Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Cora Witherspoon


Cora Witherspoon
(1890 - 1957)

It is time for the 5th Annual What a Character! Blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen and Outspoken and Freckled.



Day 1
Day 2
Day 3






Cora Witherspoon was born in New Orleans on January 5, 1890. At the turn of the century her elder sister Maud began supporting Cora and their widowed mother by founding the Maud Witherspoon Rag Doll Manufacturing Company. While still a teenager she made and sold rag dolls such as the one pictured below.



Collectors of Americana and antiques prize these dolls made over a century ago. Cora was as creative as her sister, but her talent took a different road. At an early age she joined theatrical stock companies in Louisiana preparing herself for a life upon the stage and never looked back.  By the age of 20 Cora made her Broadway debut in The Concert produced by no less an impresario than David Belasco. As she would quite often in her career, Cora played older than her actual age. In this case a good 50 years older! Between 1910 and her last New York appearance in a 1946 revival of The Front Page as Bruce's confused mother Cora Witherspoon appeared in 34 Broadway plays. You will recognize some of the titles such as Jewel Robbery, Camille, The Awful Truth and Daddy Long Legs.



Cora Witherspoon, young actress

Cora was not fated to reprise any of her stage roles when those plays were adapted for the screen, nonetheless she was a popular and busy Hollywood player during the 1930s and 1940s. She was often cast as a comic busybody, whether the woman be rich or poor.  Among her film roles there are some classic titles and many memorable characterizations.



Billie Burke, Frank Morgan, Cora Witherspoon
Piccadilly Jim

Piccadilly Jim is MGMs 1936 adaption of the P.G. Wodehouse novel starring Robert Montgomery. It is very, very funny in some spots and doesn't work so well in others. The top-rate comic actors are not to blame. After all, Frank Morgan, Eric Blore, Billie Burke and Cora Witherspoon knew their stuff. Cora plays an aunt of the overbearing sort.

Cora is a member of the upper crust in the eternally funny Libeled Lady. In Quality Street Cora was  cast below stairs as a maid comically paired with Eric Blore. In the Gladys George version of Madame X Cora is a shopkeeper who helps the downtrodden heroine raise money on her once glamorous wardrobe. You'll find Cora minding everyone else's manners in the Technicolor western Dodge City and exercising her troubles, if not extra pounds, away as one of the many women in The Women.



Cora as Mrs. Clara Meigs
Colonel Effingham's Raid

Up to the early 1950s you can see Cora in Honeymoon for Three, the remake of Goodbye Again, Over 21 from the Ruth Gordon play starring Irene Dunne, Colonel Effingham's Raid starring Charles Coburn, The Mating Season with Thelma Ritter and many other films. 

Let's take a look at some of my personal favourites from Cora Witherspoon's film history.



W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Evelyn Del Rio, Jessie Ralph
The Bank Dick

Pictured above is Egbert Souse (Fields) in a scene of familial affection which threads its way through 1940s The Bank Dick. His wife Agatha (Witherspoon) wears herself to a frazzle in her constant concern over Egbert's smoking, drinking and lack of employment prospects. Agatha's mother (Ralph) is of great assistance in making certain Egbert toes the line. Note the endearing action of youngest daughter Elsie May Adele Brunch Souse. It almost brings a tear to the eye.

According to an entry on the IMDb Cora and Bill were quite friendly during the shoot and remained in touch for years afterward.



Cora Witherspoon, George Barbier
On the Avenue

1937s On the Avenue, an Irving Berlin musical, features my all-time favourite Cora Witherspoon performance. She has plenty of screen time and a very appealing character. Her Aunt Fritz is one of those aunts who leans toward the eccentric side. What do I mean, leans? She dives headfirst into the unconventional end of the pool. Witness her Russian phase and her circus phase, etc.

The wealthy Carraways are lampooned on Broadway much to the chagrin of Commodore Carraway (Barbier) and his daughter Mimi played by Madeleine Carroll. You can tell by the picture that Aunt Fritz is getting a kick out of seeing herself spoofed on stage. Mimi eventually finds herself falling for the initially hated star of the show played by Dick Powell. On the Avenue features much music and fun, courtesy of the leads, the Ritz Brothers, and a scene stealing Alice Faye, before the final clinch. Said final clinch requires lots of support and help from quirky Aunt Fritz.



