Forever embraced as the mumbling, bumbling Aunt Clara on the Bewitched (1964) television series, endearing character actress Marion Lorne had a five-decade-long career on the stage before ever becoming a familiar TV household name.
Born Marion Lorne MacDougall on August 12, 1883 (other sources list 1885 and 1888), she grew up in her native Pennsylvania, the daughter of Scottish and English immigrants. Trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, she appeared in stock shows, and was on the Broadway boards by 1905. She married English playwright Walter C. Hackett and performed in many of his plays throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including “Hyde Park Corner” and “The Gay Adventure”. They at one point settled in England where they co-founded the Whitehall Theater. It was there that Marion began to sharpen and patent her fidgety comedy eccentrics in such plays as “Pansy’s Arabian Knight,” “Sorry You’ve Been Troubled,” “Espionage” and “London After Dark”. Upon Hackett’s death in 1944, she returned to the States and again, after a brief retirement, became a hit in such tailor-made stage shows as “Harvey”.
Marion made a definitive impression via her movie debut at age 60+ in Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal suspenser Strangers on a Train (1951) as murderer Robert Walker’s clueless, smothering mother. Surprisingly Hollywood used her only a couple more times on film after that auspicious beginning — a grievously sad waste of a supremely talented comedienne. Marion wisely turned to TV instead and proved a dithery delight in such sitcoms as Mister Peepers (1952) and Sally (1957), gaining quirky status as well as part of the comedy ensemble on The Garry Moore Show (1958).
It was, however, her role as Elizabeth Montgomery’s befuddled, muttering, doorknob-collecting witch-aunt on Bewitched (1964) — whether bouncing into walls or conjuring up some unintended piece of witchcraft — that put a lasting sheen on her long career. For that role she deservedly won an Emmy trophy for “Best Supporting Actress Award” — albeit posthumously. Sadly, Marion succumbed to a heart attack on May 9, 1968, just ten days before the actual ceremony. Elizabeth Montgomery gave a touching acceptance speech on her behalf.
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