May Whitty

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May Whitty

Dame May Whitty.jpg
Mary Louise Whitty

(1865-06-19)19 June 1865
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, UK
Died29 May 1948(1948-05-29) (aged 82)
Occupationstage and screen Actress
Years active18811948
Ben Webster
(m. 1892;died 1947)
Relatives Margaret Webster (daughter)

Dame Mary Louise Webster, DBE (19 June 1865 – 29 May 1948), known professionally as May Whitty and later, for her charity work, Dame May Whitty, was an English stage and film actress. She was one of the first two women entertainers to become a Dame. The British actors union Equity was established in her home. After a successful career she moved over to Hollywood films at the age of 72. She went to live in America, where she won awards for her film roles.



Born in Liverpool, England, to William Alfred Whitty (ca. 1837–1876), a newspaper proprietor [1] and Mary Louisa (née Ashton, ca. 1837–1894). Her grandfather was, Michael James Whitty, Chief Constable in Liverpool and founder of the Liverpool Daily Post. [2] She made her first stage appearance in Liverpool in 1881, later moving to London to appear in the West End.

She married actor-manager Ben Webster on August 3, 1892 in St Giles's Parish Church, London. [3] In 1895 they visited the United States, where Whitty appeared on Broadway. Their first child, a son, died at birth. Their only surviving child, a daughter born in New York in 1905, Margaret Webster, was a producer and held dual US/UK citizenship. She was chair of the Actresses' Franchise League. [2] Whitty's stage career continued for the rest of her life. In March 1910, she made her transition to middle-aged and elderly character roles, playing Amelia Madras in Harley Granville-Barker's four-act comedy The Madras House. [4] In March 1922, she played the role of Mrs. Bennet before the Queen in a benefit performance of Pride and Prejudice. She acted opposite her husband, who performed its Mr. Darcy. [5]


In the 1918 New Year Honours, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE, gazetted under her legal married name Mary Louise Webster) in recognition of her charitable work during the First World War for the Three Arts Women's Employment Fund and the British Women's Hospitals Committee. [2] She was the first film and stage actress to receive a damehood, along with the opera singer Nellie Melba, who was also thus honoured in 1918.

Film career and death

I've got everything Betty Grable has—I've just had it longer. [4]

Whitty made her Hollywood film debut at the age of 72, recreating her 1935 stage role in the Hollywood film Night Must Fall (1937), which also starred Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. She received an Oscar nomination. This led to several supporting roles in films, including that of the vanishing lady, Miss Froy, in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). [2]

She moved permanently to the USA (although she never became a US citizen) in 1939 and appeared both on stage and in Hollywood films, usually playing wealthy dowagers. It was one such part, as Lady Beldon in Mrs. Miniver (1942), that brought her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. [2]

She continued to act for the remainder of her life and died on 29 May 1948 in Beverly Hills, California, from cancer at the age of 82; [2] her husband had died the previous year during surgery.

Stage roles

Dates are of the first performance.

