Margaret Wycherly

Active - 1929 - 1953  |   Born - Oct 26, 1881   |   Died - Jun 6, 1956   |   Genres - Drama, Mystery, Romance

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On-stage from 1898, British actress Margaret Wycherly toured in English repertory and American stock before making her Broadway premiere. Her biggest commercial stage success was Tobacco Road, but the role which made her a star was the low-born, smarter-than-she-seems phony spirtualist in The Thirteenth Chair, a murder mystery written for the actress by Bayard Veiller. Wycherly re-created the role in a 1919 silent film, then ten years later remade it as a talking picture. Despite the histrionics of Bela Lugosi as a police inspector, Wycherly dominated the 1929 Thirteenth Chair, playing each significant moment full-out, but without the artificiality which afflicated the rest of the cast. She remained active on stage and TV and in films (her last was Olivier's Richard III) for the rest of her life, but Margaret Wycherly would be memorable if only for two of her film appearances: As Gary Cooper's weary backwoods mother in Sergeant York (1941), for which she was Oscar-nominated, and as a far more malevolent parent, James Cagney's gangster "Ma" in White Heat. Though she was killed off midway in this film, audiences had no trouble remembering the hatchet-hard face and marrow-chilling voice of Margaret Wycherly just before the final fadeout, as Cagney blew himself up while screaming "Made it, Ma! Top of the World!"

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