Dorothy Peterson: From “Peppers” to Patty Duke

Herewith, a literal 11th hour post on stage and screen actress Dorothy Peterson (Bergetta Peterson, 1897-1979), who played the mother in the Five Little Peppers movies (1939-1940) and was in I’m No Angel (1932) with Mae West and much else. Peterson joins a suspiciously large number of fellow Christmas babies we’ve written about on Travalanche, including but not limited to Humphrey Bogart, Cab Calloway, Robert Ripley, Rod Serling, Mabel King, Tony Martin, Joe Schenck, Eugene “Pineapple” Jackson, Lew Grade, Dick Miller, Frances McCoy, Carlena Diamond, Gary Sandy, Jack Dracula, Fred Hillebrand, Candy Candido, Helen Twelvetrees, Oscar Polk, Steve Brodie, Mike Mazurki, Fay Templeton, Belle Baker, Evelyn Nesbit, Joe Rock, Eddie Rector, James J. Morton, and the Fakir of Ava.

Peterson was a Minnesota Swede who studied at Chicago Musical College and then performed Ibsen for two years with a stock company before landing her first Broadway role in Cobra (1924) with Louis Calhern, Judith Anderson, and Ralph Morgan. Then she got to go into the original production of O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1924) two months into the run as a replacement for Mary Blair in the role of Ella. Of her half-dozen subsequent Broadway plays her most notable was Horace Liveright’s original 1927 production of Dracula with Bela Lugosi, which formed the basis of the famous 1931 movie. Peterson created the role of Lucy Seward onstage. One assumes she didn’t play the part in the movie because by then she had starred in the 1930 film Mothers Cry, and was now busy being typecast as mother (and motherly) supporting characters. In addition to I’m No Angel and the Five Little Peppers movies, her 100+ movies include the 1931 version of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod and Sam, the 1932 version of Edna Ferber’s So Big, The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) with Richard Barthelmess and Bette Davis, Treasure Island (1934 — as Jim’s mother), Dark Victory (1939), Lillian Russell (1940), Henry Aldrich for President (1941), Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942), This is the Army (1943) and Mr. Skeffington (1944). After That Hagen Girl (1947) with Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan she worked exclusively in television. Her last role was in a 1964 episode of The Patty Duke Show. In 1943 she married Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, who passed away in 1962, possibly one of the reasons for her retirement shortly thereafter.