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Spring Byington 1886-1971

Country : Colorado Springs, CO
Profession : Actress
Date of birth : 1886-10-17
Date of death : 1971-09-07
Cause of Death : Cancer

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Spring Byington (October 17, 1886September 7, 1971) was an Oscar-nominated American actress, best remembered for working as a key MGM contract player.

Early life

She was born Spring Dell Byington in the house at W 32nd Ave. and Osceola St. in Denver, Colorado. She had one younger sister, Helene Kimball Byington, born September 4, 1890, in Colorado. Their father was Prof. Edwin Lee Byington (1852–1891), a well-respected educator and superintendent of schools in Colorado. When he died unexpectedly, his wife (Helene Maud Cleghorn Byington) decided to send their daughters to live with her parents, Arthur and Charlotte Cleghorn, in Port Hope, Ontario. While there, Mrs. Byington moved to Boston and became a student at the Boston University School of Medicine where she graduated in 1896. Upon graduation she moved back to Denver, Colorado, and began a practice with fellow graduate, Dr. Mary Ford.

Spring graduated from North High School in 1904, and shortly afterward began working with the Elitch Garden Stock Company. Her mother had been a friend of Mary Elitch. When Dr. Byington died in 1907, Spring and her sister were legally adopted by their aunt Margaret, wife of Rice Eugene Eddy. However, Spring was already of legal age and took her inheritance to begin an acting career in New York.

Early Career and Marriage

At 28, the actress married Roy Chandler, a Broadway stage manager. The couple lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for three years, where she gave birth to daughters Phyllis (born 1916) and Lois (born approx. 1918). Their marriage ended after four years and Spring returned to New York with her daughters.


Upon returning to New York, Spring divided her time between working in Manhattan and staying with her daughters whom she had placed to live with friends J. Allen and Lois Bobcock in Leonardsville Village, New York (Madison County). She began touring in 1919 with a production of "Birds in Paradise" which brought the Hawaiian culture to the mainland, and in 1921 began work with the Stuart Walker Company for which she played roles in "Mr. Pim Passes By", "The Ruined Lady" and "Rollo's Wild Oats" among others. This connection landed her a role in her first Broadway performance in 1924, George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly's Beggar on Horseback which ran for six months. She renewed the role in March and April 1925 and continued on Broadway with an additional 18 productions in ten years from 1925 to 1935. These included roles in Kaufman and Moss Hart's Once in a Lifetime, Rachel Crothers's When Ladies Meet and Dawn Powell's Jig Saw.


In her last years of Broadway, she began work in films. The first was a short film titled "Papa's Slay Ride" in 1931 and the second, and most famous, was "Little Women" in 1933 as "Marmee" with Katharine Hepburn as her daughter "Jo". She became a household name during "The Jones Family" series of films and continued as a character actress in Hollywood for several years. In 1938, Byington was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for You Can't Take it With You, losing to Fay Bainter for Jezebel (in which Byington also had a role, as antebellum society matron Mrs Kendrick).

During World War II, she worked in radio and decided to return when her film career began to dwindle after the war. In 1952, she joined CBS Radio to become the lead role of the widowed Lily Ruskin in the sitcom December Bride. In 1954, Desilu Productions produced a pilot of the show for a television sitcom, also starring Spring. The pilot was successful and the new hit sitcom aired in its first two seasons after I Love Lucy. The series broadcast 111 episodes through 1959. Her co-stars were Frances Rafferty as her daughter Ruth Henshaw, Dean Miller as her son-in-law Matthew Henshaw, Verna Felton as her friend Hilda Crocker, and Harry Morgan as her wisecracking neighbor Pete Porter.

From 1961–1963, she appeared in the Western series Laramie wiuth John Smith and Robert Fuller. After Laramie she guest starred as Mrs. Jolly on Dennis Weaver's NBC series, Kentucky Jones, in the episode "Feminine Intrusion", a comedy/drama about a client paying her bill by performing housekeeping duties. Her penultimate role before her death from cancer was as Larry Hagman's mother on I Dream of Jeannie in 1967. Her final, role was as Mother General on "The Flying Nun" in 1968.

Death and afterward

She donated her body to medical science upon her death.

Byington and her series December Bride are profiled in "The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms," by David C. Tucker, published by McFarland & Company in 2007.

Personal life

Spring Byington was an extremely intelligent and energetic woman her entire life. She spoke Spanish fluently which she learned during a great deal of time spent with her husband in Buenos Aires and also learned Brazilian Portuguese in her golden years. In July 1958 she confided to reporter Hazel Johnson that she had acquired a "small coffee plantation" in Brazil the month before and was learning Portuguese. "Miss Byington explained that she first listens to a 'conditioning record' before she goes to sleep. An hour later her Portuguese lessons automatically begin feeding into her pillow by means of a small speaker." She was also fascinated by lesbian pulp and science fiction novels and preferred books such as George Orwell's 1984 and is noted to have surprised her costars of December Bride with knowledge of the earth's satellites and constellations in the night sky. In August 1955 she began taking flying lessons in Glendale, California. Ms. Byington was also a longtime companion of actress Marjorie Main.


