Fay Bainter

Biography

Fay Bainter's career began as a child performer in 1898. For some time, she was a member of the traveling cast of the Morosco Stock Company in Los Angeles. In 1912, she made her Broadway debut in 'The Rose of Panama', but this and her subsequent play 'The Bridal Path' (1913), were conspicuous failures. She continued in stock and, after forming an association with David Belasco, took another swing at Broadway. She had her first hit with a dynamic performance, which established her as major theatrical star, as Ming Toy in 'East is West', at the Astor Theatre (1918-1920). Alternating between comedy and melodrama, Fay then shone in 'The Enemy' (1925-26) with Walter Abel and gave an outstanding performance of mid-life crisis as the desperate Fran Dodsworth ('Dodsworth',1934-35), opposite Walter Huston as her husband Sam. Fay never had the chance to recreate her stage role on screen - Ruth Chattertongot the part instead. At the same time, now aged 41, she was offered a role in her first motion picture, This Side of Heaven (1934). Co-starring opposite Lionel Barrymore, this was the first of many thoughtful, understanding wives, aunts and mothers she was to play over the next twenty years. Of stocky built, with expressive eyes and a warm, slightly smoky voice, Fay rarely essayed unsympathetic or hard-boiled characters, with the exception of her Oscar-nominated dowager in The Loudest Whisper (1961). While not often top-billed, her name remained consistently high in the list of credits throughout her career. Critics applauded her sterling performances in productions like Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) and Quality Street (1937), as Katharine Hepburn's excitable spinster sister. Fay won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for the movie Jezebel (1938). As Bette Davis' stern, reproving Aunt Belle, she excelled in a somewhat meatier role than the genteel or fluttery ladies she had previously been engaged to portray. That same year, she was also nominated (as Best Actress) for her housekeeper, Hannah Parmalee, in White Banners (1938), but lost to Bette Davis. Fay enhanced many more films with her presence during the 1940's, notably as Mrs. Elvira Wiggs, in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1942), Merle Oberon's eccentric aunt from the bayou in Dark Waters (1944) and Danny Kaye's mother in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947). From the 1950's, she alternated stage with acting on television. Her last role of note was as Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's 'Long Day's Journey into Night', on tour with the National Company in 1958.

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Known For
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Woman of the Year

Ellen Whitcomb

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Make Way for Tomorrow

Anita Cooper

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Our Town

Mrs. Gibbs

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Young Tom Edison

Mrs. Samuel 'Nancy' Edison

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Chicos de Broadway

Miss Jones

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Presenting Lily Mars

Mrs. Thornway

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Journey for Margaret

Trudy Strauss

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Quality Street

Susan Throssel

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June Bride

Paula Winthrop

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The President's Lady

Mrs. Donelson

Starring In
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And the Oscar Goes To...

Herself (archive footage)

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Hollywood Out-Takes and rare Footage

Herself (archive footage) (uncredited)

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The Children's Hour

Mrs. Amelia Tilford

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The President's Lady

Mrs. Donelson

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Give My Regards to Broadway

Fay Norwick

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June Bride

Paula Winthrop

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Mrs. Mitty

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Deep Valley

Ellie Saul

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The Kid from Brooklyn

Mrs. E. Winthrop LeMoyne

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The Virginian

Mrs. Taylor

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State Fair

Melissa Frake

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Dark Waters

Aunt Emily

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The Heavenly Body

Margaret Sibyll

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The Human Comedy

Mrs. Macauley

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Presenting Lily Mars

Mrs. Thornway

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Woman of the Year

Ellen Whitcomb

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The War Against Mrs. Hadley

Stella Hadley

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Journey for Margaret

Trudy Strauss

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Chicos de Broadway

Miss Jones

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Young Tom Edison

Mrs. Samuel 'Nancy' Edison

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A Bill of Divorcement

Margaret 'Meg' Fairfield

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Our Town

Mrs. Gibbs

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Daughters Courageous

Nancy 'Nan' Masters

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Jezebel

Aunt Belle

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Breakdowns of 1938

Hannah Parmalee (White Banners outtakes) (uncredited)

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Make Way for Tomorrow

Anita Cooper

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Quality Street

Susan Throssel

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