The Surprising Pedigree of Blossom Rock

I got a delightful surprise this morning when looking into the background of actress Blossom Rock (1895-1978), best known for playing the broomstick-wielding Grandmama on the original The Addams Family tv series (1964-66). I’d always wondered about her. Unlike John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan and even Ted Cassidy I’d never seen her anywhere else (that I knew of). And, in what was potentially a pretty funny role, I didn’t find her very comical. But, as with several of those named, Rock’s presence on the show turns out to be a bit of stunt casting. I won’t bury the lede: she was the older sister of movie star/ singer Jeanette MacDonald. 

with sister Jennette MacDonald

Her given name was Edith Marie Blossom MacDonald. Her older sister Elise Wallace MacDonald (1894-1970) performed in vaudeville and operated a dance school. As a girl Blossom also performed in vaudeville in their native Philadelphia in an act with Jeannette. Later she teamed up in vaudeville with her husband Clarence Warren Rock, whom she married in 1926. Clarence appeared in two Vitaphone comedy shorts in 1933: Nothing Ever Happens, and Tomalio (the latter with Fatty Arbuckle). This appeared to be as high as his star rose in show business. Later he became a hotel manager. Blossom took a few years longer to break through. Billed as Blossom MacDonald, she had two stints on Broadway, as part of the ensemble in the original production of Dead End (1935-37), and in a small part in a short lived play called But For the Grace of God (1937).

Then in 1937, she began to secure regular film work, billed as Marie Blake. Fortunately for us she did not go with Marie MacDonald, or we might have confused her with this lady. Laudably, in choosing this name, she appears not to have wanted to ride on her sister’s coattails, as Jeanette had been a star for several years at that point. Marie became a familiar sight on movie screens as a supporting player, often as secretaries and switchboard operators. She was fortunate enough to appear regularly in numerous film series, including the Dr. Kildare, Andy Hardy, Dr. Gillespie, and Joe Palooka series. She plays the title character in the Our Gang short Alfalfa’s Aunt (1939)! Other well known movies she appeared in include Mannequin (1937), The Women (1939), They Drive By Night (1940), Li’l Abner (1940), The Major and the Minor (1942), I Married a Witch (1942 — foreshadowing!), Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (1945), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), The Snake Pit (1948), The Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), Snow White and The Three Stooges (1961), and The Best Man (1964). In the mid-50s, she sometimes began to bill herself as Blossom Rock and to work more in television. Prior to The Addams Family she had a recurring role as “Nurse Tacky” on Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal (1955-57).

Blossom’s last role was a 1966 episode of Sherwood Schwartz’s It’s About Time. The photo above appears to be from that occasion (it was a caveman comedy). A stroke ended her career at the age of 71. She survived another dozen years.

To learn more about vaudeville, where Blossom Rock got her start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,