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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,292


This is the grave of Cornelia Otis Skinner.

Born in 1899 in Chicago, Skinner was the child of actors and so she ended up in the family business. Her parents were pretty well off and she went to all the good schools–Bryn Mawr and then theater at the Sorbonne in Paris. Skinner started working professionally in 1921 and had lots of stage appearances in these years. Skinner was never a huge film star, but she was a big time figure in the world of stage and humorous writing. She developed a one woman show in the late 20s based on her own characters that is considered a serious addition of the one person stage show, as this sort of thing was not common. These shows were usually pretty humorous and in fact she was a good enough humor writer than many of her stories were published, including in The New Yorker.

Skinner also was very big into biographical plays and a number of her one-woman shows focused on a single figure, including in such titles as The Wives of Henry VIII from 1931 and The Empress Eugenie in from 1932. She also published quite a few essay collections in these years, including Tiny Garments in 1932, Excuse It, Please! in 1936, and Dithers and Jitters in 1937. As the titles suggest, these were usually of her humor pieces. Then in 1942, with her friend the journalist Emily Kimbrough, she wrote Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, a memoir of the post-college trip to Europe the two of them took. Writing this at a moment when Europe was blowing itself up must have been something. Later, the book was adapted into a film and both consulted on it. Gail Russell and Diane Lynn starred in the 1944 production.

Skinner was on Broadway, she appeared with Orson Welles on radio programs, she showed up in films from time to time, she wrote plays. Her 1958 play The Pleasure of His Company was adapted into a 1961 film with Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds, though I haven’t seen it.

Skinner was really the ultimate respected actor/artist/insider and while she was never a huge STAR as we would think of the Hollywood ferment, she was kind of everywhere for her entire life. Later, she wrote a biography of Sarah Bernhardt and a book about the Belle Epoque. She loved France, no doubt about that.

Skinner would also show up on TV now and then, sometimes in the kind of small roles that defined early television and gave work to a lot of actors who were not as big as they once were. But she also showed up as a representative of an era where the intellectual/artist was a known person and so would appear on talk shows and even game shows.

Skinner married a man named Alden Blodget in 1928 and remained married to him until his 1964 death. She died in 1979, at the age of 80.

Let’s watch or listen to a bit of Skinner’s work:

Cornelia Otis Skinner is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River, Massachusetts, next to her husband. I don’t know as if she ever spent any time in Fall River, really; it was always a working class town and very much remains so today. But her husband must have been wanted to be buried at his home and she joined him there.

If you would like this series to visit some of the actors in Pleasure of His Company, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Fred Astaire is in Los Angeles and so is Debbie Reynolds. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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