Cora Witherspoon : A Life on Stage and Screen

Born into an upper-crust family in New Orleans, Cora Bell Witherspoon (1890-1957) was an orphan by the age of 10 and a professional actress by 15. She was seen on Broadway from 1910 till 1946 in 36 productions and was a popular character actress in Hollywood between 1931 and 1954. On stage she played roles like Sallie McBride in Daddy Long Legs, Josephine Trent in The Awful Truth, Martha Culver in The Constant Wife, Prudence in Camille, and Mrs. Grant in The Front Page. Like many Hollywood supporting players, her screen time was limited. She made the most of it, whether as W.C. Fields’s shrewish wife in The Bank Dick, Bette Davis’s fair weather friend Carrie in Dark Victory, the earthy, amorous maid Patty in Quality Street, or the overbearing dowager Mrs. Williamson in The Mating Season. On both stage and screen, Witherspoon portrayed a range of stereotypes of older women. In the end, though, she created her own type, incarnating the fashionable, frivolous, flighty, and fawning society woman, often with a thinly veiled libidinous quality. In addition to a detailed account of Witherspoon’s theater and film career, this groundbreaking biography reveals her upbringing and family background and discusses her struggle with substance abuse, which resulted in two highly publicized arrests and one conviction.