Fay Bainter

Active - 1934 - 1962  |   Born - Dec 7, 1891   |   Died - Apr 16, 1968   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actress Fay Bainter was working in stock at age five, and by the time she was 19 was one of the privileged members of theatrical impresario David Belasco's company. First starring on Broadway in 1912, Bainter was cast in ingenue or romantic parts for the first portion of her career. When she finally decided to give movies a try, it was as a mature, somewhat plump character actress. Her first film was This Side of Heaven (1934), after which, according to many historians she was established in kindly, motherly roles - except for those in which she wasn't so kind and motherly, which constituted the more interesting moments of her film career. In 1938, Bainter made cinema history by being nominated for two Academy Awards in two different categories: As best actress for White Banners, a second-string Warners drama in which she played a "Mrs. Fixit", and as best supporting actress in Jezebel, where she had the somewhat harsher role of southern belle Bette Davis' remonstrative Aunt Belle. Academy members were confused by Bainter's dual nomination, the result being that the Academy was compelled to change its nominating and voting rules (P.S.: She won for Jezebel). Occasionally a star (The War Against Mrs. Hadley [1943]) and always near the top of the supporting-cast list, Bainter worked steadily in films until the early 1950s, shifting her attention at that time to television. In 1958, she appeared in the touring company of the Eugene O'Neill play Long Day's Journey Into Night in the role of Mary Tyrone -- a difficult and demanding assignment even for a woman half her age, but one that she pulled off brilliantly. Bainter returned to films as an unsympathetic wealthy dowager in The Children's Hour (1961), which earned her another Oscar nomination -- this time in one category only.

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