Another Line of Davenports: From Gaslight to “Field of Dreams”

Anne Seymour

We consider one of the missions of this blog to establish as best we can connections to past figures who can seem quite distant. Thus today we give you some relatively minor figures from a more famous seven generation theatrical family whose legacies yet live.

May Marian Caroline Davenport (1856-1927) was the sister of the much more famous thespians Harry Davenport and Fanny Davenport. Harry, in addition to being a well-known Hollywood character actor, had been husband of Alice Davenport and father of Dorothy Davenport (Mrs. Wallace Reid). We’ve written about all four, just follow the links to brush up on them. Harry, Fanny and May were all children of the tragedian E.L. Davenport. May herself was a working actor who performed with the stock company at the Boston Museum. May married into another important theatrical family, the Seymours. Her husband William Seymour (1855-1933) was an important actor/manager and the son of actors James Seymour and Lydia Griffth Seymour. Read more about these here at the Princeton University Library’s website.

William Seymour and May Davenport produced May Davenport Seymour (1883-1967). May Seymour became a professional around the turn of the last century, and acted in nine plays on Broadway between 1903 and 1905 including productions of The Little Princess and A Doll’s House, the latter with Ethel Barrymore. Her last Broadway outing was the double bill Pantaloon and Alice Sit By the Fire, which featured all three Barrymore siblings. She married William Stanley Eckert and left the stage to raise a family, although she returned to be a radio actress once her children were grown. She is most famous however for founding and curating the theatre collection at the Museum of the City of New York. This unique collection is an invaluable resource to theatre history nerds like me; it was certainly one of the places I relied upon in my research for my book No Applause. 

William and May Eckert, were in turn the parents of Anne Seymour Eckert, normally billed as Anne Seymour (1909-1988, pictured above). Anne Seymour was most widely seen in her last years as a bit player and character actress, normally playing little old ladies, housekeepers and the like. But her career had stretched over nearly 60 years, and she attained earlier fame in some stuff that has since fallen by the wayside. On Broadway she appeared in At the Bottom (1930), Puppet Show (1930) and The School for Scandal (1931) before going on to radio fame as the star of the series A Woman of America and The Story of Mary Marlin, and a cast member of the shows Joyce Jordan, Girl Interne; Tom Bradley;Against the Storm; and King Arthur, Junior. 

In 1949, Seymour was cast as Broderick Crawford’s wife in the classic film All the King’s Men, a turning point in her career. A lot of the work that immediately followed was in television. In addition to the usual rounds of live television dramas, she was cast as a regular on the soap opera Follow Your Heart (1953). In the middle of the decade she did several episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show and The Honeymooners (including the classic episode “Mama Loves the Mambo”). By the end of the decade, she had matured substantially and began getting cast in prominent roles in major productions, She was cast as FDR’s mother in the original 1958 Broadway production of Sunrise at Campobello, which ran for a year and a half. In rapid succession she got supporting roles in the films Desire Under the Elms (1958), Home from the Hill (1960), Pollyanna (1960), All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960), The Subterraneans (1960), and Misty (1961). She was one of the leads on the western TV series Empire (1961-62) with Richard Egan, Ryan O’Neal and Charles Bronson. She played a ranch matriarch not unlike Barbara Stanwyck on The Big Valley.  In 1970 she was a regular on The Tim Conway Show. Other TV work including appearances on Gunsmoke, Hazel, Perry Mason, Emergency!, Police Woman and dozens of other shows. And through her last decades, lots of films: Good Neighbor Sam (1964) with Jack Lemmon, Mirage (1965) with Gregory Peck, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) with Robert Morse, Fitzwilly (1967) with Dick Van Dyke, Stay Away Joe (1968) with Elvis Presley, How to Commit Marriage (1969) with Gleason and Bob Hope, a 1974 TV version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Hearts of the West (1975) with Jeff Bridges, Triumphs of a Man Called Horse (1983) with Richard Harris, and finally her last two, truly good ones to go out on: Big Top Peewee (1988) and Field of Dreams (1989).

Seymour had no children and thus ends this particular Davenport line.