Beulah Bondi—an actress with the alliteration we love—grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana. A town chock full of funny name goodness, take Orville Redenbacher for instance. Arto covered him cleverly here. The stars aligned in Valparaiso with famous actors and popcorn all in one place.
Beulah started her acting career at age seven playing the lead in “Little Lord Fauntleroy” in 1895.
Moving to New York she made her Broadway debut in 1925 and by 1929 her performance in “Street Scene” brought her to Hollywood, where she reprised her role as Emma Jones in the movie version. The Broadway role won her a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A well named award indeed. Say it with me, Pulitzer. Doesn’t it just roll off your tongue? Not to be confused with Wurlitzer. I guess that would be music to our ears.
Who doesn’t love a little controversy sometimes. Bondi was born Bondy. Two version of why she changed her name float around the internet. The most prevalent rumor is her father disapproved of her acting career. However, her father ran the playhouse where she made her debut in Valparaiso. The second version is she shortened the last letter of her name to an “i” so it would fit better on the theater marquee. A Bondy Mystery if ever I heard one, and since I just said it, I guess I just heard it.
For our trivia fans in the audience, she was one of the first five women ever to be nominated in the category of “Best Supporting Actress”. She didn’t win. She lost again in the same category two years later.
Oscar eluded her.
She made her career as a character actress in the studio system playing mother figures even though she was only a few years older than some of the actors playing her children.
Most famous for her role as Ma Bailey in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”, she played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in three additional films. Let’s not forget, Jimmy Stewart, an actor with two first names, not to be confused with Stuart of Mad TV Fame. But I digress.
Where Oscar eluded her, Emmy made up for it. She won an Emmy for her guest role on the Waltons as Aunt Martha Corinne Walton and her second and final Emmy in 1976. When her name was called in ’76, everyone thought she wasn’t at the award ceremony because she was so slow to respond. She received a standing ovation from the audience as she slowly made her way to the podium. She was 86 who’s gonna rush her?
She never married or had children despite making a career playing the role of a mother.
Beulah left this earth in 1981—tripping over her cat and breaking her ribs giving her pulmonary complications at the tender age of 91.
Rest in peace Ma Bailey. It was a wonderful life.