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 (1880-1962) who played Aunt Em. Today is her birthday.
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. Her film career actually dates back to the early days of silents, although she continued to alternate films with stage work. She was a member of Sylvester Poli’s stock company in the teens, and worked on Broadway through 1929, at which point she 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. She retired around 1950.
Sadly she 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.”
For more on show biz history, including major props for The Wizard of Oz, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.