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Mary Elizabeth Patterson
November 22, 1874
Savannah, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||January 31, 1966 (aged 91)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Mary Elizabeth Patterson (November 22, 1874 – January 31, 1966) was an American theatre, film, and television character actress who gained popular recognition late in her career playing the elderly neighbor Matilda Trumbull on the television comedy series I Love Lucy.
Born in 1874 in Savannah, Tennessee, Mary Elizabeth Patterson was the child of Mildred (née McDougal) and Edmund D. Patterson, a Confederate army veteran. Federal census records document that her father by 1880 was a lawyer and residing with his wife and children in the home of his father-in-law, Garrick Archibald McDougal, a widower, who was also a lawyer and farmer in Savannah. That same census lists Elizabeth as the second child of the Pattersons' four offspring. She had an older sister, Annie Belle, and two younger brothers, Edmund and Archie. With regard to Elizabeth's education, it extended well beyond the local county schools. She also studied at Tennessee colleges in Pulaski and Columbia, where her participation in campus theater groups fostered a growing passion for drama. Her parents soon sent her to Europe in hopes of diminishing her interest in theater; yet, Elizabeth's determination to become an actress was only reinforced during those travels, especially in Paris, where she attended productions of the Comédie Française.
After returning from Europe, Patterson used money from a small inheritance to move to Chicago. There she joined a theatrical troupe and subsequently toured with repertory companies. In 1913, she made her Broadway debut in the play Everyman. She remained active in New York City theatre through 1954.
In 1926, at the age of 51, Patterson was cast in her first movie, a silent film, The Boy Friend. Transitioning successfully into the era of "talkies", she remained a very busy actress in Hollywood throughout the 1930s, averaging more than five films a year during that decade, usually in supporting roles. A few of her screen credits at that time include Tarnished Lady; Husband's Holiday; A Bill of Divorcement; So Big!; The Story of Temple Drake; Hold Your Man; Remember the Night; Dinner at Eight; High, Wide, and Handsome; and No Man of Her Own. She also appeared in the role of Susan in two adaptations of John Willard's popular play The Cat and the Canary: The Cat Creeps in 1930 and The Cat and the Canary in 1939.
Patterson continued to perform frequently in the 1940s, when she was cast in more than 30 additional films. Among her notable roles is her 1949 portrayal of the heroic character Eunice Habersham in the groundbreaking racial crime drama Intruder in the Dust, a film based on the William Faulkner novel of the same name and set in the Deep South. Although she would appear in a few more feature films in the 1950s, such as Washington Story and Pal Joey, Patterson by then began to focus her work increasingly on roles in the rapidly expanding medium of television.
I Love Lucy
In 1952, at the age of 77, Patterson made her first appearance on the hit CBS-TV sitcom I Love Lucy in the episode "The Marriage License". In that installment, Patterson's character, Mrs. Willoughby, is the wife of the Greenwich, Connecticut, justice of the peace (played by character actor Irving Bacon) who remarries Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. In that role, she most notably sings an off-key version of "I Love You Truly" during the wedding ceremony. The following year she was cast in a featured guest role as Mrs. Matilda Trumbull in the episode "No Children Allowed". Patterson's character of Mrs. Trumbull was initially an ornery curmudgeon who resided in the same New York apartment building as the Ricardos. In that installment, she threatened to make trouble for the Ricardos since the building did not allow children. At the end of the episode, however, her character softens as she holds for the first time the Ricardos' baby, "Little Ricky"; and, as a result, Mrs. Trumbull becomes friends with both the Ricardos and the building's owners, Fred and Ethel Mertz.
Patterson's character on I Love Lucy proved to be so popular among viewers, as well as useful to the writers of the series, that she continued in the role for three more years, often serving in episode storylines as a convenient babysitter for "Little Ricky". In the fall of 1956, with I Love Lucy in its final season, Patterson made her last appearance as Mrs. Trumbull in "Little Ricky Learns to Play the Drums". Her character was mentioned one last time in the 1957 episode "Lucy Raises Chickens". In that installment, Fred and Ethel decide to follow the Ricardos and move to Connecticut to be near them, and Mrs. Trumbull's sister moves into 623 East 68th Street to manage the apartment building for the Mertzes.
