Mary Jeanette Robison
April 19, 1858
|Died||October 20, 1942 (aged 84)|
|Resting place||Flushing, New York|
|Spouse(s)||Charles L. Gore (1875–c. 1883)|
Augustus H. Brown (1889–1920; his death)
Mary Jeanette Robison (19 April 1858 – 20 October 1942), known professionally as May Robson, was an Australian-born American-based actress whose career spanned 58 years, starting in 1883 when she was 25. A major stage actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she is best known today for the dozens of films she appeared in in the 1930s, when she was in her 70s.
Mary Jeanette Robison was born 19 April 1858 at Moama,[a] in the Colony of New South Wales,[b] in what she described as "the Australian bush". She was the fourth child of Julia, née Schlesinger (or Schelesinger) and Henry Robison; her siblings were Williams, James and Adelaide.
Henry Robison was born in Penrith, Cumberland, England and lived in Liverpool. He served 24 years in the foreign trade of the British Merchant Navy as a mate and a sea captain. He retired at half-pay due to his poor health and travelled with Julia Robison to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1853 on the SS Great Britain. By April 1855, he was a watchmaker, jeweller, silversmith and ornamental hairworker in Melbourne. According to Robson, her parents both suffered from phthisis pulmonalis, and moved to "the bush" for their heath. Henry bought a large brick mansion in Moama, New South Wales in August 1857 and opened the Prince of Wales Hotel. From there, he co-operated Robison & Stivens, coach proprietors for the Bendigo-Moama-Deniliquin service. The hotel was Robson's first home. Henry died in Moama Maiden's Punt on 27 January 1860.[c]
On 19 November 1862, Julia married Walter Moore Miller, solicitor and mayor of Albury, New South Wales, at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. Julia, Walter and the four children moved to Melbourne in 1866. Miller was a partner with De Courcy Ireland in the firm of Miller & Ireland in Melbourne in November 1867, and until 20 January 1870, when it was mutually dissolved.
In 1870, the family moved to London.[d] Robson attended Sacred Heart Convent School at Highgate in north London and studied languages in Brussels. She went to Paris for her examinations in French. According to her obituary, she was also educated in Australia.
Marriages and children
Robson ran away from home to marry her first husband, 18 year-old Charles Leveson Gore, in London. They were married on 1 November 1875 at the parish church in Camden Town, London.[e] They traveled on the steamer SS Vaderland and arrived in New York on 17 May 1877. They purchased 380 acres of land in Fort Worth, Texas where they built a house and established a cattle ranch. According to Jan Jones, "the Gores survived two years in their prairie manor house before homesickness, rural isolation, and repeated bouts of fever convinced them to sell and try their fortunes in the more settled East." They moved to New York City with little money and Robson said that Gore died shortly thereafter.[f]
Robson supported her children by crocheting hoods and embroidery, designing dinner cards, and teaching painting. By the time she began her acting career in 1883, two of her three children had died from illnesses,[g] leaving only Edward Hyde Leveson Gore.[h]
Six years after beginning her stage career, Robson married Augustus Homer Brown, a police surgeon, on 29 May 1889. They were together until his death on 1 April 1920. Robson's son, Edward Gore, was her business manager.
On 17 September 1883, Robson became an actress in Hoop of Gold at the Brooklyn Grand Opera House stage. Her name was misspelled "Robson" in the billing, and she used it from that point forward "for good luck". Over the next several decades, she flourished on the stage as a comedian and character actress. Her success was due partly to her affiliation with powerful manager and producer Charles Frohman and the Theatrical Syndicate. She established her own touring theatrical company in 1911.
In 1927, she went to Hollywood, where she began a successful film career as a senior woman. Among her starring roles was in The She-Wolf (1931) as a miserly millionaire businesswoman, based on real-life miser Hetty Green.
She also starred in the final segment of the anthology film If I Had a Million (1932) as a rest-home resident who gets a new lease on life when she receives a $1,000,000 check from a dying business tycoon. She played the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1933), Countess Vronsky in Anna Karenina (1935), Aunt Elizabeth in Bringing Up Baby (1938), Aunt Polly in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), and a sharp-tongued Granny in A Star Is Born (1937). She was top-billed as late as 1940, starring in Granny Get Your Gun at 82. Her last film was 1942's Joan of Paris.
