
1923 Three O'Clock in the Morning Hetty X C. C. Burr Pictures
1924 Restless Wives Benson's Secretary X C. C. Burr Pictures
1924 Icebound Hannah X Famous Players-Lasky
1924 Manhattan Mrs. Trapes X Famous Players-Lasky
1925 The Lucky Devil Mrs. McDee X Famous Players-Lasky
1925 Lovers in Quarantine Amelia Pincent X Famous Players-Lasky
1925 The Lady Who Lied X First National Pictures
1926 The American Venus Mrs. Niles X Famous Players-Lasky
1926 Let's Get Married J. W. Smith X Famous Players-Lasky
1929 The Saturday Night Kid Miss Streeter X Paramount Productions
1930 Half Shot at Sunrise Mrs. Marshall X RKO Pictures
1931 Cimarron Mrs. Tracy Wyatt X RKO Pictures
1931 Forbidden Adventure Bessie Tate X Paramount Productions
1931 Fanny Foley Herself Fanny Foley X RKO Pictures
1931 Laugh and Get Rich Sarah Austin X RKO Pictures
1931 Cracked Nuts Aunt Minnie Van Varden X RKO Pictures
1932 The Penguin Pool Murder Miss Hildegarde Martha Withers X RKO Pictures
1932 Ladies of the Jury Mrs. Livingston Baldwin Crane X RKO Pictures
1932 The Conquerors Matilda Blake X RKO Pictures
1932 Hold 'Em Jail Violet X RKO Pictures
1933 Ann Vickers Malvina Wormser X RKO Pictures
1933 Meet the Baron Dean Primrose X MGM
1933 The Great Jasper Madame Talma X RKO Pictures
1933 It's Great to Be Alive Dr. Prodwell X Fox Film Corp.
1933 Only Yesterday Leona X Universal Pictures
1933 Little Women Aunt March X RKO Pictures
1933 Alice in Wonderland The Red Queen X Paramount Productions
1934 The Last Gentleman Augusta Pritchard X 20th Century Fox
1934 The Poor Rich Harriet Spottiswood X Universal Pictures
1934 Murder on the Blackboard Hildegarde Withers X RKO Pictures
1934 We're Rich Again Maude X RKO Pictures
1935 David Copperfield Aunt Betsey Trotwood X MGM
1935 No More Ladies Mrs. Fanny "Grandma" Townsend X MGM
1935 Murder on a Honeymoon Hildegarde Withers X RKO Pictures
1935 A Tale of Two Cities Miss Pross X MGM
1937 My Dear Miss Aldrich Mrs. Lou Atherton X MGM
1937 Parnell Aunt Ben Wood X MGM
1937 Rosalie Queen of Romanza X MGM
1937 Romeo and Juliet Nurse to Juliet X MGM
Note: Premiered August 20, 1936, but not released until April 16, 1937
1938 Little Miss Broadway Sarah Wendling X 20th Century Fox
1938 Paradise for Three Mrs. Julia Kunkel X MGM
1939 Nurse Edith Cavell Countess de Mavon X Imperadio Pictures Ltd
1939 Drums Along the Mohawk Mrs. McKlennar X 20th Century Fox
1939 The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle Maggie Sutton X RKO Pictures
1939 Second Fiddle Aunt Phoebe X 20th Century Fox
1940 Pride and Prejudice Lady Catherine de Bourgh X MGM
1941 Lydia Sarah MacMillan X Alexander Korda Films
1976 America at the Movies Footage X American Film Institute


  • Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-55783-551-2.
  • Palmer, Stuart (2013). Hildegarde Withers in The Riddle of the Blueblood Murders. Wildside Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-4344-4637-4.
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 10 Feb 2022. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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