Character Actors-Female 1930 through 1969

by horn-5 | created - 25 Feb 2014 | updated - 26 Feb 2014 | Public

hese actresses seldom(some exceptions) found themselves near the top of the cast list,but did play very pivotal roles in their films.

Choose the one you have most enjoyed watching.

1. May Robson

Actress | Bringing Up Baby

Born Mary Jeanette Robison. She was the youngest daughter of Henry Robison of Penrith, Cumberland, England and Julia Schelesinger of Liverpool, Lancashire, England. Her father died in 1860 and her mother remarried. In 1866/67 they were living in St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and moved ...

The granny who always found a way to handle bad situations...including strapping on a couple of pistols.

2. Marie Dressler

Actress | Dinner at Eight

Once you saw her, you would not forget her. Despite her age and weight, she became one of the top box office draws of the sound era. She was 14 when she joined a theater group and she went on to work on stage and in light opera. By 1892, she was on Broadway and she later became a star comedienne on...

Tough outside, soft inside, whose biting comments could leave pretenders exposed...and, sometimes, in need of a band-aid.

3. May Whitty

Actress | The Lady Vanishes

Born Mary Whitty on June 19, 1865, to a Liverpool newspaper editor and his wife, she became known as May Whitty to the world. She first stepped on the London stage in 1882. She worked as an understudy at the St. James Theatre and then began playing leading roles when she joined a traveling stock ...

In some of her films she was not always the sweet little old lady she appeared to be...and could even be real mean when need be...and was delightful... even when she was deadly.

4. Una O'Connor

Actress | Witness for the Prosecution

Delightful character actress who held her own against such acting heavyweights as Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, and Sydney Greenstreet. Often cast by studio heads as comic relief thanks to her thick Irish accent and rubber-faced expressions, most notably in ...

Often found at the pub , more than a bit opinionated, no fan of messy housekeeping, and her testimony at a trial might not be exactly what a lawyer was expecting.

5. Hattie McDaniel

Actress | Gone with the Wind

After working as early as the 1910s as a band vocalist, Hattie McDaniel debuted as a maid in The Golden West (1932). Her maid-mammy characters became steadily more assertive, showing up first in Judge Priest (1934) and becoming pronounced in Alice Adams (1935). In this one, directed by George ...

A proud lady and proud of her race who was always in charge even if others around her "thought" they were.

6. Margaret Hamilton

Actress | The Wizard of Oz

Margaret Hamilton was born December 9, 1902 in Cleveland, Ohio to Jennie and Walter Hamilton. She later attended Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and practiced acting doing children's theater while a Junior League of Cleveland member. Margaret had already built her resume with several...

Her days of teaching at a kindergarten may have prepared her for playing The Wicked Witch of the West.

7. Judith Anderson

Actress | Rebecca

Dame Judith Anderson was born Frances Margaret Anderson on February 10, 1897 in Adelaide, South Australia. She began her acting career in Australia before moving to New York in 1918. There she established herself as one of the greatest theatrical actresses and was a major star on Broadway ...

A diminutive Australian who gave towering performances.

8. Beulah Bondi

Actress | It's a Wonderful Life

Character actress Beulah Bondi was a favorite of directors and audiences and is one of the reasons so many films from the 1930s and 1940s remain so enjoyable, as she was an integral part of many of the ensemble casts (a hallmark of the studio system) of major and/or great films, including The Trail...

Usually grouchcy(and usually with a reason) characters but got two Oscar nominations.

9. Spring Byington

Actress | You Can't Take It with You

The possessor of one of Hollywood's gentlest faces and warmest voices, and about as sweet as Tupelo honey both on-and-off camera, character actress Spring Byington was seldom called upon to play callous or unsympathetic (she did once play a half-crazed housekeeper in Dragonwyck (1946)). Although ...

Often addled, snooty and gossipy and was Andy Hardy's mother...once.

10. Ellen Corby

Actress | The Waltons

Ellen Corby was born Ellen Hansen on June 3, 1911, in Racine, Wisconsin. She played many uncredited bit parts from the late 20's through the 30's. Ellen would not be seen on the big screen again until 1945 in Cornered (1945). In 1946, she appeared in 14 films, although mostly in small, minor roles....