Date (year, month, day)TitleAuthor(s)CityTheaterRole
1890-02-14The Home Feud Walter Frith London Comedy Theatre Helen Joliffe [6]
1890-07-04Vanity of Vanities Justin Huntly McCarthy London Shaftesbury Theatre Princess Nicholas [7]
1891-01-07Private Enquiry F. C. Burnand (based on Albert Valabrègue’s La Sécurité des Familles)London Royal Strand Theatre Mrs. Buckleigh [8]
1891-02-14Turned Up Mark Melford LondonRoyal Strand TheatreSabina Medway [9]
1891-04-01Linda GreySir Charles L. YoungLondonPrincesLady Broughton [10]
1891-04-15Our DaughtersT.G. Warren & Willie Edouin LondonRoyal Strand TheatreNellie Mayhew [11]
1891-07-01Mrs. AnnesleyJ. F. CookeLondon Criterion Theatre Estelle Brandreth [12]
1891-07-27Fate and Fortune, or, The Junior PartnerJames J. BloodLondonPrincess’sGrace Hasluck [13]
1892-01-06The Showman’s Daughter"" Frances Hodgson Burnett London Royalty Theatre Linda Hurst [14]
1892-02-16The Silver Shield Sydney Grundy London Vaudeville Theatre Lucy Preston [15]
1892-05-10A CapriceJustin Huntly McCarthy, adapted from Alfred de Musset’s Un CapriceLondonVaudeville TheatreMathilde [16]
1892-05-25The Noble Art Eille Norwood London Terry's Theatre Gertie Fullalove [17]
1892-05-26In the Season Langdon Elwyn Mitchell LondonVaudeville TheatreSybil March [18]
1892-09-14Our Boys Henry James Byron LondonVaudeville TheatreMary Melrose [19]
1893-01-28The Guv’Nor Robert Reece (writing under the pseudonym “E.G. Lankester”LondonVaudeville TheatreAurelia [20]
1893-02-16FlightWalter FrithLondonTerry's TheatreMrs. Amherst [21]
1893-06-09The Younger SonR.S. SievierLondon Gaiety Theatre Evelyn Brookfield [22]
1893-06-19The Adventures of a NightMeyrick Milton, adaptated from Los Empenos de Seis Horas by Pedro Calderón de la Barca LondonRoyal Strand TheatreDonna Bianca [23]
1893-12-21Beauty’s ToilsCharles S. Fawcett, founded on Her Fatal Beauty by W.B. MaxellLondonRoyal Strand TheatreEthel Cumming [24]
1894-07-02Our FlotMrs. H. MusgraveLondonRoyal Strand TheatreMargery Sylvester [25]
1895-03-12A Loving LegacyFred W. SidneyLondonRoyal Strand TheatreKitty O’Rourke [26]
1895-04-15Fanny George Robert Sims and Cecil Raleigh LondonRoyal Strand TheatreGrace Dormer [27]
1895-04-15The BacksliderOsmond ShillingfordLondonRoyal Strand TheatreMrs. Agatha Dolomite [28]
1895-06-27Louis XI Dion Boucicault, adaptated by Saimir DelavigneLondon Lyceum Theatre Marie [29]
1895-07-12The Lyons MailCharles Reader, adaptation of Le Courrier de Lyon, by Émile Moreau, Giraudin & DelacourLondonLyceum TheatreJulie Lesurques [30]
1895-07-15The Corsican BrothersDion Boucicault, adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s The Corsican Brothers LondonLyceum TheatreEmelie de l’Esparre [31]
1895-07-24 Macbeth William Shakespeare LondonLyceum TheatreA gentlewoman [32]
1896-12-03A Princess of OrangeFred JamesLondonLyceum TheatreLouise, Princess of Orange [33]
1896-12-10An Old SongRev. Freeman Wills and A. Fitzmaurice KingLondonCriterion TheatreSignora Sara Rosetti [34]
1897-12-23Secret Service: A Romance of the Southern Confederacy William Gillette London Adelphi Theatre Edith Varney [35]
1898-12-03Cupboard Love Henry V. Esmond LondonCourtRosamond Pilliner [36]
1899-06-06The Heather Field Edward Martyn LondonTerry's TheatreGrace Tyrrell [37]
1899-09-04The Last ChapterGeorge H. BroadhurstLondonRoyal Strand TheatreKatherine Blake [38]
1901-05-11Toff Jim Fred Wright LondonApolloPrimrose [39]
1908-01-20Irene WycherleyAnthony P. WhartonNew York Astor Theatre Carrie Hardinge [40]
1910-03-01The SentimentalistsGeorge MeredithLondonDuke of York’sDame Dresden [41]
1910-03-10The Madras House Harley Granville-Barker LondonDuke of York’sAmelia Madras [42]
1910-04-05Trelawny of the Wells Arthur Wing Pinero LondonDuke of York’sMiss Trafalgar Gower [43]
1910-11-18The Home Coming Cicely Hamilton LondonAldwychMrs. Daly [44]
1911-05-08The First Actress Christabel Marshall LondonKingswayPeg Woffington [45]
1911-05-12The Baron’s WagerCharles YoungLondonPlayhouseClothislde, Marquise de Marsay [46]
1912-02-01The Bear-Leaders R. C. Carton LondonComedyDowager Countess of Grimsdal [47]
1912-02-09EdithElizabeth BakerLondonPrincessMrs. Stott [48]
1912-08-12Ready MoneyJames MontgomeryLondonNewMrs. John Tyler [49]
