• 7 December 1893
  •  Los Angeles, California, USA

Fay Bainter


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 Children's Hour (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.


Movie Name Release Date
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) October 7, 1937
Ζέζεμπελ – Jezebel (1938) March 26, 1938