From script girl to screenplay (two Hopalong Cassidy films) to Grandma Esther Walton had to have been an interesting journey.

11. Irene Ryan

Actress | The Beverly Hillbillies

Before becoming known to millions as Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962), Irene Ryan was already an established vaudeville, radio and movie actress, though not as famous prior to her television stint. She accompanied Bob Hope on his famous military tours and she was known as "the gal who makes...

Many years as part of a comedy team (with husband Tim Ryan) in vaudeville, radio and (primarily) low-budget movies kept her in the dreaded not-famous-enough (for some people)class until..a TV hillbilly family struck it rich and moved to Beverly Hills.

12. Jane Darwell

Actress | The Grapes of Wrath

Missouri-born Jane Darwell was born Patti Woodard, the daughter of William Robert Woodard, president of the Louisville Southern Railroad, and Ellen (Booth) Woodard, in Palmyra, Missouri, where she grew up on a ranch . She nursed ambitions to be an opera singer, but put it off because of her ...

Ma Joad. One of the few studio-contract-character players who made money for her studio by getting loaned out to other studios.

13. Mildred Dunnock

Actress | The Trouble with Harry

Petite American character actress who was celebrated for her definitive portrayal of long-suffering Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman", a part she played opposite Lee J. Cobb at the Morosco Theatre for 742 consecutive performances between 1949 and 1950. Mildred recreated her role ...

Birdlike and petite and the understanding (but badly-treated) wife or aunt.

14. Gladys George

Actress | The Roaring Twenties

One of the finest, if relatively short-lived, character actresses of Hollywood, during the 1930s and 1940, Gladys George was born into an acting family who were literally on the road at the time of her birth.

Her parents were actually English and touring with a Shakespearean theater company in ...

The dame-with-a-heart-of-gold but who also could show some lechery as the not-so-everloving widow in "The Maltese Falcon".

15. Elsa Lanchester

Actress | Witness for the Prosecution

Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born into an unconventional a family at the turn of the 20th century. Her parents, James "Shamus" Sullivan and Edith "Biddy" Lanchester, were socialists - very active members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in a rather broad sense - and did not believe in the ...

Star of stage, radio, movies and TV on both sides of the Atlantic, and pulled off the dual role of Mary Shelley and the title character in "Bride of Frankenstein."

16. Jessie Royce Landis

Actress | North by Northwest

Jessie Royce Landis was called "an international star" in her New York Times obituary. She was 20 when she made her stage debut at the Playhouse in Chicago as the young countess in "The Highwayman". Soon she was on Broadway. In 1950 she went to London for "Larger Than Life", a dramatization of W. ...

The perfect lady for dizzy-and-ditzy society matrons and mothers.

17. Juanita Moore

Actress | Imitation of Life

African American actress Juanita Moore entered films in the early 1950s, a time in which few black people were given an opportunity to act in major studio films. Fortunately Moore's roles began improving as Hollywood developed a social consciousness toward the end of the decade. In 1959 she ...

A late start but a quality 20-year career.

18. Mildred Natwick

Actress | The Trouble with Harry

A disarming character lady quite capable of scene-stealing, Mildred Natwick was a well-rounded talent with distinctively dowdy features and idiosyncratic tendencies who, over a six-decade period, assembled together a number of unforgettable matrons on stage and (eventually) film and TV. Whimsical, ...

Could steal a scene with an easiness seldom seen. Didn't even have to have the best line in doing so.

19. Zasu Pitts

Actress | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Classic comedienne Zasu Pitts, of the timid, forlorn blue eyes and trademark woebegone vocal pattern and fidgety hands, was born to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, the third of four children on January 3, 1894. Her aged New York-native father, who lost a leg back in the Civil War era, had settled...

Floated in on butterfly wings, always confused, and fidgetity with lots of fussy-business.

20. Gale Sondergaard

Actress | Anthony Adverse

Sly, manipulative, dangerously cunning and sinister were the key words that best described the roles that Gale Sondergaard played in motion pictures, making her one of the most talented character actresses ever seen on the screen. She was educated at the University of Minnesota and later married ...

Excellent at both comedy and drama in mostly exotic roles such as Sherlock Holmes' deadly opponent,The Spider Woman. Her husband, Herbert Biberman, was one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, and she was also a victim of blacklisting.

