Alison Skipworth: Frequent Foil of W.C. Fields


Today is the birthday of Alison Skipworth (Alison Mary Elliot Margaret Groom, 1863-1952).

London born Skipworth was best known for playing big-boned, hearty grand dames in Hollywood, most notably opposite W.C. Fields in four films: If I Had a Million (1932), Tillie and Gus (1933), Alice in Wonderland (1933 — they appear in separate scenes in that one), and Six of a Kind (1934). Other notable films she appeared in include the murder mystery Raffles (1930) with Ronald Colman, Night After Night (1932) with George Raft and Mae West, The Casino Murder Case (1935), The Devil is a Woman (1935), Becky Sharp (1935) and Satan Met a Lady (1936).

Given her distinctive countenance in these later films it is surprising to learn that when she began her career she was considered a great beauty. She started out at a Gaiety Girl in the eponymous West End revue at Daly’s Theatre in 1894. Working as an artist’s model for painter Frank Markham Skipworth led to their marriage. Alison Skipworth appeared in musical comedies and classics in London, New York and on tour from the 1890s through the end of the 1920s. While she had made a half dozen films during the silent era, she made the definitive move to Hollywood after her husband died in 1929. Her last film was Ladies in Distress (1938) with Polly Moran. 

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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