Saturday, June 4, 2016

Born Today June 4: Clara Blandick


Clara Blanchard Dickey was born to a ship's captain and his wife on board the ship that he captained docked in Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor; the Willard Mudgett.  She was delivered by another ship's captain that was anchored nearby; one Cp. William C. Blanchard, with his wife Clara in attendance.  The Dickey's wanting to thank the couple for their assistance, named their new born daughter after them.  When she got into acting she would take the first parts of her middle and last name to create her stage name.  Her parents settled in Quincy, Mass when Clara was two or three years of age; and she grew up there.  Quincy's close proximity to Boston meant that frequent excursions could easily be made there.  Later she would move there, where she made the acquaintance of Shakespearean actor E. H. Sothern.  She would later appear in a stage production of Richard Lovelace with him there.  After this, she made the move to New York, where she made her first professional stage appearance there in 1901, in a production If I Were King, which had a nice run at the Garden Theater (and early incarnation of Madison Square Garden).  From this point forward, she regularly achieved praise for her stage performances, and in 1906 she was hired by the Kalem Company--a New York based film studio.  She probably made appearances in bit parts before 1911, but it is that year when her first confirmed film appearance came in the comedy short The Maid's Double.  She went on to make several film appearances in the 1910's, but quit in 1917; though she did continue stage acting.  She wouldn't make another film again, until 1929.  During World War I, she volunteered overseas for the American Expeditionary Forces.  During the 1920's, many of her stage performances in New York won critical praise; she was met with rave reviews especially for her supporting role in Hell-Bent Fer Heaven, which won a Pulitzer.  She moved to Hollywood in 1929, and got a role in an early talkie Wise Girls (1929).  After this, her film career took off, with her becoming the go-to girl for supporting roles.  She is by far and away most famous for her role as Auntie Em in the 1939 film production of The Wizard Of Oz.  In 1949 and 1951 she made a couple of appearances in early television shows, but retired from acting altogether after her appearance on The Bigelow Theater, as she had already started to experience health troubles. She, however, continued to live in Los Angeles.  Her health troubles only got worse throughout the 1950's.  By 1964, in her 80's, she faced blindness and had been in excruciating pain for more than a decade from the advancement of a severe arthritic condition; she had had enough.  On the 15th of April, after attending Palm Sunday service at her church, she rearranged her home to surround herself with fond memories of her life.  She then dressed in a blue dress gown, and took an overdose of sleeping pills.  To make sure she didn't wake up in a hospital, if someone were to find her before death, she lie down on her couch and covered herself with a gold blanket; she then placed a plastic bag over her head.  Her body was found a little later on by her landlady.  She was 85 years of age.  She left behind a note that simply read "I am now about to make the great adventure.  I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer.  It's all over my body.  Neither can I face the impending blindness.  I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen."  Her remains were cremated and interred in Niche 17230 in the mausoleum of one of the great cemeteries to the stars, Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Ca, along with her sister and brother-in-law's ashes.  

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