Before we get to today’s subject, we extend a hearty salute to the veterans among our readers. Today is Veteran’s Day in the U.S., the national holiday in honor of those who have served in the military. Happy Vet’s Day, vets.
Anyone who cherishes W.C. Fields, as we do, will fondly recall Skipworth’s roles as the great man’s nemeses in 1932’s If I Had A Million, 1933’s Tillie and Gus and Alice in Wonderland and 1934’s Six of a Kind.
To provide some idea of the characters she played, Alison was ‘Emily La Rue’ in Million, Tillie Winterbottom in Tillie and Gus, the ‘Duchess’ in Alice in Wonderland and Mrs. K. Rumford in Six of a Kind.
In other words, she was a character actress of moxie and a way with a humorous line. By the time she made these movies with Fields, Skipworth was in her early Forties (she was born in London as Alison Groom in 1897) and had logged roughly a decade on the stage on both sides of the Atlantic playing in a broad range of material from Shakespeare to low comedy.
In her younger years, she was considered something of a beauty, a model for English painter Frank Markham Skipworth, whom she married in 1882 (her only marriage, it lasted 47 years). Eager to supplement her husband’s limited income, she took to acting — beginning at the relatively late age of 31.
By early middle age, Skipworth had emerged as something of a workhorse — a total of 54 screen credits from 1912 in the silent era to 1938.
Her last movie was Ladies in Distress, a low-budget Republic Pictures drama about an elderly schoolmarm who becomes mayor and turns to her worst student (Robert Livingston) to clean up the sleazy town. (The movie was remade in 1944 as Beneath Western Skies.)
By then, Skipworth was a top-of-the-line star.
She is also remembered for mixing it up with Mae West and George Raft in 1932’s Night After Night from Paramount. This was the comedy that propelled Raft to stardom and marked West’s first screen appearance spouting lines such as — I only have ‘yes’ men around me. Who needs ‘no’ men? West and Skipworth not only mixed it up onscreen but off as well.
She retired in 1942, and died at age 88 in 1952.