Classic Movie Travels: Josephine Hutchinson
Seattle Washington and New York City
While the name Josephine Hutchinson may not immediately come to mind when reflecting upon the stars of the 1930s, Josephine showed great promise as a Warner Brothers star. With acting in her blood and a formal education in dramatics, Josephine appeared in a string of films and was poised for success as a film actress.
Josephine D. Hutchinson was born on October 12th, 1903, in Seattle Washington to aspiring actress Leona Celinda Doty or Leona Roberts and Charles James Hutchinson. Her father was a proprietor at a fuel, sand, and goods store and her mother was an actress. On September 20th, 1909, Josephine’s little brother, O’Neil Tom Hutchinson, joined the family. The Hutchinsons remained in Seattle through 1920 until Leona and Charles divorced.
Leona’s ambitions to become an actress led her to debut on Broadway in 1926, causing her to appear in about 40 productions between 1926 and 1945. Most of her roles were supporting ones. In fact, her younger sister, Edith Roberts, was a film actress with experience as a child performer in vaudeville prior to arriving in Hollywood in 1915. Edith would achieve over 150 screen credits before retiring from acting in 1929 and passing away six years later.
At the same time as her Broadway debut, Leona also began a film career as the lead in Poor Mrs. Jones (1926), produced by the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1937, she went to Hollywood and played in over 40 films, again in mostly motherly or supporting roles. She is best known for her portrayal of society gossip Mrs. Meade in Gone with the Wind (1939) alongside Harry Davenport, who played Doctor Meade. She can also be spotted in Bringing Up Baby (1938) with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, Of Human Hearts (1938) with James Stewart, and The Blue Bird (1940) with Shirley Temple.
Through her mother’s show business connections, Josephine was able to make her film debut at the age of 13 in alongside Mary Pickford in The Little Princess (1917). Afterwards, Josephine enrolled at the Cornish School of Music and Drama and then relocated to New York City. There, she started to act in live theater. Once the 1920s arrived, Josephine transitioned from working in silent films to talkies.
Around this time, Josephine met stage director Robert W. Bell. While they were married in 1924, she met actress Eva La Gallienne and became involved in an affair with her in 1927. Josephine worked as a member of Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre company and garnered much critical praise for her work as Alice in the 1932 production of Alice in Wonderland. Robert and Josephine separated in 1928 and were divorced in 1930. The press became intrigued and wrote about Josephine as Eva’s lover. Despite the scandal, both actresses were able to continue on with their individual careers. While Josephine would marry twice more–next to James F. Townsend in 1935 until their divorce, and then to Staats Jennings Cotsworth Jr. on September 23, 1972, until his death in 1979–Eva did not marry.
Josephine was soon signed to a contract with Warner Brothers and appeared in her first credited role as Joan Bradford in Happiness Ahead (1934) alongside Dick Powell and Frank McHugh. She plays a society heiress who rebels against her mother’s choice of a future husband and pretends to be working class girl. Along the way, she begins dating a window washer. After portraying Joan Bradford, Josephine went on to fulfill several other film roles. Among her many film roles, she can be seen in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), in Universal’s Son of Frankenstein (1939) as Elsa von Frankenstein, in Love is Better Than Ever (1952), and in North by Northwest (1959) as Mrs. Townsend.
Josephine’s career spanned through film, television, and radio, and granted her many opportunities to work as a supporting actress. She made four guest appearances on Perry Mason between 1958 and 1962. Additionally, Josephine appeared in Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, and Gunsmoke.
After carrying out a career that spanned several decades, Josephine passed away on June 4th, 1998, at the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home in Manhattan. Her brother died on December 31st, 1979, in Beaverton, Oregon. Josephine had no children and her ashes were scattered near her niece’s home in Springfield, Oregon.
While Josephine is no longer with us, there are several places of relevance to her life that exist to this day. In 1910, the Hutchinson family was living at 965 20th Ave in Seattle, Washington. Here is a picture of the property today, which is privately owned:
By 1920, the family moved to 1620 32nd Ave in Seattle, Washington. The property is privately owned. Here is what it looks like today:
Josephine’s alma mater, the Cornish School of Music and Drama, has now grown into the Cornish College of the Arts. It is located at 1000 Lenora St in Seattle, Washington. It is now nationally recognized as a premier college for the visual and performing arts, and as one of only three fully accredited private colleges in the entire nation dedicated to educating both performing and visual artists in an interrelated manner. This is the school as it stands today:
In the 1970s, Josephine moved to New York. She resided at 360 E. 55th St in New York, New York. Here is the property today:
The Florence Nightingale Nursing Home is no longer in operation due to several violations.
I strongly encourage you to remember Josephine and her career by watching Happiness Ahead, among many of her other works.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.