Both of Spring's daughters went by their father's surname of Chandler until they married. Their married names and the names of their children are omitted here for their privacy. Her sister Helene married Raleigh Stanhope and had one son, Phillip Stanhope, who passed away in 1948 at the age of 34. He never married or had children. He is mentioned by Spring, seemingly ad-lib, during her radio show performance as guest star on Amos and Andy ("Turkey Trouble", 1945). Spring's father, Edwin, and grandfather, Samuel Lee Byington, were the only children of their families. Therefore there are no descendants living with the name Byington with the exception of extremely distant cousins. Spring's ancestors can be traced back to David Byington, born in Farmington, Connecticut, in 1702. This genealogical information is according to Miss Byington's current biographer, Dale Lee Sheldon, who plans to publish his book "December Bride: A Biography of Spring Byington" in 2010.


Selected films

  • Papa's Slay Ride (1930) - Mama
  • Little Women (1933) - Marmee March
  • Werewolf of London (1935) - Miss Ettie Coombes
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) - Mrs. Byam
  • Dodsworth (1936) - Matey Pearson
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) - Lady Octavia Warrenton
  • Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
  • Penrod and Sam (1937)
  • A Family Affair (1937)
  • It's Love I'm After (1937)
  • The Buccaneer (1938) - Dolly Madison
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) - Widow Douglas (uncredited)
  • Jezebel (1938) - Mrs. Kendrick
  • You Can't Take It with You (1938) - Penny Sycamore
  • The Blue Bird - Mummy Tyl
  • The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) - Elizabeth Ellis
  • Meet John Doe (1941) - Mrs. Mitchell
  • When Ladies Meet (1941) - Bridget 'Bridgie' Drake
  • Roxie Hart (1942) - Mary Sunshine
  • Rings on Her Fingers (1942)
  • The Affairs of Martha (1942) - Sophia Sommerfield
  • Heaven Can Wait (1943) - Bertha Van Cleve
  • The Heavenly Body (1944)
  • I'll Be Seeing You (1944) - Mrs. Marshall
  • The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
  • Dragonwyck (1946)
  • A Letter for Evie (1946) - Mrs. McPherson
  • Living in a Big Way (1947)
  • It Had to Be You (1947) - Mrs. Stafford
  • In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
  • The Big Wheel (1949)
  • Louisa (1950) - Louisa Norton
  • Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)
  • According to Mrs. Hoyle (1951) - Mrs. Hoyle
  • Angels in the Outfield (1951) - Sister Edwitha
  • Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) - Suzie Robinson

Broadway credits

  • Beggar on Horseback (1924, 1925 revival) - Mrs. Cady
  • Weak Sisters (1925)
  • Puppy Love (1926)
  • The Great Adventure (1926–1927)
  • Skin Deep (1927)
  • The Merchant of Venice (1928)
  • To-Night at 12 (1928-1929)
  • Be Your Age (1929)
  • Jonesy (1929)
  • Ladies Don't Lie (1929)
  • I Want My Wife (1930)
  • Once in a Lifetime (1930) - Helen Hobart
  • Ladies of Creation (1931)
  • We Are No Longer Children (1932)
  • When Ladies Meet (1932-1933)
  • The First Apple (1933-1934)
  • No Questions Asked (1934)
  • Jig Saw (1934)
  • Piper Paid (1934–1935)

Jones Family films

  • Every Saturday Night (1936)
  • Educating Father (1936)
  • Back to Nature (1936)
  • Off to the Races (1937)
  • Big Business (1937)
  • Hot Water (1937)
  • Borrowing Trouble (1937)
  • Love on a Budget (1938)
  • A Trip to Paris (1938)
  • Safety in Numbers (1938)
  • Down on the Farm (1938)
  • Everybody's Baby (1939)
  • The Jones Family in Hollywood (1939)
  • The Jones Family in Quick Millions (1939)
  • Too Busy to Work (1939)
  • Young as You Feel (1940)
  • On Their Own (1940)

Television credits

  • December Bride (1954–1959) - Lily Ruskin
  • What's My Line?(10/27/1957)(Episode #386, Season 9 EP.9) Mystery Guest. Was one of only a few Mystery Guests that disguised her voice well enough to fool the panel and not guess who she was.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960) - Alice Wagner, episode "The Man with Two Faces"
  • Laramie (1961–1963) - Daisy Cooper
  • "The Train Don't Stop Till It Gets There", The Greatest Show on Earth (1964)
  • Batman (1966) - J. Pauline Spaghetti, episodes "The Catwoman Goeth" and "The Sandman Cometh"
  • I Dream of Jeannie (1967) - Mother, episode "Meet My Master's Mother"
  • The Flying Nun (1968) - Mother General, episode "To Fly or Not to Fly"


Byington has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 6507 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 6233 Hollywood Blvd.


  • 1933 Alexandrias: Best Supporting Actress, Little Women
    • Won by Mary Astor, The World Changes
  • 1938 Oscars: Best Supporting Actress, You Can't Take It with You
    • Won by Fay Bainter, Jezebel
  • 1950 Golden Globes: Best Actress - Comedy or Musical, Louisa
    • Won by Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday
  • 1957 Emmys: Best Actress – Drama or Comedy Series, December Bride
    • Won by Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best
  • 1958 Emmys: Best Actress – Drama or Comedy Series, December Bride
    • Won by Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best

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