MacMahon, Aline (1899–1991)

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MacMahon, Aline (1899–1991)

American actress who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Dragon Seed . Born on May 3, 1899, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania; died on October 12, 1991, at her home in New York from pneumonia; graduated from Erasmus Hall and Barnard College; married Clarence S. Stein (an architect), in 1928 (died 1975).

Selected theater:

made Broadway debut in The Mirage (1921); appeared in Grand Street Follies (Neighborhood Playhouse), Artists and Models (1925), Beyond the Horizon (1926), Maya (1928), Winter Bound (1929), The Eve of St. Mark (1942), The Confidential Clerk (1954), A Day by the Sea (1955); appeared as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (Stratford, Connecticut), the Countess in All's Well That Ends Well (Stratford, Connecticut, 1959), Volumnia in Coriolanus (Stratford, Connecticut, 1965).

Selected filmography:

Five Star Final (1931); The Heart of New York (1932); The Mouthpiece (1932); Life Begins (1932); One Way Passage (1932); Once in a Lifetime (1932); Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933); Heroes for Sale (1933); The World Changes (1933); Heat Lightning (1934); Side Streets (1934); Big-Hearted

Herbert (1934); Babbitt (1934); While the Patient Slept (1935); I Live My Life (1935); Kind Lady (1935); Ah Wilderness! (1935); When You're in Love (1937); Back Door to Heaven (1939); Out of the Fog (1941); The Lady Is Willing (1942); Dragon Seed (1944); Guest in the House (1944); The Mighty McGurk (1947); The Search (1948); Roseanna McCoy (1949); The Flame and the Arrow (1950); The Eddie Cantor Story (1953); The Man From Laramie (1955); Cimarron (1960); The Young Doctors (1961); Diamond Head (1963); I Could Go on Singing (UK, 1963); All the Way Home (1963).

Once publicized as "the perfect screen secretary," Aline MacMahon made her mark in films as a character actress, often turning minor roles into small masterpieces. The actress came to Hollywood in 1931, via the New York stage, where she had already built a solid reputation.

The daughter of a stockbroker turned magazine editor, MacMahon was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1899, and raised in New York City. She caught the acting bug at Barnard College. After graduating, she worked in stock and in 1921 landed her first Broadway role in The Mirage. She then did a stint with the Neighborhood Playhouse, which led to a contract with the Shuberts. Following a stellar performance of Once in a Lifetime in Los Angeles, she was tapped for the role as Edward G. Robinson's secretary in Warner Bros.' Five Star Final (1931), for which she won rave reviews. She then signed a contract with the studio, but only after they included a clause restricting her work to certain specific time periods so that she could live in New York with her husband, architect Clarence S. Stein. The couple had married in 1928.

Tall and a bit ungainly, with dark soulful eyes and a sad expression, MacMahon was usually cast in dramatic films, although she was equally adept at comedy, notably opposite Guy Kibbee (Big-Hearted Herbert). She also played opposite Kibbee in Babbitt, a film version of the Sinclair Lewis bestseller, and in While the Patient Slept (1935), a murder mystery. The actress received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Dragon Seed (1944), in which she played Walter Huston's wife, but her best film role was as a volunteer officer looking after misplaced persons in The Search (1948), one of the top films of the 1940s. In Sight and Sound (1955), Albert Johnson recalled MacMahon's work in the film: "Here is Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Mallory, the careworn directress of this outpost of destitute youngsters," he wrote. "Her uniform somehow enhances a warm, matriarchal sympathy, and although she is a secondary figure, one is curious to know more about her. This is MacMahon's forte, to make everything she does stick in the memory."

Aline MacMahon made only a few screen appearance during the 1950s and 1960s, notably as Judy Garland 's dresser-companion in I Could Go on Singing (1963) and as Aunt Hannah in All the Way Home (1963), a role she also created on stage. Along with films, she continued to work in theater in New York, California, and Stratford, Connecticut, and was also seen on television.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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