Having now written about every other principal actor in my favorite movie The Wizard of Oz (I really have, just use the search feature at right to find them, it’s way too many names to type this morning. and anyway, it’s all of them) my completionist mania will not permit me to leave out Clara Blandick (1876-1962) who played Aunt Em.
Born Clara Dickey on a ship captained by her father out of Hong Kong, she grew up in Quincy, Mass. She started out acting in stock companies and Broadway around the turn of the century. She has nearly two dozen Broadway credits between 1901 and 1929, including the original 1903 production of Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman. She was a member of Sylvester Poli’s stock company in the teens, and appeared in a handful of silent movies 1911-1917, most of them for Kalem, starring Tom Moore.
In 1929 Blandick moved out to Hollywood and began her substantial career as a character actress in the newly talking pictures.She was almost always cast in Aunt Em type roles. For example she played Aunt Polly or Miss Watson in no less than four Tom Sawyer/ Huckleberry Finn movies: Tom Sawyer (1930), Huckleberry Finn (1931), Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938),and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939). In the original version of A Star is Born (1937) she is “Aunt Mattie.” This strong association has to have been what got her cast in The Wizard of Oz. Over the years, she played any number of missionary women, landladies and spinster aunts, and occasionally matronly society women (as pictured above) although no-nonsense country women were more her metier. Other films she appeared in included Three on a Match (1932), Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and Broadway Bill (1934), the 1934 version of The Show-Off, Harold Teen (1934), Anthony Adverse (1937), Professor Beware (1938) with Harold Lloyd, John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), and Swanee River (1939). By the ’40s she was a bit player but you can instantly spot her. As such, she’s in the Marx Brothers’ The Big Store (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Gentleman Jim (1942), Dubarry Was a Lady (1943), Heaven Can Wait (1943), She-Wolf of London (1946), and Life with Father (1947). She retired in 1951.
Sadly Clara Blandick ended her own life in 1962, unable to cope with the pain of her arthritis and the news that she would soon go blind. She left behind a note that 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.”
Clara Bladick’s gruesome exit involved pills and a plastic bag over the head. I wouldn’t wish it on a wicked witch. But at least she was out of her misery.
For more on show biz history, including major props for Clara Blandick’s best remembered film The Wizard of Oz, please consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,