Byington, Spring (1886–1971)

views updated

Byington, Spring (1886–1971)

American stage and film actress who starred in the popular television series "December Bride." Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on October 17, 1886; died on September 7, 1971; daughter of Edwin Lee (an English teacher) and Helene Byington (a physician).

Selected films:

Little Women (1933); The Werewolf of London (1935); Way Down East (1935); Mutiny on the Bounty (1935); Ah! Wilderness (1935); (first of the "Jones Family" series) Every Saturday Night (1936); Dodsworth (1936); Theodora Goes Wild (1936); It's Love I'm After (1937); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938); Jezebel (1938); You Can't Take It With You (1938); The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939); A Child is Born (1940); The Bluebird (1940); Meet John Doe (1941); The Devil and Miss Jones (1941); When Ladies Meet (1941); Roxie Hart (1942); Rings on Her Fingers (1942); Presenting Lily Mars (1943); Heaven Can Wait (1943); The Heavenly Body (1944); I'll Be Seeing You (1945); The Enchanted Cottage (1945); Dragonwyck (1946); Singapore (1947); BF's Daughter (1948); In the Good Old Summertime (1949); Louisa (1950); Walk Softly Stranger (1950); According to Mrs. Hoyle (1951); Angels in the Outfield (1951); Because You're Mine (1952); The Rocket Man (1954); Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960).

Spring Byington is probably best remembered as Lily Ruskin, "America's favorite mother-in-law," in the popular television series "December Bride," which first appeared in 1954 after two successful years on the radio. Her career also included 20 appearances on the Broadway stage and 75 motion pictures.

Byington was 14 when she decided to be an actress. Through a friend of her mother's, she landed a three-year engagement with the Elitch Garden Stock Company in Denver. After numerous stock appearances, including tours in Argentina and Brazil, Byington made her Broadway debut in 1924 as Miss Hey in the satirical comedy Beggar on Horseback. The Broadway roles that followed, mostly minor character parts, were often singled out for praise. Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times described her role as Janet Cannot in The Great Adventure (1926): "A simple attractive performance, dignified and illuminating, without any of the superfluous scroll work which is often confused with acting." Notable also were her roles in Be Your Age (1928), Ladies Don't Lie (1929), and Once in a Lifetime (1932), Her comedic talent was again recognized by Atkinson in her portrayal of Mrs. Bridget Drake in Rachel Crothers ' comedy When Ladies Meet (1932), which he called, "a fresh, delightful performance in the exact key of high comedy."

Director Stuart Walker was responsible for Byington's first screen role, as Marmee in Louisa May Alcott 's Little Women (1933). She soon found her niche in supporting roles, playing mostly scatterbrained wives or loving moms. In Louisa (1950), Byington's first lead, she portrayed a crotchety widow who is transformed by a new love. The most memorable of her numerous film appearances was in You Can't Take It With You, a role that earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She was also a regular in the "Jones Family" film series (1936–40), which began with Every Saturday Night. Of her late success on "December Bride," which attained the third highest national rating among television shows of the time, Byington said, "TV keeps me young because it keeps me busy, keeps my mind alert, my senses sharp and my interest up." She continued to make movies until 1960, 11 years before her death in 1971.


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography 1956. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

Halliwell, Leslie. The Filmgoer's Companion. 4th ed. NY: Hill and Wang, 1974.