1913-03-31A Matter of Money(First played in Glasgow under the title The Cutting of the Know)Cicely HamiltonLondonLittleMrs. Channing [50]
1913-03-11Open WindowsA.E.W. MasonLondonSt. James’sLady Cluffe [51]
1913-10-04The Grand SeigneurEdward Ferris and Bertram P. MatthewsLondonSavoyComtesse Malise [52]
1914-09-08The Impossible WomanC. Haddon ChambersLondonSavoyMrs. Talcot [53]
1915-04-15The Green Flag Keble Howard LondonVaudeville TheatreMrs. Kesteven [54]
1915-10-16Iris IntervenesJohn Hastings TurnerLondonKingswayMary Cumbers [55]
1916-02-28The Arm of the LawArthur Bourchier, adapted from La Robe Rouge by Eugène BrieuxLondonHis Majesty’sMme. Vagret [56]
1916-05-28The Eternal SnowsMichael Orme [pseudonym for Alix Augusta Grein]LondonCriterion TheatreMary Chartwell [57]
1917-04-09The Passing of the Third Floor BackJerome K. JeromeLondonPlayhouseCheat, Mrs. Sharpe, Lady of the House [58]
1917-07-27Trelawny of the WellsArthur W. PineroLondonNewMiss Trafalgar Gower [59]
1917-09-07Trelawny of the WellsArthur W. PineroLondonNewMiss Trafalgar Gower [60]
1922-03-01The Enchanted CottageArthur PineroLondonDuke of York’sMrs. Corsellis [61]
1922-03-24Pride and PrejudiceEileen H.A. Squire & J.C. Squire, adatped from Jane Austen’s novelLondonPalaceMrs. Bennett [62]
1922-05-18Life’s a GameMichael Orme [pseud. Alix Augusta Grein]LondonKingwayLady Raunds [63]
1922-12-04DestructionAgnese de LlanaLondonRoyalty TheatreElla Singleton [64]
1924-09-18The FoolChanning PollockLondonApolloMrs. Henry Gilliam [65]
1925-05-11My Lady’s DressEdward KnblockLondonAdelphiLa Grisa [66]
1925-06-22March Hares (The Temperamentalists)Harry Wagstaff GribbleLondonLittleMrs. Janet Rodney [67]
1925-09-22The Last of Mrs. CheyneyFrederick LonsdaleLondonSt. James’sMrs. Ebley [68]
1927-12-27SylviaJames DyrenforthLondonVaudeville TheatreMrs. Considine [69]
1928-04-19Come With Me Basil Dean and Margaret Kennedy LondonNewLady Alethea Zaidner [70]
1929-06-01SybaritesH. Dennis BradleyLondonArtsLady Byfleet [71]
1929-07-24Gentlemen of the JuryFrancis A. CamptonLondonArtsLady Blakeney [72]
1929-09-05Dear Brutus J. M. Barrie LondonPlayhouseMrs. Coade [73]
1929-12-03The Major ExplainsW.R. WalkesLondonPrince of Wales’s[unnamed role] [74]
1929-12-03The AmoristsH. Dennis BradleyLondonRoyalty TheatreLady Byfleet [75]
1930-12-26A Busness MarriageAnonymousLondonCourtMrs. Mabley Jones [76]
1931-10-12 There's Always Juliet John Van Druten LondonApolloFlorence [77]
1931-10-12There’s Always JulietJohn Van DrutenNew YorkEmpireFlorence [78]
1932-08-16 Behold, We Live John van DrutenLondonSt. James’sDame Frances Evers [79]
1932-10-02Please Don’t Be NervousAnn StephensonLondonShaftesburyMother [80]
1933-08-08In Vino Veritas Walter Hudd LondonArtsOakley [81]
1933-08-08The Long Christmas Dinner Thornton Wilder LondonArtsMother Bayard [81]
1933-08-01The LakeDorothy Massingham (with Murray Macdonald)LondonArtsMildred Surrege [82]
1933-08-01The LakeDorothy Massingham (with Murray Macdonald)LondonWestminsterMildred Surrege [83]
1933-11-29Man Proposes Warren Chetham-Strode LondonWyndham’sMary Railton [84]
1934-05-03The Voysey InheritanceHarley Granville-BarkerLondonSadler’s WellsMrs. Voysey [85]
1934-06-14Meeting At NightMarjorie SharpLondonGlobeMrs. Crowborough [86]
1934-07-04The MaitlandsRonald MackenzieLondonWyndham’sMay Maitland [87]
1934-11-08It Happened To AdamDavid BoehmLondonDuke of York’sMrs. Sloane [88]
1935-03-11RingmasterKeith WinterLondonShaftesburyMrs. West [89]
1935-04-07One Must Go OnGeorge PorterLondonComedyMrs. John Brown [90]
1935-05-31 Night Must Fall Emlyn Williams LondonDuchessMrs. Bramson [91]
1935-12-01Farm of Three Echoes Noel Langley LondonWyndham’sOuma Gerart [92]
1936-09-28Night Must Fall Emlyn Williams New YorkEthel Barrymore TheatreMrs. Bramson [91]
1938-01-10Your Obedient HusbandHorace JacksonNew YorkBroadhurst TheatreMrs. Scurlock [93]
1938-05-23Here’s To Our Enterprise Edward Knoblock LondonLyceum Theatre[herself] [94]
1940-05-09 Romeo and Juliet William ShakespeareNew York51st Street TheatreNurse to Juliet [95]
1941-04-08The Trojan Women Euripides New YorkCort TheatreHecuba [96]
1945-10-09ThereseThomas Job, based on Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola New York Biltmore Theatre Madame Raquin [97]


See also

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Works consulted

Further reading