Academy Award nomination
In 1933, at age 75, Robson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Lady for a Day, but lost to Katharine Hepburn. Both actresses appeared in the Hepburn-Grant classic Bringing Up Baby (1938).
Robson died in 1942 at her Beverly Hills, California home at age 84. In its obituary, the Nevada State Journal said that she died of "a combination of ailments, aggravated by neuritis and advanced age."[i] Her remains were cremated and buried at the Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, next to those of her second husband, Augustus Brown.
The New York Times called Robson the "dowager queen of the American screen and stage".
- Called Back (1884)
- An Appeal to the Muse (1885)
- Robert Elsmere (1889)
- The Charity Ball (1890)
- Nerves, adapted from Les Femmes Nerveuses (1891)
- Gloriana (1892)
- Lady Bountiful (1892)
- Americans Abroad (1893)
- The Family Circle (1893)
- The Poet and the Puppets (1893)
- Squirrel Inn (1893)
- No. 3A (1894)
- As You Like It (1894)
- Liberty Hall (1894)
- The Fatal Card (1895)
- The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
- A Woman's Reason (1895)
- The First Born (1897)
- His Excellency, The Governor (1900)
- Are You a Mason? (1901)
- Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1904)
- Cousin Billy (1905–1907)
- The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary (1907)
- The Three Lights (A Night Out) (1911)
- The Terrible Kids (1906)short
- Getting Evidence (1907)short
- How Molly Made Good (1915) - Herself
- A Night Out (1916) - Granmum
- Snow White (1916) - Hex Witch(*replaced originally scheduled Alice Washburn)
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) - Prostitute outside of music hall (uncredited)
- Pals in Paradise (1926) - Esther Lezinsky
- Rubber Tires (1927) - Mrs. Stack
- The King of Kings (1927) - Mother of Gestas
- The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary (1927) - Aunt Mary Watkins
- The Angel of Broadway (1927) - Big Bertha
- A Harp in Hock (1927) - Mrs. Banks
- Turkish Delight (1927) - Tsakran
- Chicago (1927) - Mrs. Morton - Matron
- The Blue Danube (1928)
- The She-Wolf (1931) - Harriet Breen
- Letty Lynton (1932) - Mrs. Lynton, Letty's Mother
- Red-Headed Woman (1932) - Aunt Jane
- Strange Interlude (1932) - Mrs. Evans
- Little Orphan Annie (1932) - Mrs. Stewart
- If I Had a Million (1932) - Mrs. Mary Walker
- Men Must Fight (1933) - Maman Seward
- The White Sister (1933) - Mother Superior
- Reunion in Vienna (1933) - Frau Lucher
- Dinner at Eight (1933) - Mrs. Wendel, the cook
- One Man's Journey (1933) - Sarah
- Broadway to Hollywood (1933) - Veteran Actress
- Beauty for Sale (1933) - Mrs. Merrick
- Lady for a Day (1933) - Apple Annie
- The Solitaire Man (1933) - Mrs. Vail
- Dancing Lady (1933) - Dolly Todhunter
- Alice in Wonderland (1933) - Queen of Hearts
- You Can't Buy Everything (1934) - Mrs. Hannah Bell
- Straight Is the Way (1934) - Mrs. Horowitz
- Lady by Choice (1934) - Patricia Patterson
- Mills of the Gods (1934) - Mary Hastings
- Grand Old Girl (1935) - Laura Bayles
- Vanessa: Her Love Story (1935) - Madame Judith Paris
- Reckless (1935) - Granny
- Strangers All (1935) - Anna Carter
- Age of Indiscretion (1935) - Emma Shaw
- Anna Karenina (1935) - Countess Vronsky
- Three Kids and a Queen (1935) - Mary Jane 'Queenie' Baxter
- Wife vs. Secretary (1936) - Mimi Stanhope
- The Captain's Kid (1936) - Aunt Marcia Prentiss
- Rainbow on the River (1936) - Mrs. Harriet Ainsworth
- Woman in Distress (1937) - Phoebe Tuttle
- A Star Is Born (1937) - Grandmother Lettie Blodgett
- The Perfect Specimen (1937) - Mrs. Leona Wicks
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) - Aunt Polly
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) - Aunt Elizabeth
- Four Daughters (1938) - Aunt Etta
- The Texans (1938) - Granna
- They Made Me a Criminal (1939) - Grandma
- Yes, My Darling Daughter (1939) - 'Granny' Whitman
