Fans of Frank Capra’s 1936 classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town may be delighted to learn that the characters of Jane and Amy Faulkner, the “pixilated sisters”, who testify at Deeds’ trial, were actually a pre-existing vaudeville act, imported and seamlessly integrated into the plot of the film.
The two actresses were Margaret McWade (Margaret May Fish, 1871-1956) and Margaret Seddon (1872-1968). Though the former married actor Edward McWade in 1897, she used the stage name Margaret May through 1919. McWade was from Chicago; Seddon was from Washington DC. The two women began acting separately in stock companies in the 1890s. They met during a production of a play called County Fair in Boston, became friends, and cooked up their comical two-act as a couple of dotty old women which they booked in vaudeville for years.
Starting in the mid teens, they each pursued separate film careers, usually as spinsters and the like. McWade appeared in supporting parts in 73 films from 1914 through 1954; Seddon did 110 movies from 1915 through 1953. McWade’s credits include The Blot (1922), Alice Adams (1923), The Lost World (1925), The Last Days of Pompeii (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), It’s a Joke Son! (1947), and Copacabana (1947). The more prolific Seddon was in Little Johnny Jones (1923), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928), If I Had a Million (1932), March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934), David Copperfield (1935), Raffles (1939), The Bank Dick (1940), and Roxie Hart (1942).
Playing on their revived popularity following Deeds, the two actresses were cast together in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Scattergood Survives a Murder (1942), Jack Benny’s The Meanest Man in the World (1943), and Red Skelton’s I Dood It (1943). McWade’s last film was the Garson Kanin-penned comedy It Should Happen to You (1954), directed by George Cukor and featuring Judy Holiday, Jack Lemmon and Peter Lawford. Seddon’s last credit was a 1953 episode of The Loretta Young Show.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,