Family & Companions
A distinguished actress in the New York theater, Wycherly was born in England but raised in the US, and was acting leading roles in vaudeville while still a teenager shortly before the turn of the century. Over the years, her genteel prettiness and acting talent graced plays ranging from "The Adding Machine" to "June Clegg" to "Six Characters in Search of an Author." Film work, though, did not begin for Wycherly until she was nearly 50, when she recreated the stage role her husband, playwright (and occasional film director and producer) Bayard Veiller wrote for her in "The Thirteenth Letter." As the psychic Madame LaGrange in Tod Browning's creaky but genuinely creepy early talkie rendition of 1929, Wycherly played with all the stops out, but her flamboyant work at least made for a barnstorming good time.
Apart from a supporting role in "Midnight" (1934), Wycherly did not work again in film until 1940. She had successfully managed the transition to character parts on stage, perhaps most memorably in "Tobacco Road" (1933), in the kind of role, a Georgia backwoods dweller, she would often play later in Hollywood. Her features interestingly hardened and her voice harsh and stony, Wycherly made a vivid, Oscar-nominated impression as the stoic mother of a gentle hillbilly (Gary Cooper) who becomes a WWI hero in the patriotic biopic "Sergeant York" (1941). Hollywood work was steady after that for the next dozen years; Wycherly played variations on stern rural earth mothers in films including "The Yearling" (1946), but she also played a decent variety of sympathetic and villainous ethnic roles in films like "Hangmen Also Die" (1943) and "The Loves of Carmen" (1948).
1949 saw Wycherly at her screen peak in what is thankfully her best-remembered film role. She may have played maternal types, but it was often tough love with her, and love between mother and son was never made of meaner stuff than in Raoul Walsh's galvanizing gangster landmark "White Heat." As the psychotic but simmering mother of the decidedly more demonstrative James Cagney, Wycherly made an unforgettable impression incestuously cradling her grown son on her lap while they plot their every heist. She made a handful of other films into the 50s, and played another possessive mother on the short-lived comedy-drama series "Claudia: The Story of a Marriage" (NBC, 1952) starring Joan McCracken, before her death in 1956.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made feature film debut recreating her stage role in Tod Browning's film adaptation of "The Thirteenth Chair", written by her husband Bayard Veiller
Acted on Broadway in one of her most notable successes as a character actress, "Tobacco Road"
Began acting regularly in films with "Victory"
Received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for "Sergeant York"
Played best-remembered feature film role in "White Heat"
Played Mrs. Brown, the heroine's mother, on the short-lived NBC comedy-drama series, "Claudia: The Story of a Marriage"
Acted in last films, "The President's Lady" and "That Man from Tangier"