- 29 June 1901
- Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Tall, dark and regal Frieda Inescort's placid loveliness and dignified patrician features bode her well in Hollywood during the late 30s and 40s. Born on June 29, 1901, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the stage-established actress didn't arrive in Hollywood until age 34 (then considered too late for leading lady roles!) but managed to settle fairly comfortably on the supporting sidelines in chic melodrama and tearjerkers. Her years growing up were unsettling. Born Frieda Wrightman, she was the daughter of Scots-born journalist John "Jock" Wrightman and actress Elaine Inescourt, who was of German and Polish descent. Her parents initially met when he came to review a play she was appearing in. They married in 1899 but eventually parted ways while Frieda was still young. Her impulsive mother, who had strong designs on a theater career and placed it high on her priority list, sent young Frieda off to live with other families and in boarding schools in England and Wales while she avidly pursued her dreams. Although her father divorced Elaine in 1911 charging his wife with abandonment and adultery, Frieda ended up moving to America with her mother. Again, when Elaine found occasional roles in touring shows, Frieda wound up being carted off to convents or boarding schools. Mother and daughter eventually returned to London following World War I and the young girl, now solely on her own, managed to find employment as a personal secretary to British Member of Parliament Waldorf Astor (2nd Viscount Astor), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. She also assisted the American-born Lady (Nancy) Astor. While accompanying Lady Astor on a trip to the United States in July 1919, Frieda decided to stay in the States and terminated her position with the Astors. In New York she continued finding secretarial work that supported both her and her unemployed actress-mother. She worked at one point with the British consulate in New York. Noticing a number of American actors cast in British parts on Broadway, Frieda was encouraged in the early 1920s to test the waters out as British actresses were in short supply. By chance, she was introduced to producer/director Winthrop Ames, who gave the unseasoned hopeful a small but showy role in his Broadway comedy "The Truth About Blayds" (1922). The play turned out to be a hit. Playwright Philip Barry caught her stage performance and offered her a starring role in his upcoming comedy production "You and I". The show proved to be another winner and Frieda, a star on the horizon, finally saw the end of her days as part of a secretarial pool. For the rest of the decade Frieda alternated between stage comedy and drama and became a vital force on Broadway with prominent roles in "The Woman on the Jury" (1923), "The Fake" (1924), "Hay Fever" (1925), "Mozart" (1926), "Trelawney of the Wells" (1926) and "Escape" (1927). Frieda's happenstance into acting and her sudden surge of success triggered deep envy and jealousy within her mother, who was unemployed. This led to a bitter and long-term estrangement between the two that never managed to heal itself. Elaine died in 1964. While working in the late 20s as an assistant for Putnam's Publishing Company in New York, Frieda met assistant editor Ben Ray Redman. They married in 1926 and Redman later became a literary critic for the New York Herald Tribune. Frieda, in the meantime, continued to resonate on the New York and touring stage with such plays as "Springtime for Henry" and "When Ladies Meet". For over a decade, Frieda had resisted the cinema, having turned down several offers in silent and early talking films. When her husband was offered a job with Universal Studios as a literary adviser and author, however, and the couple had to relocate to Hollywood, she decided to take a difference stance. Discovered by a talent scout while performing in a Los Angeles play, Frieda was signed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company and made her debut supporting 'Fredric March' and Merle Oberon in the dewy-eyed drama The Dark Angel (1935) in which she received attractive notices and rare sympathy as blind author March's secretary. She did not stay long at Goldwyn, however, and went on to freelance for various other studios. During the course of her movie career, Frieda could be quite charming on the screen playing a wronged woman (as she did in Give Me Your Heart (1936)), but she specialized in haughtier hearts and played them older and colder than she really was off-camera. She soon gained a classy reputation for both her benign and haughty sophisticates. After Warner Bros. signed her up, she showed promise in Another Dawn (1937), Call It a Day (1937) and The Great O'Malley (1937), all 1937 releases. After this, however, Warner Bros. lost interest in her career and loaned her out more and more to other studios. Some of these films were leads -- including the "B"-level Woman Doctor (1939) opposite Henry Wilcoxon, A Woman Is the Judge (1939) with Otto Kruger, Shadows on the Stairs (1941) co-starring Paul Cavanagh, and, in particular, the title role in Portia on Trial (1937). For MGM she played the irrepressibly snobbish Caroline Bingley who sets her sights on Darcy (Laurence Olivier) in the classic Jane Austen film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1940). Besides competing with (and losing out) to Greer Garson in that film, she also played the "other woman" in Beauty for the Asking (1939) starring Lucille Ball. When her career starting to lose steam, Frieda returned to New York and the Broadway stage with matronly parts in Soldier's Wife" (1944), "The Mermaids Singing" (1945) and George Bernard Shaw's successful revival of "You Never Can Tell" (1948). After the tour of the Shaw play folded, she returned to Hollywood. Finding it difficult to pick up where she left off in films, Frieda focused on the relatively new medium of TV in the early 1950s. She appeared as Mrs. Archer on the Meet Corliss Archer (1951) series (based on the popular bobbysoxer's radio program) but was replaced by Irene Tedrow in its second and final season. She also graced a number of dramatic TV showcases. The films she did do later that decade, including The She-Creature (1956), Senior Prom (1958), Juke Box Rhythm (1959), were generally dismissed by the critics. While filming her last picture, The Crowded Sky (1960), for Warner Bros., Frieda began experiencing health problems. She was quickly diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. By the next year, she was forced to retire and had to walk with the aid of a cane. Things got worse that year when her husband, who had grown despondent over personal and financial issues, committed suicide with pills at their California home on August 2, 1961. By the mid-60s the former actress was virtually incapacitated and confined to a wheelchair but valiantly worked for the multiple sclerosis association when she could muster the strength. In 1973 Frieda finally had no choice but to move permanently into the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, where she died at age 74 on February 21, 1976.