Periodically on this blog, we go through the lives of famous extra fat folks of the past simply for fun. Up to now we’ve viewed Sophie Tucker and Marie Dressler. Today we are talking about Jane Darwell. Fats people are underrepresented in Hollywood greatly, and even though they actually have a good role, positive portrayals seem few and between far.
It’s beneficial to remember that there already have been quite a few fat folk who have quietly got real accomplishments even if they often get overlooked. Jane Darwell was an actress whose career spanned the stage, silent movies, and talkies, and who received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
She was created Patti Woodard to a well-off family in Missouri in 1879. Her father was president of the railroad company. She was bit by the performing bug and flirted with the options of circus rider and opera vocalist before deciding to be an actress. Within an era when acting was considered a disreputable occupation for ladies, she chose to change her name to “Darwell” so she wouldn’t embarrass her family.
She started her profession in stage productions in Chicago, appeared in her first film in 1913 in her middle-30s then. After working in films for a while, she visited the stage for 15 years back again. In 1930, she returned to films with “Tom Sawyer,” and got an active profession on both film and stage thereafter.
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The best roles of her profession were as an older actress. Because she was seen as “short, stout, and basic,” she played character parts always, usually the grandmother, the housekeeper, etc. She made an appearance in five Shirley Temple movies in those types of character types. Here she is up to now another maid on the group of “Craig’s Wife,” looking at a script with Rosalind Russell.
Most often, though, she played the mother of one of the main characters. She was viewed as the quintessential mother figure, ironic since she had children herself never. In “Gone with the Wind,” she played Mrs. Dolly Merriwether, a Southern matron and society gossip. On this role, she was noted for having a booming vocal and physical presence on screen. Hollywood. She wore trousers, rode astride, and was a take-charge woman in a sexist frontier town in this old Western about the moral dilemma of capital consequence.
However, it was her role as Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) that received Darwell the most acclaim. Her quiet power in keeping her family despite the tests of the fantastic Unhappiness together, the Dust Bowl, losing the family farm, and the hard life of migrant plantation work was the heart of the film in lots of ways. Among her most effective scenes was of Ma Joad silently going right through her things in her house as the family is about to leave it permanently.
She talks about her mementos, saying farewell mentally, burning most of them because she knows they have no place in her new life. She holds a set of nice earrings up to her ears one final time, remembering better times but realizing she’ll never wear them again. Mournfully but resolutely, she leaves them behind. The director, John Ford, doesn’t rush the scene or clutter it up with dialogue.