Born Mary Whitty on June 19, 1865 to a Liverpool newspaper editor and his wife, she became known as May Whitty to the world.
She first stepped on the London stage in 1882. She worked as an understudy at the St. James Theatre, and then, began playing leading roles when she joined a traveling stock company. After nearly 25 years as one of the leading British stage actresses, she appeared in her first film, Enoch Arden (1914), in Great Britain. She did not care much for the experience, and appeared in only a few silent films afterward. In 1918, based on her service to the arts and for performing for the troops during World War I, she was named Dame Commander of the British Empire by King George. After a string of 1930s Broadway successes, she went to Hollywood, following the example of many of her British contemporaries. She found herself usually cast in high-born roles, sometimes crotchety, sometimes imperious, but often warm-hearted. Classic examples of these were the crotchety Mrs. Bramson, an invalid who falls for the homicidal Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall (1937), Miss Froy in The Lady Vanishes (1938) where she plays the title character enduring great physical exertion while maintaining her poise and dignity, and as Lady Beldon in Mrs. Miniver (1942), a role which garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. She proved herself equally capable of playing working-class roles, such as the dowdy phony psychic in The Thirteenth Chair (1937). Besides two Oscar nominations, she also won the National Board of Review best acting award for the 1937 film, Night Must Fall (1937).
In 1892, she married London producer Ben Webster. They were the parents of a daughter, Margaret Webster, who became a playwright and actress in her own right. Margaret penned her mother’s biography, The Same Only Different, published in 1969. Whitty died at the age of 82 from cancer in Beverly Hills, shortly after completed her scenes in the film The Sign of the Ram (1948). She once said, “I’ve got everything Betty Grable has…only I’ve had it longer.”
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