A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... FRIEDA INESCORT (June 29, 1901 - February 26, 1976)


Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT?"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. And feel free to share them with your friends! Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships". (I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???)… Our Birthday girl tonight has one of those faces you never forget!... and one of those voices you never, ever, ever forget!!

Frieda Inescort (June 29, 1901 - February 26, 1976) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland as Frieda Wrightman. She was the daughter of Scots-born journalist John "Jock" Wrightman and actress Elaine Inescort, who was of German and Polish descent. Her parents initially met when he came to review a play she was appearing in. They married in 1899 but eventually parted ways while Frieda was still young. Her impulsive mother, who had strong designs on a theater career and placed it high on her priority list, sent young Frieda off to live with other families and in boarding schools in England and Wales while she avidly pursued her dreams. Although her father divorced Elaine in 1911 charging his wife with abandonment and adultery, Frieda ended up moving to America with her mother. Again, when Elaine found occasional roles in touring shows, Frieda wound up being carted off to convents or boarding schools.

Mother and daughter eventually returned to London following World War I and the young girl, now solely on her own, managed to find employment as a personal secretary to British Member of Parliament Waldorf Astor (2nd Viscount Astor), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. She also assisted the American-born Lady (Nancy) Astor. While accompanying Lady Astor on a trip to the United States in July 1919, Frieda decided to stay in the States and terminated her position with the Astors. In New York she continued finding secretarial work that supported both her and her unemployed actress-mother. She worked at one point with the British consulate in New York.

Noticing a number of American actors cast in British parts on Broadway, Frieda was encouraged in the early 1920s to test the waters as British actresses were in short supply. By chance, she was introduced to producer/director Winthrop Ames, who gave the unseasoned hopeful a small but showy role in his Broadway comedy THE TRUTH ABOUT BLAYDS (1922) at the Booth Theatre. The play turned out to be a hit. Playwright Philip Barry caught her stage performance and offered her a starring role in his upcoming comedy production YOU AND I (1923). The show proved to be another winner and Frieda, a star on the horizon, finally saw the end of her days as part of a secretarial pool.

With her classic bone-structure and deep mellifluous voice and demeanor, Frieda was most often cast as very sophisticated, wealthy, and even arrogant society doyennes.

Other Broadway credits followed quickly in succession with THE WOMAN ON THE JURY (1923), WINDOWS (1923), THE FAKE (1924), ARIADNE (1925), HAY FEVER (1925), LOVE IN A MIST (1926), MOZART (1926), TRELAWNY OF THE "WELLS" (1927), and ESCAPE (1927-1928). While working in the late 1920s as an assistant for Putnam's Publishing Company in New York, Frieda met assistant editor Ben Ray Redman. They married in 1926 and Redman later became a literary critic for the New York Herald Tribune. Frieda, in the meantime, continued to resonate on the New York and touring stage with such plays as NAPI (1931), COMPANY'S COMING (1931), SPRINGTIME FOR HENRY (1931-1932), WHEN LADIES MEET (1933), FALSE DREAMS, FAREWELL (1934), and LADY JANE (1934). Frieda's happenstance into acting and her sudden surge of success triggered deep envy and jealousy within her mother, who was unemployed. This led to a bitter and long-term estrangement between the two that never managed to heal itself.

For over a decade, Frieda had resisted the cinema, having turned down several offers in silent and early talking films. When her husband was offered a job with Universal Studios as a literary adviser and author, however, and the couple had to relocate to Hollywood, she decided to take a difference stance.

Frieda Wrightman adopted her mother's surname as her professional name. Discovered by a talent scout while performing in a Los Angeles play, Frieda was signed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company and made her debut supporting Fredric March and Merle Oberon in the dewy-eyed drama THE DARK ANGEL (1935) in which she received attractive notices and rare sympathy as blind author March's secretary. She did not stay long at Goldwyn, however, and went on to freelance for various other studios. During the course of her movie career, Frieda could be quite charming on the screen playing a wronged woman (as she did in GIVE ME YOUR HEART (1936)), but she specialized in haughtier roles and played them older and colder than she really was off-camera. She soon gained a classy reputation for both her benign and haughty sophisticates. Some of her other films include MARY OF SCOTLAND (1936) starring Katharine Hepburn and Frederick March. After Warner Bros. signed her up, she showed promise in ANOTHER DAWN (1937) with Errol Flynn, a leading role in CALL IT A DAY (1937) with Olivia de Havilland and Bonita Granville, and THE GREAT O’MALLEY (1937) with Humphrey Bogart, three films in one year. Surprisingly after such an impressive start, however, Warner Bros. lost interest in her career and loaned her out more and more to other studios. When she would be given leading roles, they were mostly in “B” pictures. But her character work continued to excel, especially in THE LETTER (1940) starring an Oscar nominated Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall,) YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH (1941), a Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth hit musical, and the iconic A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother with Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters. One of her most famous roles was the conniving Caroline Bingley in the 1940 film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Although she continued to work in off and on in Hollywood, Inescort returned to Broadway a few more times with A SOLDIER'S WIFE (1944-1945), THE MERMAIDS SINGING (1945-1946), AND YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1948). Her last appearances in film included a few low-budget clunkers and the two horror-camp-classics THE SHE CREATURE (1956) and THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) with Lon Chaney, Jr.

 She appeared on television in at least one episode of PERRY MASON as Hope Quentin in "The Case of the Jealous Journalist" (season 5, 1961).  Inescort was one of those distinguished actresses who was valued greatly by her directors and costars and had the distinction of being surrounded by Oscar nominated and winning coworkers though never nominated herself.

On August 2nd, 1961, she and her husband since 1926, Ben Ray Redman, dined out. Redman had been despondent for some time. Returning home, he went upstairs to bed. He then called Frieda, informing her that he was depressed over the state of the world and had taken 12 sedative pills. By the time the paramedics arrived, he had died, a suicide at the age of 65. He had been working as a writer for the Saturday Review Magazine and was also involved in the translation of European classic literature into English.

Inescort herself had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1930s and had suffered periodically as the years went by. Her disease accelerated after her husband's death, and she was using a wheelchair by the mid 1960s. On July 7th, 1964, her estranged mother, British actress Elaine Inescourt, died in Brighton, England, aged 87. Though unable to work in either film or onstage, Frieda Inescort worked as much as possible for the multiple sclerosis association. Often seen in the Hollywood area seated in her wheelchair, she collected donations outside supermarkets and in malls for several years. Inescort died on February 26th, 1976 at the Motion Picture Country Home at Woodland Hills, California from the disease she had battled since 1932. She was 74.

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