May Whitty

Dame Mary Louise Webster, DBE (19 June 1865 – 29 May 1948), known professionally as May Whitty and later, for her charity work, Dame May Whitty, was an English stage and film actress. She was one of the first two women entertainers to become a Dame. The British actors union Equity was established in her home. After a successful career she moved over to Hollywood films at the age of 72. She went to live in America, where she won awards for her film roles.

May Whitty

Mary Louise Whitty

(1865-06-19)19 June 1865
Liverpool, Lancashire, England, UK
Died29 May 1948(1948-05-29) (aged 82)
Occupationstage and screen Actress
Years active18811948
Ben Webster
(m. 1892; died 1947)
RelativesMargaret Webster (daughter)


Born in Liverpool, England, to William Alfred Whitty (ca. 1837–1876) and Mary Louisa (née Ashton, ca. 1837–1894). Her grandfather was, Michael James Whitty, Chief Constable in Liverpool and founder of the Liverpool Daily Post.[1] She made her first stage appearance in Liverpool in 1881, later moving to London to appear in the West End.

She married actor-manager Ben Webster in 1892 in St Giles's Parish Church, London, and in 1895 they visited the United States, where Whitty appeared on Broadway. Their first child, a son, died at birth. Their only surviving child, a daughter born in New York in 1905, Margaret Webster, was a producer and held dual US/UK citizenship. She was chair of the Actresses' Franchise League.[1] Whitty's stage career continued for the rest of her life. In March 1910, she made her transition to middle-aged and elderly character roles, playing Amelia Madras in Harley Granville-Barker's four-act comedy The Madras House.[2] In March 1922, she played the role of Mrs. Bennet before the Queen in a benefit performance of Pride and Prejudice. She acted opposite her husband, who performed its Mr. Darcy.[3]


In the 1918 New Year Honours, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE, gazetted under her legal married name Mary Louise Webster) in recognition of her charitable work during the First World War for the Three Arts Women's Employment Fund and the British Women's Hospitals Committee.[1] She was the first film and stage actress to receive a damehood, along with the opera singer Nellie Melba, who was also thus honoured in 1918.

Film career and death

I've got everything Betty Grable has—I've just had it longer.[2]

Whitty made her Hollywood film debut at the age of 72, recreating her 1935 stage role in the Hollywood film Night Must Fall (1937), which also starred Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. She received an Oscar nomination. This led to several supporting roles in films, including that of the vanishing lady, Miss Froy, in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938).[1]

She moved permanently to the USA (although she never became a US citizen) in 1939 and appeared both on stage and in Hollywood films, usually playing wealthy dowagers. It was one such part, as Lady Beldon in Mrs. Miniver (1942), that brought her a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[1]

She continued to act for the remainder of her life and died on 29 May 1948 in Beverly Hills, California, from cancer at the age of 82;[1] her husband had died the previous year during surgery.


See also


  1. "Webster, Benjamin (1864–1947), actor | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-36806#odnb-9780198614128-e-36806-headword-2. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: forty familiar Hollywood faces from the thirties to the fifties. Jefferson, N.C.: Mcfarland & Co. p. 209. ISBN 0786427469.
  3. Looser, Devoney (2017). The Making of Jane Austen. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 106. ISBN 1421422824.
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