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Starring Fay Bainter
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Fay Bainter Profile

Character actress Fay Bainter appeared in nearly forty films usually playing the mother or wife. She worked with all the great stars of the day – Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Mickey Rooney -- but it's for another reason that Bainter holds a place in Hollywood history. In 1938, for her work in Jezebel and White Banners, Bainter became the first performer to be Oscar® nominated in both the Lead and Supporting Acting categories in the same year. She was nominated as Best Actress for playing a long-lost mother in White Banners. Ironically, Bainter's Best Actress competition was Bette Davis -- who was also her co-star in Bainter's second nominated film Jezebel. For Jezebel, Bainter received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Davis' aunt.

Bette Davis went on to win the Best Actress Oscar®, and completing the sweep for Jezebel, Bainter received the Best Supporting Actress award. But despite being competitors, there were no hard feelings between the women. In Davis' autobiography, The Lonely Life, the star recalled her work on Jezebel saying, "[Fay Bainter's] contribution to the film and to my performance was immeasurable. It just wouldn't have been the same picture without her." As for Bainter, two Oscar® nominations in one year was quite an achievement, especially considering that Bainter had made her first film just four years earlier at the age of 41.

Fay Bainter was born December 7, 1891 in Los Angeles. She made her stage debut around age six in Oliver Morosco's production of The Jewess. She also appeared as a child on stage in The Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Prince and the Pauper. Bainter soon began touring in stock companies – before making her short-lived Broadway debut in 1912. Bainter's appearance in The Rose of Panama lasted just three weeks. But by 1916, Bainter made her way back to Broadway, starring in a range of plays from Lysistrata to Uncle Tom's Cabin to Dodsworth. She was also a member of David Belasco's famed theatre company.

Bainter was used to playing ingénue or leading lady roles on stage. But by the time Hollywood came calling in 1934, Bainter was, at age 41, over-the-hill by movie standards – and she knew it. "There comes a day", Bainter recalled, "when the flush of youth disappears from every woman's face. Most women dread it. I did. Like so many things, however, it is worse in anticipation than in actual fact." This realization helped smooth Bainter's transition to film and helped convince her that character roles would suit her best on screen.

She made her Hollywood debut in This Side of Heaven (1934) opposite Lionel Barrymore; reportedly Bainter had been considered for a role several years earlier in Cimarron (1931) but the part would go to Irene Dunne. Bainter was initially unimpressed with the Hollywood experience and held an unfavorable opinion of her performance in This Side of Heaven. She went on to tell reporters that she didn't like working in movies - but that would all quickly change.

In 1937, Bainter held her own opposite Katharine Hepburn and Franchot Tone in Quality Street directed by George Stevens. The same year, she played daughter-in-law to Beulah Bondi in Make Way for Tomorrow. 1938 was a huge year for Bainter with the films The Shining Hour alongside Joan Crawford and Mother Carey's Chickens -- not to mention the little matter of two Oscar® nominations. Suddenly Bainter was an actress much in demand.

Over the next several years, her memorable films included: Young Tom Edison (1940) where Bainter played mom to Mickey Rooney; Babes on Broadway (1941) again with Mickey and Judy Garland; and Woman of the Year (1942) opposite Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Bainter's favorite of her films was Maryland (1940), made on loan out to Fox. In the film, she played a strict mother to John Payne. Cry Havoc (1943) was something of a departure for Bainter – there wasn't an apron in sight. Instead she was the Captain of a group of nurses in World War II Bataan. Bainter ended her run at MGM with The Heavenly Body (1944).

Her post-studio years would continue to be busy, with films like: State Fair (1945), The Virginian (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and June Bride (1948). Bainter also returned to the stage, appearing in touring companies of The Glass Menagerie and Long Day's Journey Into Night. In 1961, after a nine year absence, Bainter returned to the screen in The Children's Hour co-starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Bainter would receive her third Oscar® nomination for the film as Supporting Actress. In The Children's Hour, Bainter was again directed by William Wyler, who also directed her Oscar®-winning performance in Jezebel.

The Children's Hour would be Bainter's final film. She died of pneumonia April 16, 1968. Bainter is buried beside her husband, Navy Commander Reginald Venable, in Arlington National Cemetery.

To date, Bainter remains one of only ten actors to have been nominated as both Lead and Supporting Actor in the same year. The other nine are: Teresa Wright, Barry Fitzgerald, Jessica Lange, Sigourney Weaver, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter, Julianne Moore and Jamie Foxx.

by Stephanie Thames

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