Cornelia Otis Skinner

Cornelia Otis Skinner (May 30, 1899 – July 9, 1979) was an American author and actress.

Cornelia Otis Skinner
Skinner in 1955
Born(1899-05-30)May 30, 1899
DiedJuly 9, 1979(1979-07-09) (aged 80)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeOak Grove Cemetery, Fall River, Massachusetts
OccupationActress, playwright, screenwriter, diseuse
Years active1920–1970
Spouse(s)Alden Sanford Blodget (1928–1964) (his death) (1 child)
Parent(s)Otis Skinner
Maud Durbin


Skinner was the daughter of the actor Otis Skinner and actress Maud Durbin. After attending the all-girls' Baldwin School and Bryn Mawr College (1918–1919) and studying theatre at the Sorbonne in Paris, she began her career on the stage in 1921. She appeared in several plays before embarking on a tour of the United States from 1926 to 1929 in a one-woman performance of short character sketches she herself wrote. She wrote numerous short humorous pieces for publications such as The New Yorker. These pieces were eventually compiled into a series of books, including Nuts in May, Dithers and Jitters, Excuse It Please!, and The Ape in Me, among others.

In a "comprehensive study" of Skinner's work, G. Bruce Loganbill (1961) refers to Skinner's scripts as "monologue-dramas," which were extensions of the "linked monologues" developed by Ruth Draper. Skinner's work differed in structure and content however, creating and performing full-length monologue-dramas that were based on the lives of historical figures. Such work was a "unique" and important contribution to the one-person show in America.[1]

With Emily Kimbrough, she wrote Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, a light-hearted description of their European tour after college. Kimbrough and Skinner went to Hollywood to act as consultants on the film version of the book, which resulted in the film of the same name, with Gail Russell playing Skinner. Skinner was portrayed by Bethel Leslie (replaced by Gloria Stroock) in the short-lived 1950 television series The Girls, based upon Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.[2] In 1952, her one-woman show Paris '90 (music and lyrics by Kay Swift) premiered on Broadway. An original cast recording was produced by Goddard Lieberson for Columbia Records, now available on compact disc. In later years Skinner wrote Madame Sarah (a biography of Sarah Bernhardt) and Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals about the Belle Epoque. She appeared with Orson Welles on The Campbell Playhouse radio play of "American Cavalcade: The Things We Have" on May 26, 1939.[3]

In a 1944 conversation with Victor Borge, Skinner reportedly told the Danish comedian that she decided to drop the term "diseuse" from her act after reading in a Scottish newspaper: "Cornelia Otis Skinner, the American disease, gave a program last night."[4]


As an actress

As herself


Novels and biographies

  • Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (with Emily Kimbrough, 1942; Dodd, Mead and Company Inc.)
  • Family Circle (1948) – an autobiographical work (entitled Happy Family in the UK)
  • Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals (1962) – a book about Paris' Belle Epoque
  • Madame Sarah (1967) – a biography of Sarah Bernhardt.
  • Life with Lindsay and Crouse (1976) – a biography of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.
  • Cast of One: One Person Shows from the Chautauqua Platform to the Broadway Stage (1989)- Section on Skinner

Essay compilations

  • Tiny Garments (1932)
  • Excuse It, Please! (1936)
  • Dithers and Jitters (1937)
  • Soap Behind the Ears (1941)
  • Popcorn (1943)
  • That's Me All Over (1948) – a collection of the best essays from the prior 4 compilations.
  • Nuts in May (1950)
  • Bottoms Up! (1955) Dodd, Mead, and Company, New York
  • The Ape in Me (1959)

Playwriting, screenwriting, scriptwriting

  • Edna, His Wife (1937), play based on the 1935 novel of the same name by Margaret Ayer Barnes
  • The Girls (1950) TV series
  • The Pleasure of His Company (1958) play (adapted as a film in 1961)


  • The Wives of Henry VIII (1931)
  • The Empress Eugenie (1932)
  • The Loves of Charles II (1933)
  • The Mansion on the Hudson (1935)


  • Skinner, Cornelia Otis (January 7, 1950). "Those Friends of His". The New Yorker. 25 (46): 27–29. Humorous autobiographical piece.


  1. Gentile, John S. (1989). Cast of One. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 112.
  2. Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows - 1946-Present (9 ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 540. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  3. "The Campbell Playhouse: American Cavalcade". Orson Welles on the Air, 1938–1946. Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  4. Hopper, Hedda (June 2, 1944). "Screen has Taken Over 'Duffy's Tavern'". The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah). p. 14. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  5. What's My Line? - Cornelia Otis Skinner; Dore Schary (panel) (Mar 29, 1959)

Further reading

  • "Cornelia Skinner papers". Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester.
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