Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Josephine Hutchinson - Stage Screen Television

Standing accused of great talent and versitility.

Josephine entered the world, and the world of greasepaint, in 1903 Seattle.  Born to actress Leona Roberts (best remembered as the wife of Dr. Meade in "Gone With The Wind") mama was able, through an old friendship with Doug Fairbanks, to wrangle a bit part for young Josephine in Mary Pickford's "The Little Princess"(1917).  It would be 17 years before the cameras rolled again, but Josephine was anything but idle.

Theatuh, Theatuh, Theatuh.

After constant study in movement, voice and the dance, Jo made her stage debut as a dancer at the city's Metropolitan Theatre in The Little Mermaid in 1920.  For two years she worked with the Rams Head Playhouse Company in Washington which was managed by a Robert Bell and in 1924 she and Bell were married. The following year she made her Broadway debut with an acclaimed performance in A Man's Man opposite Pat O'Brien.

Gladys Calthrop, designer for Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre, saw Hutchinson in the play and, when Le Gallienne fired Rose Hobart from the role of Irina in Three Sisters, Calthrop recommended Hutchinson. "She is beautiful, direct and possessed of emotional reserve," (Just like Mr. Peenee) wrote one critic of her performance. Le Gallienne's troupe presented low-price classics, and nurtured some of America's finest talent.  Hutchinson played in Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare as well as an acclaimed Wendy opposite Le Gallienne's Peter Pan in 1928.

The Herald Tribune boasted: "Josephine Hutchinson gave to Wendy the right sense of budding motherliness that the part demanded."

By the end of the twenties, husband Robert Bell initiated divorce proceedings against Jo.  The co-respondant named in the case:  Eva Le Gallienne!  Years later Hutchinson would recall, "Le Gallienne was my teacher in both love and work." Jo had led a protected life until her marriage, usually in the company of her mother (who also joined Le Gallienne's troupe). "It's quite natural for actors to fall in love with the people they work with," she said, and she and Le Gallienne started an affair. "It was good and normal and healthy," she stated, "There was never any sense of shame connected with our relationship."

The following year Hutchinson won rave reviews for her performance as Alice in a delightful Le Gallienne production of Alice in Wonderland with Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Burgess Meredith as a duck on roller skates.

Miss Hutchinson, Hollywood Calling.

In 1934, her relationship with Le Gallienne faltering, Hutchinson asked agent Leland Hayward (whose associate, James F. Townsend, she married in 1935) if he could arrange a screen test for her. At Warners, she tested with the final scene from "A Doll's House" (her Nora had already been lauded on stage) and was signed to a lucrative contract, and the publicity machine went into overdrive.

Now it's time for the infinite wisdom of Jack Warner. 

Question:  What would be the perfect breakout picture for a girl who's spent years with a serious theater company doing the classics?  A girl you signed based on her screen test of  "A Doll's House"?

Answer:  Why, a Dick Powell musical, of course!

"Happiness Ahead"  1934  her worst first movie

Though there were a couple of projects that are still remembered today (The Story Of Louis Pasteur and Son Of Frankenstein) and other beautiful performances (Oil For The Lamps Of China and Mountain Justice) she was never given a real shot at stardom.

By 1941, in her late thirties, Hutchinson rightly suspected that she had reached a difficult in-between age;  a little long in the tooth for leading ladies and glamor pusses, not quite old enough for interesting character parts, so she arranged with Harry Cohn to be the Columbia Pictures in-house acting coach.  For the next five years she taught and helped to mold their entire roster of contractees.  This was an impressive list that included, Evelyn Keyes, Larry Parks, Bill Holden, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, Ann Savage, Ann Miller, Adele Jergens, etc.

That Little Box With The Light In It.

She seemed to really hit her stride when she jumped into the "I guess it's here to stay" medium of Television in 1955.  The theatrical anthology series of the 1950's and early 60's were perfect for her stage trained technique.  For the next twenty years she appeared  on everything from Rawhide, Perry Mason, Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke and Bonanza to Burkes Law, Dr. Kildare, Mannix, The Mod Squad and The Partridge Family.

After a string of appearances in successful features like North By Northwest and Baby The Rain Must Fall, her final feature film was Rabbit Run in 1970, and her last TV gig was Little House On The Prairie in 1974.  She enjoyed a 24 years of retirement and passed away in 1998.

It's funny you know, and maybe it's because it happened before she hit Hollywood, but the affair with Le Gallienne got big publicity, and with 72 listings on imdb it certainly doesn't seem to have hurt her career!

P.S.  A play by Margo McDonald called "Shadows" has debuted at the Ottowa Fringe Festival this year - it chronicles the Le Gallienne/Hutchinson affair.


Stephen said...

I saw Eva Le Gallienne in The Royal Family & never recovered from her presence. I researched her for years & I posted on her birthday.

This post is absolutley fascinanting... what an interesting life!

Great writing, as always.

jason said...

"and Burgess Meredith as a duck on roller skates."

That's my new catch phrase right there.

And that La Gallienne must have gotten around, huh? I swear I keep reading her name mentioned with lots of others.

Miss Janey said...

Smart cookie to keep her acting career going by coaching. No desk job for Miss G.

kabuki zero said...

I could only hope my first worst movie is a musical with Dick Powell. Your encyclopedic knowledge of stars & starlettes is amazing. How do you do it. A successful carrer, the kids,your film work AND the blog. kabuki is humbled

FelixInHollywood said...


normadesmond said...

cool, as always.

Lil' EVA in DC said...

I too, saw Le G in the "Royal Family" (1976) at the K Center. Fabulous ! But, truth be told, I only had Eyes for Rosemary Harris.

As for Le G....When approached about the role of Fanny Cavendish in the RF, Le G replied to Ellis Rabb, the director, that she didn't do "boulevard comedies," but, once read, she leapt a the chance to play Fanny. And we are all better for seeing it.

BTW, you can seen Le G, Harris and Rabb in the RF on a Broadway Theatre Archive DVD.

thegreatbaz said...

Trivia - Josephine's co-star in Son of Frankenstein, Basil Rathbone, was also an ex-lover of Eva Le Gallienne's.