21. Natalie Schafer

Actress | Gilligan's Island

Natalie Schafer got her start doing Broadway plays then making the move to the big screen. Even before Gilligan's Island (1964), she was typecast in roles as society women, or elegant, fashionable ladies. It was her role as "Eunice 'Lovey' Wentworth Howell" wife of multi-millionaire Thurston Howell...

Usually an elegant-but-dizzy society dame on screen, whose character only required Emily Post manners while spreading gossip and enjoying the high end of creature comforts. For television, the character was called Lovey Howell. And the sexiest lady on Gilligan's little island.

22. Mercedes McCambridge

Actress | Giant

Mercedes McCambridge is a highly-talented radio performer who won a best supporting Actress Oscar for her film debut.

Mercedes McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinois, to Marie (Mahaffry) and John Patrick McCambridge, a farmer. She was of mostly Irish (with a small amount of English and German) ...

Radio performer who won an Oscar in her film debut, was the toughest one on the ranch in "Giant", had an uncredited "voice over " in The Exorcist (1973), and became a cult-favorite for getting outgunned by Joan Crawford in the dumbest Western ever made.

23. Edith Evans

Actress | The Whisperers

Edith Evans was the greatest actress on the English stage in the 20th century, treading the boards for over half-a-century. She made her professional stage debut in 1912 and excelled in both classic and modern roles in the West End of London and on Broadway, as well as the Shakespeare Memorial ...

Following a 33-year-gap in her film caeer,confining her work to the stage from where she started, she came back to movies in 1949 and left many lasting impressions of the varied characters she played in the twilight years of her career.

24. Estelle Winwood

Actress | The Producers

When Estelle saw the girl on a white horse at the circus, she then decided that she wanted to be an actress. And she was from the age of 5, to the disapproval of her father. Her mother had her train with the Liverpool Repertory Company, and Estelle performed in many plays and many roles in the West...

A reluctant film and television performer for most of her career, but when she did relent she did so in a very prolific way. Her final film, at the age of 92, was as Elsa Lanchester's ancient nursemaid in "Murder by Death (1972)"

25. Anna May Wong

Actress | Daughter of Shanghai

Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, was born Wong Liu Tsong on January 3, 1905, in Los Angeles, California, to laundryman Wong Sam Sing and his wife, Lee Gon Toy. A third-generation American, she managed to have a substantial acting career during a deeply racist time when the ...

An above the title star in silent-era films, who remained near the top of any cast list into the 1940s, albeit the films got cheaper from the mid-1930s onward (B-features from Paramount and Columbia) and poverty-row productions from P.R.C.

26. Agnes Moorehead

Actress | Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Agnes was born of Anglo/Irish ancestry near Boston, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister (her mother was a mezzo-soprano) who encouraged her to perform in church pageants. Aged three, she sang 'The Lord is my Shepherd' on a public stage and seven years later joined the St. Louis Municipal Opera ...

A charter member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air, who never lost her love for the medium. She left large footprints in radio (Margot Lane and War of the Worlds), movies (any role she had) and television.

27. Eve Arden

Actress | Our Miss Brooks

Eve Arden was born Eunice Mary Quedens in Mill Valley, California (near San Francisco), and was interested in show business from an early age. At 16, she made her stage debut after quitting school to joined a stock company. After appearing in minor roles in two films under her real name, Eunice ...

This Eve had a way with words...especially on exit lines. None better.

28. Marie Windsor

Actress | The Killing

Marie Windsor (born Emily Marie Bertelsen) was born in Marysvale, Utah, and attended Brigham Young University. She trained for the stage under Maria Ouspenskaya before she began playing leading roles in B pictures in the late 1940s. So many B films in fact, that she garnered the title of 'Queen of ...

The queen of B-movies but the best broad that ever walked the A-movie streets.

29. Mae Questel

Actress | National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Her Orthodox Jewish family were totally averse to her having an entertainment career. Her parents and grandparents forced her to leave the Theatre Guild school (New York) while still a teenager and had their wills drawn up accordingly so as to discourage this career choice.

Studied drama at Columbia...

You never saw her but you never got far away from hearing her voice.

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