James Burke, Don Beddoe, Cora Witherspoon
Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise from 1940 is a remake of 1931s Charlie Chan Carries On based on the novel of that name by Earl Derr Biggers. Charlie's colleague, Inspector Duff from Scotland Yard, has been following a cruise since it left London where one of its members was murdered. In Hawaii Inspector Duff, closing in on the murderer, is himself murdered. Inspector Chan takes up the case.

Cora Witherpoon plays Susie Watson, a most excitable member of the tour. She sees the murderer behind every curtain and her boisterous personality is impossible to ignore. During a world tour you might find Susie best taken in small doses, but the cruise and the movie would be pretty dull without her.

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, like the entire Chan series, is a treat for fans of character actors. Along with Cora Witherspoon, the cast includes Leo G. Carroll, Don Beddoe, Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton, Leonard Mudie and James Burke. Cora stands out beautifully like a soprano soloist with an all-male choir.

We are not privileged to see Cora Witherspoon in her natural element, the stage, but with over 50 film and TV appearances we have a chance to enjoy 20 years of a fine actress' career.






20 comments:

  1. I guess you wouldn't know if that rag doll is an original or a reproduction. Either way, it's good.

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    1. The site from which took the picture was touting it as an original. It certainly appears in excellent shape. Impressive.

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  2. I LOVE this story. A rag doll maker! Thanks for reminding me about this great actress. My favorite thing about the What a Character Blogathon is seeing the list of movies each actor was in. Always impressive.

    As I perused your list of favorite performances there are quite a few favorites of mine as well. Cora could do comedy as good as anybody. LOVE her stint in THE BANK DICK in particular, I must say. And I've never seen ON THE AVENUE!!

    As always, Paddy, you add class to this blogathon. Many thanks.

    Aurora

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  3. Thank you for the lovely compliment.

    On the Avenue introduced I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm sung by Dick Powell and Alice Faye. Keep that under your hat for your next trivia night. I think it is a movie you would enjoy.

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  4. Thanks for this post, Paddy. I had forgotten how many of my favorite films Cora Witherspoon is in! Next up for me as well is ON THE AVENUE ;)

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    1. The whole world will be going mad for On the Avenue! And our Cora Witherspoon.

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  5. Awesome post! :) Cora sounds like an intriguing actress. I'm not too familiar with her, but I did have seen her in Libeled Lady not a long time ago.

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    1. The way things work in our classic movie universe you'll probably be noticing Cora in a lot more movies in the coming months.

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  6. Cora certainly made a good impression in The Bank Dick - she steals several scenes! The same happens in Libeled Lady.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. We love our character players, don't we? Stars know when scenes are being stolen, but they can't do anything about it.

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  7. What a character indeed! A great pick Caftan Woman, for this blogathon. She was a real professional and took on the role wholeheartedly in all her films. I've only seen a few but she was a great actress.

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    1. Cora always makes an impression. I'm so pleased you stopped by to spend time with the lady.

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  8. I didn't recognize the name, but now I remember her in the Charlie Chan movie. Interesting woman

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    1. That's the way it works sometimes. Now you'll probably run into her in all sorts of things.

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  9. I didn't recognize the name, but now I remember her in the Charlie Chan movie. Interesting woman

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  10. Oh yes, I had forgotten Cora was in Chan's Murder Cruise! She was awfully good there, and excellent in On the Avenue. I can certainly relate to her character in that one, because I, too, go through "phases"...I'm in a Norwegian one at the moment. ;-) Great post, CW, as always.

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    1. Thanks.

      Can you imagine a cruise with all our favourite character actors! Murder optional. Ha.

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  11. I love when great film lovers turn me onto new character actors. I've not been familiar with Cora, but she sure seems like an actor I would adore! I did notice that she was in The Women 1939 as Mrs. Van Adams-Loved it... Great post for WHAT A CHARACTER! 2016 --Cheers, Joey The Last Drive In

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    1. Thanks.

      I'm betting this coming year will find Cora on your radar more than ever.

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