Her part might be small, or large, the lead, or the comic relief. She was a pro. And best of all, she turned on its head the old and too-often-true observation that nice guys finish last.

This ‘nice guy’ finished in 1971 at age 84 at the top of her profession as a thoroughly sympathetic character actress whose skill at playing wise, understanding mothers, flaky eccentrics and kick-up-her-heels grandmas was unmatched in classic Hollywood.

Best of all, Spring Byington radiated being a nice person onscreen — and off. Lady Macbeth and I aren’t friends, she used to say.

She was in a bunch of marquee-grabbing pictures in the Thirties and Forties: When Ladies Meet, Little Women, Dosworth, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Devil and Miss Jones and (with longtime comedienne pal Marjorie MainHeaven Can Wait. In her final feature — 1960’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies — she played Doris Day’s animated mother.

Byington was Oscar nominated in the best supporting actress category for her role as ‘Penny Sycamore’ in Frank Capra’s 1938 comedy, You Can’t Take It With You. (She lost out to Jezebel‘s Fay Bainter.)

But among the most important films in Byington’s career was the 1950 comedy, Louisa, costarring Ronald Reagan.

She dazzlingly plays a widow who moves in with and disrupts her son’s family by, among other things, romancing two men (the superb duo of Edmund Gwenn and Charles Coburn). The movie turned out to be the prototype for the hugely successful Desilu tv series, December Bride, which ran on CBS from 1954 to 1959.

The tv series was Byington’s vehicle to acceptance by the broadest mainstream audience, making her a household name. She subsequently played surrogate mother on another successful series, 1959’s Laramie, a western opus that ran on NBC until 1962.

Byington’s personal life remains of interest to authors and bloggers today.  She was married just once (from 1909 until 1920) to theater manager Roy Chandler, a union that produced two children. In her later years, she became closer to longtime friend, Main.

In 2007’s The Women Who Made Television Funny, author David Tucker speculates about Byington’s sexuality. Main is quoted in the book thusly:  It’s true she didn’t have much use for men.

— Answer to our WHO WAS REPLACED query posed in Wednesday’s blog:  Dancer-actress Vera Zorina (pictured in yesterday’s opening photo) was originally cast in 1943’s movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls. She was replaced, of course, by Ingrid Bergman (pictured with leading man Gary Cooper). Bergman had just completed her part as ‘Ilsa Lund’ in a little picture called Casablanca.

 

     

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