- The Kid from Kokomo (1939) - Margaret 'Maggie' / 'Ma' Manell
- Daughters Courageous (1939) - Penny, the Housekeeper
- Nurse Edith Cavell (1939) - Mme. Rappard
- That's Right—You're Wrong (1939) - Grandma
- Four Wives (1939) - Aunt Etta
- Granny Get Your Gun(1940) - Minerva Hatton
- Irene (1940) - Granny O'Dare
- Texas Rangers Ride Again (1940) - Cecilia Dangerfield
- Four Mothers (1941) - Aunt Etta
- Million Dollar Baby (1941) - Cornelia Wheelwright
- Playmates (1941) - Grandma Kyser
- Joan of Paris (1942) - Mlle. Rosay (final film role)
- List of Australian Academy Award winners and nominees
- List of oldest and youngest Academy Award winners and nominees
- The obituary for Robson in the Berkshire Evening Eagle and Billboard Magazine, as well as the summary of her life at the Library of Congress, stated that she was born in Melbourne, Victoria, but the family was living in Moama, New South Wales at the time of her birth.
- At the time, New South Wales (NSW) was a self-governing colony of Britain; Australia did not officially exist until the federation of six separate British colonies, in 1901.
- Nissen states that Robson was seven when her father died, but her father died in 1860 and she was born in 1858. Robson says in her biography for Theatre Magazine that she was three months old when her father died.
- Nissen says that the family moved to London when Robson was seven.
- Although Robson said that she was 16 when she married, she was 17 years-of-age, based upon her date of birth, when she married Charles Gore. Her husband's name has been said to be Charles Leveson Gore, Charles Livingston Gore, Edward H. Gore, and E. H. Gore.
- According to Jan Jones, when Gore wanted to return to England, Robson decided that she wanted to stay in New York and the couple divorced. Gore returned to London. He died in the early 1880s.
- Robson says that the children both died of scarlet fever. Axel Nissen states the causes of death as diphtheria and scarlet fever. Who's Who on the stage states that the children's death came about as the result of poverty (i.e., not a specific cause of death, but an influencing factor).
- Her son, whose full name was Edward Hyde Leveson Gore, was born on December 2, 1876 and died September 23, 1954 Her son Edward and daughter-in-law were alive at the time of his mother's death. They had a son, Robson Gore.
- She was critically ill for three weeks before her death and in ill health for months before. A biographical sketch of Robson in the Notable American Women, 1607–1950 stated that she died of cancer.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- Phillipa Hawker (February 21, 2009). "O stands for Oscar and also for Oz". The Age. Retrieved November 13, 2016.
- "May Robson, Stage, Screen Star, Is Dead: Character Actress Began Long Career in 1883". Berkshire Evening Eagle. Pittsfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts: 1. October 20, 1942.
- "May Robson". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. October 31, 1942. p. 27. ISSN 0006-2510.
- "May Robson Papers: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress" (PDF). Library of Congress. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
- "Advertising". Bendigo Advertiser. VI (1145). Victoria, Australia. January 25, 1859. p. 1. Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Family Notices - Henry Robison". Bendigo Advertiser. VII (1463). Victoria, Australia. February 1, 1860. p. 2. Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
On the 27th ult., in his 49th year, at his residence, Prince of Wales Hotel, Maiden's Punt, Murray River, New South Wales, Henry Robison (of the firm of Robison and Stivens), late of Bourke-street, Melbourne, deeply regretted by a large circle of friends, leaving a wife and four children to lament their loss."
- Marea Donnelly, History Writer (January 15, 2016). "A Town like Moama". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved November 12, 2016.
