May Whitty

May Whitty

Dame May Whitty, DBE (19 June 186529 May 1948), born Mary Louise Whitty, was an Oscar-nominated English theatre and cinema actress.


Born in Liverpool, daughter of Whitty and Mary Louisa Ashton. May Whitty made her first stage appearance in Liverpool in 1881 before moving to London to appear on the West End.

She married the actor-manager Ben Webster in 1892 in St Giles Parish, London, England, and in 1895 they visited the United States where Whitty appeared on Broadway. Their only child, a daughter born in the USA in 1905, Margaret Webster, was a stage actress and held dual US/UK citizenship. Dame May's stage career continued for the rest of her life.

In 1918 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in recognition of her charitable work during World War I. She is also the first film and stage actress to become a DBE. In fact, she and opera singer Nellie Melba were the first women entertainers to be awarded the honour in 1918.

Film career

She made her first major Hollywood film appearance, recreating her stage role in the film Night Must Fall (1937) (which also starred Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, and received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This led to several supporting roles in films including that of the missing spy, "Miss Froy", in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). She moved permanently to the USA (although she never became a U.S. citizen) in 1939 and appeared both on stage and in Hollywood films where she usually played wealthy dowagers. It was one such part, as "Lady Beldon" in Mrs Miniver (1942), that brought her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.


She continued to act for the remainder of her life and died in Beverly Hills, California from cancer at the age of 82; her husband had died the previous year during surgery.


"I have everything Betty Grable has - I've just had it longer."


  • Enoch Arden (1914)
  • The Little Minister (1915)
  • Colonel Newcombe, the Perfect Gentleman (1920)
  • Keep Your Seats, Please (1936) (uncredited)
  • Night Must Fall (1937)
  • The Thirteenth Chair (1937)
  • Conquest (1937)
  • I Met My Love Again (1938)
  • Parnell (1938) (TV)
  • The Lady Vanishes (1938)
  • Mary Rose (1939) (TV)
  • The Royal Family of Broadway (1939) (TV)
  • Rake's Progress (1939) (TV)
  • Raffles (1939)
  • Return to Yesterday (1940)
  • A Bill of Divorcement (1940)
  • One Night in Lisbon (1941)
  • Suspicion (1941)

External links

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