There she is with Jimmy Stewart. We’re talking Beulah Bondi here, an extraordinarily generous and likable character actress with nearly 90 big screen and tv appearances to her credit over a 45-year period.
And, yes, she was conspicuously seen with her longtime off-screen friend, Stewart. In fact she played the actor’s mother in four titles including, of course, 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life.
Bondi was not only popular with audiences but also with coworkers and directors. We especially like two of her printed quotes: I’m very cooperative, and if you’ll just tell me exactly what you want, I’ll always try to do it. And, What distinguishes the real actor from the pseudo is the passionate desire to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of people.
What’s not to like?
Born Beulah Bondy in Chicago in 1889 (the ‘Y’ was dropped, replaced by an ‘I’ so that her surname could more handily fit on marquees), Bondi like most character actors of the classic Hollywood period excelled on the stage before landing in Hollywood. She was all of 43 when she made her first movie — playing a sassy talking mother in King Vidor’s screen adaptation of the Elmer Rice play, Street Scene, which had propelled career on Broadway.
Bondi drew widespread notice as a Depression-era mother abandoned by her children in Leo McCarey’s 1937 weeper Make Way for Tomorrow. She was nominated twice for best-supporting actress Oscars for 1936’s The Gorgeous Hussy, a historical piece from MGM featuring (who else?) Joan Crawford; and for 1938’s Civil-War drama, Of Human Hearts, featuring her pal Stewart. (There’s Bondi in character below right with Crawford and Lionel Barrymore in Hussy.)
Bondi appeared in a half dozen movies nominated for best picture Oscars: 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; 1940’s Our Town; 1941 One Foot In Heaven; 1943‘s Watch on the Rhine; It’s A Wonderful Life; and 1948’s The Snake Pit. Her biggest professional regret was not landing the lead role of Ma Joad in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. (The part went to Jane Darwell who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal.)
Bondi, a lifelong spinster, tripped over her pet cat at home, contracted pneumonia and died in 1981 at the age of 91. A great character actress.