Wood, Peggy (1892–1978)

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Wood, Peggy (1892–1978)

American actress and singer . Born Margaret Wood on February 9, 1892, in Brooklyn, New York; died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 18, 1978, in Stamford, Connecticut; daughter of journalist Eugene Wood and Mary (Gardner) Wood; educated at Manual Training High School in New York City; married John van Alstyne Weaver (a poet, novelist, and playwright), on February 14, 1924 (died from tuberculosis, 1938); married William H. Walling (an executive in the printing business), on October 1, 1946 (died 1973); children: (first marriage) David (b. 1927).

Began a long theater career at age 18; made film debut (1919); one of the founders of Actors' Equity; was president of American National Theater and Academy; nominated for Academy Award for her performance in The Sound of Music (1965); campaigned for many theater causes during her life.

Selected filmography:

Almost a Husband (1919); Women of Wonder (1929); Handy Andy (1934); The Right to Live (1935); Jalna (1935); A Star is Born (1937); Call It a Day (1937); The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939); The Bride Wore Boots (1946); Dream Girl (1948); The Sound of Music (1965). Also starred on television series "Mama" (1949–57).

Born in 1892 in Brooklyn, New York, actress Peggy Wood was the daughter of Mary Gardner Wood and Eugene Wood, a feature writer for the New York World. She began studying voice as a child because her father wanted to ensure that she had a marketable skill; her instructors included Arthur Van der Linde and Emma Calvé . Wood attended Manual Training High School and, after graduating in 1910, made her professional singing debut in the chorus of the Broadway production of Naughty Marietta. She appeared on stage in New York regularly through the 1910s, including starring roles in the drama Young America in 1915, and as Marietta in Naughty Marietta in 1916. The next year she began a two-year run as Ottilie in Maytime, for which she drew praise from New York theater critics.

In 1919, Wood appeared in her first film, Will Rogers' Almost a Husband. That year she also became involved with the formation of the Actors' Equity Association, a union for stage and screen performers. In 1924, she married John van Alstyne Weaver, a poet. Her family had frowned on the match, but the marriage proved to be happy. The next year Wood starred in Candida on stage in New York and abroad. After her son David was born in 1927, she took time off from acting and wrote several plays, including The Flying Prince. She returned to the stage in Noel Coward's Bitter Sweet in London, and would appear in plays continually through the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in London and New York.

Wood found time to write as well. In the 1920s and 1930s, she contributed many articles on her experiences and on theater personalities to such periodicals as the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, Theater Arts Monthly, and Collier's. In 1930, she published Actors and People, describing her conversations with playwright George Bernard Shaw and opera diva Calvé. Six years later, her novel Star Wagon was published, to mixed reviews.

Wood appeared in only a few films throughout her long career. In 1935, she was seen as Meg in Jalna, followed by A Star Is Born in 1937. Also in 1937 she starred in Miss Quis, a play she cowrote with Ward Morehouse. A year later, Wood had to take time off from performing after the death of her husband from tuberculosis. In 1941, she published a book of memoirs, How Young You Look, to popular acclaim. She remained an active member of Actors' Equity, having served on its council from 1919 to 1940, and was elected vice-president of the Episcopal Actors Guild in 1942. In that year Wood opened in London in what became one of her most popular roles, as Ruth in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, earning critical praise during the one-year run. During World War II, she was a member of the American Theater Wing, performing for Allied troops at army bases in Britain. In 1946, she married William H. Walling, an executive in the printing business.

Despite decades on stage, Wood is best remembered for a pioneering television role. In 1949, she was cast in the title role as the matriarch of a Norwegian-American family in "Mama," adapted from John Van Druten's Broadway play I Remember Mama, which was itself based on Kathryn Forbes ' book Mama's Bank Account. The show was an immediate success and ran for eight seasons, ending in 1957. (Ms. editor Robin Morgan played her daughter Dagmar.) Wood was honored by the Swedish King Haakon VII with the Order of St. Olaf medal for her portrayal, which was seen as fostering international understanding. During the 1950s, Wood's political conservatism led her to oppose much of the union activity she had earlier supported. Active politically, she also worked to pass a federal bill to require theater producers to verify the financial viability of their productions.

In 1959, Wood became president of the American National Theater and Academy, serving until 1966. She published her second memoir, Arts and Flowers, in 1963. Her final film was The Sound of Music (1965), which brought Wood an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the Mother Abbess. She retired from the stage in 1967, at age 75, due to failing health, but remained active in various theater organizations. Widowed again in 1973, Peggy Wood died in March 1978, at age 86.


Herbert, Ian, ed. Who's Who in the Theatre. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1977.

Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. Dictionary of American Biography, 1976–1980. NY: Scribner, 1980.

Robinson, Alice M., et al., eds. Notable Women in the American Theater. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California