Unique character actors were famous in Hollywood’s Golden era. No one was more “different” than Edna Mae Oliver.

Some things you should know about Oliver, born Edna May Nutter in 1883 in Malden, Mass. — a real New England girl.

— She was distantly related to the second president of the U.S., John Adams, and his son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president.

— She quit formal schooling early, at the age of 14, to take up stage acting. She also developed into a pretty decent musician, one who played piano in an all-female orchestra around the early 20th century.

— Her first movie was deep in the silent era, a 1923 drama titled Wife in Name Only, in which Edna May (all of 39) plays a somewhat mysterious dowager. In all, Oliver’s movie career spanned 18 years and 49 credits.

— She was terrific in roles as an outspoken Aunt. She also aced costume part in movies such as Charles Dickens adaptations, eg. 1935’s David Copperfield…

David Copperfield, Edna May Oliver, 1935 Photo at AllPosters.com

…And the same year’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Edna May Oliver (1883-1942) A Tale of Two Cities (1935) (With ...

Probably her best known role is that of Widow McKlennar in John Ford’s 1939 historical drama  Drums Across The Mohawk.  Oliver was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar (but lost to the unstoppable Hattie McDaniel for Gone With The Wind.)


Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

— Oliver died six decades ago (on her birthday, Nov. 9) young, at age 59.  She remains one of classic Hollywood’s most beloved character actresses.


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