If Walter Brennan was the most famous male supporting character actor of the Golden Era of Hollywood, Then Beulah Bondi was certainly the most famous female.
She began on the legitimate stage and graduated to movies in the early Thirties. She remained a supporting mainstay right through her extensive movie and tv career (86 credit in all), which ended in the mid Seventies with Emmy-winning performances as ‘Aunt Martha’ on The Waltons.
She played James Stewart’s mother in four of his better movies — 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life, 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, 1938’s Of Human Hearts and 1938’s Vivacious Lady — and also appeared with the actor on 1971’s tube series, The Jimmy Stewart Show.
And she was one of the first actresses to be nominated in the then newly created Oscar category of best supporting actress.
She landed two nominations — for 1937’s The Gorgeous Hussy and the aforementioned Of Human Hearts. She said that her greatest professional regret was turning down the role of ‘Ma Joad’ in director John Ford’s 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath — so memorably played by Jane Darwell, who did cinched an Oscar for the part.
Thanks to an extensive run (some 600 performances onstage) in Elmer Rice’s award winning Street Scene, beginning on Broadway in 1929, Bondi began her movie career relatively late (nearly 43) in the screen rendition of the play. Thus the early and enduring type casting as mothers and later, as grandmothers.
She never married, and died in 1981 at her California home after a fall over the household cat resulted in lethal injury. She was 91.