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About Spring Dell Byington
Spring Byington was an American actress. Her career included a seven-year run on radio and television as the star of December Bride. She was a key MGM contract player appearing in films from the 1930s through the 1960s.
She was born on October 17, 1886 in Spring Dell Byington in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She had one younger sister, Helene Kimball Byington, born September 4, 1890, in Colorado. Their father was Professor 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 daughter Helene to live with her parents, Arthur and Charlotte Cleghorn, in Port Hope, Ontario while Spring remained with family in Denver. Her mother moved to Boston and became a student at the Boston University School of Medicine where she graduated in 1896. After graduation she moved back to Denver, Colorado, and began a practice with fellow graduate, Dr. Mary Ford.
Byington played in amateur shows in her school days and graduated from North High School in 1904, and shortly afterward, at age 14, became a professional actress with the Elitch Garden Stock Company. Her mother had been a friend of Mary Elitch. When her mother died in 1907, Byington and her sister were legally adopted by their aunt Margaret, wife of Rice Eugene Eddy. However, Byington was already of legal age and took her inheritance to begin an acting career in New York.
In 1910, Byington joined a repertory company that was touring Buenos Aires, Argentina. At 24, she married the company's manager, Roy Carey Chandler; the couple remained in South America for eight years where she became fluent in Spanish. In 1916, she returned to New York where she gave birth to daughters Phyllis (born 1916) and Lois (born 1917). Their marriage ended in about 1920.
Upon returning to New York, Byington 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 the 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 on Broadway, Byington 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, which was won by Fay Bainter for Jezebel (in which Byington also had a role, as antebellum society matron Mrs. Kendrick).
During World War II, Byington 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 Byington. 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, Byington appeared in the Western series Laramie with 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.
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.
Byington was an extremely intelligent and energetic woman throughout her life. She spoke Spanish fluently, which she learned during the time spent with her husband in Buenos Aires, and she 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."
Byington was fascinated by metaphysics and science fiction novels, including George Orwell's 1984. She surprised her co-stars of December Bride with her knowledge of the Earth's satellites and constellations in the night sky.
In August 1955 she began taking flying lessons in Glendale, California, but the studio made her stop because of insurance problems.
Byington's sister Helene married Raleigh Stanhope and had one son, Phillip Stanhope, who was killed at Normandy in 1944 at the age of 34. He was married to Rosannah Milam of Cartersville, Georgia; they had no children. He is mentioned by Byington during her radio show performance as guest star on Amos and Andy ("Turkey Trouble", 1945). Her ancestors can be traced back to David Byington, born in Farmington, Connecticut, in 1702.
She died on September 7, 1971. Her body was donated her body to medical science.