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Clara Blandick

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Also Known As: Died: April 15, 1962
Born: June 4, 1881 Cause of Death: suicide
Birth Place: Hong Kong Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Back in the days of the studio system, character players with interesting faces were kept under contract to add spice to scenes. One such actress was Clara Blandick, a name some may not recall, but they would remember her face. Thanks to perennial TV airings and the advent of home video, generations of children have been exposed to her in what is undoubtedly her best-known part: Dorothy's stern but caring Auntie Em in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939).Born on an American ship docked in Hong Kong harbor, Blandick was raised in Boston and made her stage debut there as part of E.H. Sothern's stock company. At age 23, the petite and delicately pretty actress headed to Manhattan where she debuted on Broadway in "The Christian" and went on to score hits in "Brown of Harvard" and "Raffles". She moved to the silver screen in 1911 in "The Maid's Double" went on to featured parts in "Black Is Black" (1914) and "The Stolen Triumph" (1916), but she resumed working in her first love, the theater.For much of the 1920s, Blandick acted on stage, winning favorable reviews for "Hell-Bent for Heaven" in 1924. As the decade wound down and the Depression hit, she had resumed appearing in features, and with "Wise Girls" (1930),...

Back in the days of the studio system, character players with interesting faces were kept under contract to add spice to scenes. One such actress was Clara Blandick, a name some may not recall, but they would remember her face. Thanks to perennial TV airings and the advent of home video, generations of children have been exposed to her in what is undoubtedly her best-known part: Dorothy's stern but caring Auntie Em in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939).

Born on an American ship docked in Hong Kong harbor, Blandick was raised in Boston and made her stage debut there as part of E.H. Sothern's stock company. At age 23, the petite and delicately pretty actress headed to Manhattan where she debuted on Broadway in "The Christian" and went on to score hits in "Brown of Harvard" and "Raffles". She moved to the silver screen in 1911 in "The Maid's Double" went on to featured parts in "Black Is Black" (1914) and "The Stolen Triumph" (1916), but she resumed working in her first love, the theater.

For much of the 1920s, Blandick acted on stage, winning favorable reviews for "Hell-Bent for Heaven" in 1924. As the decade wound down and the Depression hit, she had resumed appearing in features, and with "Wise Girls" (1930), Blandick earned a reputation as a fine and reliable supporting player. Over the next decade, she was hardly out of work, peppering up scenes in many films and occasionally landing substantial roles that provided a showcase for her talent. Blandick was a fine Aunt Polly in "Tom Sawyer" (1930) and as Janet Gaynor's disapproving Aunt Mattie in "A Star Is Born" (1937).

Although almost no one can imagine another actress as Auntie Em, the truth was Blandick was far from the first choice for the part. May Robson had been offered the role but turned it down feeling it wasn't meaty enough. MGM considered others before testing Blandick who provided the right mixture of no-nonsense and tenderness. While "The Wizard of Oz" is now considered a classic, upon its initial release it was a modest success. Although the younger cast members were able to use it as a stepping stone, the sixtyish actress soon found her career on the decline.

Blandick enlivened "Anne of Windy Poplars" (1940) and was serenaded by Alan Jones in the Marx Brothers vehicle "The Big Store" (1941) but her screen presence gradually declined as the decade wore on. With the exception of a fine part as Deanna Durbin's socialite aunt in "Can't Help Singin'" (1944) and her turn as the family maid in "Life With Father" (1947), few of her roles proved memorable. In 1950, Blandick made her last appearances in "Love That Brute" and "Key to the City". She retired in ill health and spent a dozen unhappy years coping with pain and failing eyesight. Leaving behind a somewhat melodramatic suicide note, she suffocated herself on April 15, 1962. But as long as children of all ages gather to watch "The Wizard of Oz", she won't be forgotten.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Key to the City (1950) Liza
2.
 Love That Brute (1950) Landlady
3.
 Mr. Soft Touch (1949) Susan Balmuss
4.
 The Bride Goes Wild (1948) Aunt Pewtie
5.
 Life with Father (1947) Miss Wiggins
6.
 Philo Vance Returns (1947) Stella Blendon
7.
 So Goes My Love (1946) Mrs. Meade
8.
 Claudia and David (1946) Mrs. Harry
9.
 She-Wolf of London (1946) Mrs. McBroom
10.
 People Are Funny (1946) Grandma
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Boston, Massachusetts
:
Acted with E H Sothern's stage company; appeared in "Richard Lovelace"
:
Moved to NYC
1903:
Appeared on Broadway in "The Christian"
1911:
Film debut in "The Maid's Double"
1916:
Acted in the silent film, "The Stolen Triumph"
1924:
Garnered attention for stage performance in "Hell-Bent for Heaven"
1929:
Resumed film career in "Men Are Like That" and "Poor Aubrey"
1929:
Became an established character player after turn in "Wise Girls"
1930:
Cast as Aunt Polly in "Tom Sawyer"
1937:
Portrayed Janet Gaynor's stern aunt in "A Star Is Born"
1939:
Had best-known and most memorable role as Auntie Em in "The Wizard of Oz"
1940:
Offered a scene-stealing turn in "Anne of Windy Poplars"
1941:
Was featured in the Marx Brothers' vehicle "The Big Store"
1943:
Appeared in "Heaven Can Wait"
1944:
Portrayed Deanna Durbin's socialite aunt in "Can't Help Singing"
1947:
Cast as the family maid in "Life With Father"
1950:
Final film role, "Key to the City"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

Blandick's sucide note read:

"I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen."

Reprinted in Classic Images, February 2000.

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