- Robson, May (November 1907). "My Beginnings". The Theatre. 7 (81): 305–310. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- Henry Robison, Master's Certificate of Service, Number 52.653, Liverpool, Registrar General of Seamen, London, February 21, 1853
- "Advertising". The Age. I (163). Victoria, Australia. April 27, 1855. p. 2. Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. XXXIV (5128). New South Wales, Australia. October 27, 1853. p. 5. Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Family Notices". The Argus (Melbourne) (5, 139). Victoria, Australia. November 24, 1862. p. 4. Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Advertising". The Argus (Melbourne) (7, 377). Victoria, Australia. January 31, 1870. p. 7. Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Marriages". The Times (28465). London, England. November 5, 1875. p. 1.
- Jones, Jan (2006). Renegades, Showmen & Angels: A Theatrical History of Fort Worth, 1873-2001. Texas A & M University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-87565-318-9.
- Edward T. James; Janet Wilson James; Paul S. Boyer (1971). Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, vol 2. Radcliffe College. p. 185. ISBN 0-674-62734-2.
- Alison McKay; Bayside Historical Society (August 4, 2008). Bayside. Arcadia Publishing. p. 132. ISBN 978-1-4396-2027-4.
- "May Robson, 78, film and stage actress is dead". Chicago Tribune. October 21, 1942. Retrieved November 12, 2016.
- Jan Jones (2006). Renegades, Showmen & Angels: A Theatrical History of Fort Worth from 1873-2001. TCU Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-87565-318-1.
- "Two Brilliant Women, They are Both Bright Ornaments of the Stage: Viola Allen and May Robson". The Olean Democrat. Olean, New York: 6. November 29, 1892.
- Axel Nissen (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. McFarland. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- Walter Browne; Fredrick Arnold Austin (1906). Who's who on the stage; the dramatic reference book and biographic al dictionary of the theatre. W. Browne & F. A. Austin. p. 191.
- Alison McKay (July 30, 2008). Bayside. Arcadia Publishing. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-4396-2027-4.
- "England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837–1920". FamilySearch. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- "California, Death Index, 1940–1997". FamilySearch. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- Edward T. James; Janet Wilson James; Paul S. Boyer (January 1, 1971). Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-674-62734-5.
- New York State Medical Association, Medical Society of the State of New York (1920). New York State journal of medicine, Volume 20. p. 170.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- George Clinton Densmore Odell (1940). Annals of the New York Stage. Columbia University Press. p. 364.
- Grey Smith and James L. Halperin (Editor). Heritage Vintage Movie Posters Signature Auction #603. Heritage Capital Corporation. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-932899-15-3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- "Screenplay Info for A Night Out (1916)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 1, 2008.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- Palmer, Scott (1988). A Who's Who of Australian and New Zealand Film Actors: The Sound Era. p. 142. ISBN 0-8108-2090-0.
- Hall, Mordaunt (May 28, 1931). "The She-Wolf (1931)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
- Hall, Mordaunt (December 3, 1932). "If I Had a Million (1932)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
- John C. Tibbetts, James M. Welsh, ed. (2010). American Classic Screen Features. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-81087678-1.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 3, 187–8. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 3, 187. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
- Edwards, Anne (2000) . Katharine Hepburn: A Remarkable Woman. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 456. ISBN 0-312-20656-9.
- Leonard Maltin (August 4, 2009). Leonard Maltin's 2010 Movie Guide. Penguin Group US. p. 425. ISBN 978-1-101-10876-5.
- "Hollywood's Oldest Film Queen Dies; May Robson's Age is Revealed as 78". Nevada State Journal. Reno, Nevada. October 21, 1942.
- "Robson Burial Services Set". Reno Evening Gazette. Reno, Nevada: 5. October 22, 1942.
- Brown, Thomas Allston (1903). A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901, Volume 3. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. pp. 42, 63, 180, 217, 263, 265, 267, 349, 352, 366, 425–6, 427, 429, 431, 439, 523, 533, 536, 538.
- Margherita Arlina Hamm (1909). "May Robson". Eminent Actors in Their Homes: Personal Descriptions and Interviews. J. Pott. pp. 115–124.
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