Spring Byington: Star on Two Continents

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Today is the birthday of Spring Byington (1886-1971). I associate her primarily with playing silly old fussbudgets and society women in comedies but a reflection on her career reveals that it was more varied than that, and her early life has many surprises.

First she was originally from the west, back when it was still “the west”. She was born and raised in Colorado. Her father, who was a superintendent of schools, died when she was five years old. Her mother was one of America’s first woman doctors.

Byington began acting in stock companies when she was a teenager, first touring the U.S., and later Argentina and Brazil, performing in English, Spanish and Portuguese. From 1916 she made her home base New York, arriving on Broadway in the original 1924 production of Beggar on Horseback. George S. Kaufman clearly had a liking for her. She was later cast in the original production of Once in a Lifetime (1930), and the film version of You Can’t Take it With You (1938).

In Hollywood, she had memorable roles in a long list of classics, including Little Women (1933), Werewolf of London (1935), Ah, Wilderness! (1935), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Dodsworth (1936), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), Jezebel (1938), Meet John Doe (1941), Roxie Hart (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943), Dragonwyck (1946), In the Good Old Summertime (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951), Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) and 17 “Jones” family comedies (1936-1944). She also worked constantly in radio and television, most notably on the tv shows December Bride (1954-1959), and Laramie (1961-1963).

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