Jane Darwell (1879-1967)

Jane Darwell
Jane Darwell
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Jane Darwell was an American actress who appeared in over 100 movies and who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Ma Joad in 'The Grapes of Wrath' in 1940. She is also fondly remembered for her role as the Bird Woman in the Walt Disney musical 'Mary Poppins' in 1965.


She was born Patti Woodard on October 15, 1879, in Palmyra, Missouri, into a well off middle class family. Her father was a Missouri railroad executive who claimed to be a direct descendant of the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson.

Jane took an early interest in performing and her first ambitions were to be an opera singer. Against the objections of her family she spent much of her youth working in circuses and travelling stock companies before.she decided on a career as a stage actress. She changed her name to Jane Darwell in deference to her family and began her acting career in theater productions in Chicago. She performed at least once on Broadway, in 'The Wedding Day' in 1909.

Early Movie Career 1913

She made her first film appearance in 1913 at the age of 33, and appeared in almost twenty films over the next two years. Most of her appearances were uncredited roles in shorts but her credited roles included 'Brewsters Millions, in 1914, directed by one Cecil B. DeMille. Later in 1914 she appeared in 'Rose of the Rancho' also directed by DeMille, which was her last movie for 16 years. She returned to her first love, the stage, and made more Broadway appearances in 'Merchants of Venus' in 1920 and 'Swords' in 1921.

Main Movie Career 1930

After her 16 year absence, she resumed her film career in 1930 playing Widow Douglas in 'Tom Sawyer' and the following year she played the same role in 'Huckleberry Finn'. She quickly became a well known and respected character actor and she continued having small parts in a succession of films including six movies with Shirley Temple.

She became something of a 'B' movie specialist and in most of her films she was cast as the warm, matronly figure, often the mother of one of the leads. Two memorable exceptions to this were 'Gone With the Wind' in 1941 when she played Mrs. Dolly Meriwether, one of the town's society gossips and 'The Ox-Bow Incident' in 1943 when she played a hard-nosed frontiers woman.

'The Grapes of Wrath' 1940

The high point of her career came in 1940 when she played Ma Joad, the stubborn, loving and determined matriarch of the impoverished Joad family. In the movie Jane brought to the role a sense of the fierce determination and family unity of the settlers. Her performance is memorable and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

She continued to appear regularly on the big screen, still in many 'B' movies but also in films of better quality such as 'My Darling Clementine' in 1946 and 'Caged' in 1950. During the 1950's her output slowed somewhat due to ill health but she still managed to appear in over 170 movies in total.

From 1954 onwards Jane began to appear on television and the new medium rapidly began to take up more and more of her professional time. She became a well known face on such series as 'The Ford Television Theatre' in 1954, 'Matinee Theatre' in 1958 and 'Wagon Train' from 1959 to 1961.

In her later years Jane lived at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. She was personally visited there by Walt Disney who persuaded her to perform in what would be her very last screen appearance, as the bird lady in the "Feed the Birds" segment of 'Mary Poppins' in 1964. After this she went back into retirement.

Jane Darwell died at Woodland Hills from a heart attack on August 13, 1967. She was 87 years old.

Jane Darwell Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actress ... The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
No Unsuccessful Nominations:


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Jane Darwell Filmography

The Capture of Aguinaldo (Short)
At Shiloh (Short)
The Head Hunters (Short)
When Sherman Marched to the Sea (Short)
In the Coils of the Python (Short)
The Cowboy Magnate (Short)
War of the Cattle Range (Short)
The White Squaw (Short)
Brewster's Millions
The Master Mind
The Only Son
The Man on the Box
Ready Money
Rose of the Rancho
The Goose Girl
After Five
The Rug Maker's Daughter
The Reform Candidate
Little Church Around the Corner
Tom Sawyer
Fighting Caravans
Huckleberry Finn
Ladies of the Big House
No One Man
Young America
The Strange Case of Clara Deane
Back Street
Washington Merry-Go-Round
Hot Saturday
Women Won't Tell
Air Hostess
The Past of Mary Holmes
Child of Manhattan
Murders in the Zoo (uncredited)
The Girl in 419(uncredited)
Emergency Call (uncredited)
Jennie Gerhardt (uncredited
Good Housewrecking (Short)
Bed of Roses (uncredited)
Before Dawn
One Sunday Afternoon
Ann Vickers(uncredited)
Aggie Appleby Maker of Men(uncredited)
Only Yesterday
Roman Scandals (uncredited)
King for a Night (uncredited)
He Couldn't Take It
Design for Living
Cross Country Cruise
Fashions of 1934(uncredited)
Wonder Bar(uncredited)
David Harum (uncredited)
Heat Lightning
Journal of a Crime (uncredited)
Once to Every Woman
Finishing School (uncredited)
The Scarlet Empress(uncredited)
Change of Heart
Let's Talk It Over
The Most Precious Thing in Life
Blind Date
Million Dollar Ransom
Embarrassing Moments
One Night of Love (uncredited)
Desirable (uncredited)
Wake Up and Dream
Happiness Ahead
Tomorrow's Youth
The Firebird (uncredited)
The White Parade
Gentlemen Are Born (uncredited)
Bright Eyes
One More Spring
McFadden's Flats
Life Begins at Forty
Wig-Wag (Short)
Curly Top
Navy Wife
Metropolitan (uncredited)
Paddy O'Day
We're Only Human
The Country Doctor
The First Baby
Captain January
Private Number
Little Miss Nobody
Poor Little Rich Girl
White Fang
Star for a Night
Craig's Wife
Laughing at Trouble
Love Is News
Nancy Steele Is Missing!
The Great Hospital Mystery
Fifty Roads to Town
Slave Ship
The Singing Marine
Wife, Doctor and Nurse
Dangerously Yours
Change of Heart
The Jury's Secret
Battle of Broadway
Three Blind Mice
Little Miss Broadway
Time Out for Murder
Five of a Kind
Up the River
Jesse James
Inside Story
The Zero Hour
Unexpected Father
Grand Jury Secrets
The Rains Came
20,000 Men a Year
Gone With The Wind
Miracle on Main Street