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Bondi, Beulah (1892–1981)

Bondi, Beulah (1892–1981)

American actress in great demand as a character actress who appeared in more than 60 feature films. Born Beulah Bondy on May 3, 1892, in Chicago, Illinois: died of pulmonary complications in Woodland Hills, California, on January 12, 1981; daughter of A.O. (a realtor) and Eva Bondy; attended Convent of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary, Montreal, Canada, 1907; attended Frances Skinner Academy, 1908; graduated from Hyde Park High School, Chicago, 1909, and Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1913; studied at Chicago Little Theater during World War II.

Films include:

Street Scene (1931); Arrowsmith (1931); Rain (1932); The Stranger's Return (1933); Christopher Bean (1933); Finishing School (1934); Registered Nurse (1934); The Good Fairy (1935); The Invisible Ray (1936); The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936); The Moon's Our Home (1936); The Gorgeous Hussy (1936); Make Way for Tomorrow (1937); Maid of Salem (1937); The Buccaneer (1938); Of Human Hearts (1938); Vivacious Lady (1938); The Sisters (1938); On Borrowed Time (1939); The Under-Pup (1939); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939); Remember the Night (1940); Our Town (1940); Penny Serenade (1941); The Shepherd of the Hills (1941); One Foot in Heaven (1941); Tonight We Raid Calais (1943); Watch on the Rhine (1943); Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944); And Now Tomorrow (1944); The Southerner (1945); Back to Bataan (1945); Sister Kenny (1946); It's a Wonderful Life (1946); The Sainted Sisters (1948); The Snake Pit (1948); So Dear to My Heart (1949); The Black Book (1949); The Life of Riley (1949); The Baron of Arizona (1950); The Furies (1950); Lone Star (1952); Latin Lovers (1953); Track of the Cat (1954); Back From Eternity (1956); The Big Fisherman (1959); A Summer Place (1959); The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962); Tammy and the Doctor (1963).

Known as a superlative actress, Beulah Bondi spent her entire career in supporting character roles. At seven, she made her first stage appearance in a production of Little Lord Fauntleroy, then spent 24 years in stock and repertory before her Broadway debut in One of the Family (1925). After playing the landlady in the 1929 production of Street Scene, she was recruited by Samuel Goldwyn to repeat the role in the film version, made in 1931. With her film career under way, she would return to the stage only four times: in The Late Christopher Bean (1932), Mother Lode (1934), Hilda Crane (1950), and On Borrowed Time (1953).

Though Bondi appeared in over 60 feature films, she never signed a long-term contract with a major studio; this allowed her to be selective in the roles she accepted and to demand the pay she felt she deserved. As a result, she commanded some $500 a week as early as the 1930s. Of her numerous roles, each uniquely crafted, she was nominated for Oscars for Gorgeous Hussy (1936) and Of Human Hearts (1938). Retiring from films in the 1960s (tempted back only once, for the role in Airport that won Helen Hayes an Oscar in 1970), Bondi continued to make television appearances through the 1970s.

Bondi never married and was never part of the Hollywood scene, though she made her home in the Hollywood Hills. She traveled extensively, including two round-the-world trips and several to Africa, a country which held a particular fascination for her. She appeared to take both her career and retirement in stride. "I have a very good, full life away from the stage and studio," she said. "I don't rule out working again but I don't have to either for my bank account or my ego. I feel very fulfilled."

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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