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Clara Blandick

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: Cast ... actor
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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), 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.

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