Other television appearances
Prior to, during, and after her work on I Love Lucy, Patterson appeared in many other American television series during the 1950s and early 1960s. Her first credited performance on the "small screen" was in March 1950 in "The Walking Stick", a teleplay on the NBC anthology series The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. During the 11 years after that initial televised performance to her final role on television in 1961, she portrayed characters in a variety of other series, including Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Studio One in Hollywood, General Electric Theater, Stage 7, Lux Video Theatre, Crossroads, The Star and the Story, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Adventures of Superman, New York Confidential, 77 Sunset Strip, Johnny Stacatto, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Playhouse 90, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, and The New Breed.
Personal life and death
Patterson, who never married, lived at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel during her 35-year film and television career. On January 31, 1966, she died at age 91 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia. Her gravesite is in Savannah Cemetery in her hometown in Tennessee.
- The Boy Friend (1926) - Mrs. Harper
- The Return of Peter Grimm (1926) - Mrs. Bartholomey
- The Dancing Town (1928, Short) - Ma Pepperall
- The Gay Nineties; or, The Unfaithful Husband (1929, Short) - The Town Gossip
- Words and Music (1929) - Dean Crockett
- South Sea Rose (1929) - Sarah
- The Lone Star Ranger (1930) - Sarah Martin
- Harmony at Home (1930) - Emma Haller
- The Big Party (1930) - Mrs. Goldfarb
- The Cat Creeps (1930) - Susan
- Tarnished Lady (1931) - Mrs. Courtney
- The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) - Baroness von Schwedel (uncredited)
- Daddy Long Legs (1931) - Mrs. Lippett
- Penrod and Sam (1931) - The Teacher (uncredited)
- Heaven on Earth (1931) - Aunt Vergie
- Husband's Holiday (1931) - Mrs. Caroline Reid
- The Expert (1932) - Miss Crackenwald
- Man Wanted (1932) - Miss Harper, Lois' Secretary
- So Big (1932) - Mrs. Tebbit (uncredited)
- New Morals for Old (1932) - Aunty Doe
- Miss Pinkerton (1932) - Juliet Mitchell
- Guilty as Hell (1932) - Elvira Ward
- Love Me Tonight (1932) - First Aunt
- Life Begins (1932) - Mrs. Tubby (uncredited)
- A Bill of Divorcement (1932) - Hester
- Breach of Promise (1932) - Cora Pugmire
- They Call It Sin (1932) - Mrs. Cullen
- The Conquerors (1932) - Roger's Landlady (uncredited)
- No Man of Her Own (1932) - Mrs. Randall
- They Just Had to Get Married (1932) - Lizzie
- Infernal Machine (1933) - Elinor's Aunt
- The Story of Temple Drake (1933) - Aunt Jennie
- Hold Your Man (1933) - Miss Tuttle
- Secret of the Blue Room (1933) - Mary, the cook
- Dinner at Eight (1933) - Miss Copeland
- Doctor Bull (1933) - Aunt Patricia Banning
- Golden Harvest (1933) - Lydia
- Ever in My Heart (1933) - Clara Tuttle, Canteen Worker (uncredited)
- Hide-Out (1934) - 'Ma' Miller
- Chasing Yesterday (1935) - Mlle. Prefere
- So Red the Rose (1935) - Mary Cherry
- Men Without Names (1935) - Aunt Ella
- Her Master's Voice (1936) - Mrs. Ellie Martin
- Timothy's Quest (1936) - Vilda Cummins
- Small Town Girl (1936) - Ma Brannan
- The Return of Sophie Lang (1936) - Araminta Sedley
- Three Cheers for Love (1936) - Wilma Chester
- Old Hutch (1936) - Mrs. Sarah Hutchins
- Go West, Young Man (1936) - Aunt Kate Barnaby
- Night of Mystery (1937) - Mrs. Tobias Greene
- High, Wide, and Handsome (1937) - Grandma Cortlandt
- That Navy Spirit (1937) - Grandma Holland
- Night Club Scandal (1937) - Mrs. Elvira Ward
- Scandal Street (1938) - Ada Smith
- Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938) - Aunt Blanche Clavering
- Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) - Aunt Hedwige
- Sing, You Sinners (1938) - Mrs. Daisy Beebe aka Mother Beebe
- Sons of the Legion (1938) - Grandmother Lee
- Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police (1939) - Aunt Blanche Clavering
- The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939) - Mrs. Mac Gregor
- Bulldog Drummond's Bride (1939) - Aunt Blanche Clavering
- Our Leading Citizen (1939) - Aunt Tillie
- The Cat and the Canary (1939) - Aunt Susan
- Bad Little Angel (1939) - Mrs. Perkins
- Remember the Night (1940) - Aunt Emma
- Adventure in Diamonds (1940) - Nellie
- Earthbound (1940) - Becky Tilden
- Anne of Windy Poplars (1940) - Rebecca
- Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940) - Aunt Maggie Ambler
- Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940) - Aunt Olivia
- Tobacco Road (1941) - Ada Lester
- Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941) - Aunt Lily Lou Bethany
- Belle Starr (1941) - Sarah
- The Vanishing Virginian (1942) - Grandma
- Almost Married (1942) - Aunt Matilda Manning
- Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942) - Mrs. Daly
- Her Cardboard Lover (1942) - Eva
- My Sister Eileen (1942) - Grandma Sherwood
- Lucky Legs (1942) - Annabelle Dinwiddie
- I Married a Witch (1942) - Margaret
- The Sky's the Limit (1943) - Mrs. Fisher
- Follow the Boys (1944) - Annie
- Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) - Aunt Martha
- Together Again (1944) - Jessie
- Lady on a Train (1945) - Aunt Charlotte Waring
- Colonel Effingham's Raid (1946) - Cousin Emma
- I've Always Loved You (1946) - Mrs. Sompter
- The Secret Heart (1946) - Mrs. Stover
- The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) - Catherine Dennison
- Out of the Blue (1947) - Miss Spring
- Welcome Stranger (1947) - Mrs. Gilley
- Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948) - Cora
- Little Women (1949) - Hannah
- Intruder in the Dust (1949) - Miss Eunice Habersham
- Song of Surrender (1949) - Mrs. Beecham
- Bright Leaf (1950) - Tabitha Singleton
- Katie Did It (1951) - Aunt Priscilla Wakely
- Washington Story (1952) - Miss Dee
- Three Lives (1953, Short)
- Las Vegas Shakedown (1955) - Mary Raff
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1955, TV Movie) - Aunt Polly
- Pal Joey (1957) - Mrs. Casey
- The Oregon Trail (1959) - Maria Cooper
- Tall Story (1960) - Connie
- I Love Lucy (1952-1956) - Mrs. Trumbull / Mrs. Willoughby
- Adventures of Superman (1955-1956, Episodes: "The Unlucky Number" and "Olsen's Millions") - Mrs. Clara Exbrook / Mrs. Peabody
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1958-1959) - Grandmother / Miss Bessie
References and notes
- Some references, including the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, state that Elizabeth Patterson was born in 1875; however, the United States Census of 1880, Patterson's California death certificate, the inscription on her elaborate grave marker in Tennessee, and other records confirm that her birth year was 1874.
- "United States Census of 1880", Fourth Civil District, Hardin County, Tennessee, enumeration dates June 22-23, 1880. Digital copy of original enumeration page available at FamilySearch, a free online genealogical database provided as a public service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved August 18, 2017.
- Cohen, Scott. "Elizabeth Patterson (1875–1966)". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
- "The Divine Miss Patty", originally published in Star Notes magazine (Winter), 1977-1978. LucyFan.com. Last retrieved August 18, 2017.
- "California Death Index, 1940-1997", Mary E. Patterson, January 31, 1966. California Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento, California. FamilySearch. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
- Jackson Sun