Mary Jeanette Robison (19 April 1858 – 20 October 1942), known professionally as May Robson, was an Australian-born American-based actress, whose career spanned 58 years, starting in 1883 when she was 25 years of age. A major stage actress of the late 19th and early 20th century, Robson is best known today for the dozens of 1930s motion pictures she appeared in when she was well into her 70s, usually playing cross old women with hearts of gold. Robson was the earliest-born person to enjoy a major Hollywood career and receive an Academy Award nomination, which she got for her leading role in ''Lady for a Day'' in 1933. She was also the first Australian to be nominated for an Oscar.

Early life

Mary Jeanette Robison was born on 19 April 1858 at Moama, in the Colony of New South Wales, in what Robson described as "the Australian bush". She was the fourth child of Julia, née Schlesinger (or Schelesinger) and Henry Robison; her siblings were Williams, James, and Adelaide. Henry Robison was born in Penrith, Cumberland, England and lived in Liverpool. He served 24 years in the foreign trade of the British Merchant Navy as a mate and a sea captain. Robison retired at half-pay due to his poor health and traveled with Julia Robison to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1853 on the SS ''Great Britain''. By April 1855, Henry was a watchmaker, jeweller, silversmith and ornamental hairworker in Melbourne. According to Robson, her parents both suffered from ''phthisis pulmonalis'', and moved to "the bush" for their heath. Henry bought a large brick mansion in Moama, New South Wales in August 1857 and opened the Prince of Wales Hotel. From there, he co-operated Robison and Stivens, coach proprietors for the Bendigo-Moama-Deniliquin service. The hotel was Robson's first home. Henry Robison died in Moama Maiden's Punt on 27 January 1860. On 19 November 1862, Julia married Walter Moore Miller, solicitor and mayor of Albury, New South Wales at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. Julia, Walter, and the four children moved to Melbourne in 1866. Miller was a partner with De Courcy Ireland in the firm of Miller and Ireland in Melbourne in November 1867, and until 20 January 1870, when it was mutually dissolved. In 1870, the family moved to London. Robson attended Sacred Heart Convent School at Highgate, north London and studied languages in Brussels. She went to Paris for her examinations in French. According to her obituary, Robson was also educated in Australia.

Marriages and children

Robson ran away from home to marry her first husband, 18 year-old Charles Leveson Gore, in London. They were married on 1 November 1875 at the parish church in Camden Town, London. The couple traveled on the steamer SS ''Vaderland'' and arrived in New York on 17 May 1877. The Gores purchased 380 acres of land in Fort Worth, Texas where they built a house and established a cattle ranch. According to Jan Jones, "the Gores survived two years in their prairie manor house before homesickness, rural isolation, and repeated bouts of fever convinced them to sell and try their fortunes in the more settled east." They moved to New York City with little money and Robson says that shortly after, Gore died. Robson produced crocheted hoods and embroidery, designed dinner cards, and taught painting to support her three children. By the time she began her acting career in 1883, two of Robson's three children had died due to illness. The surviving child was Edward Hyde Leveson Gore. Six years after beginning her stage career, Robson married Augustus Homer Brown, a police surgeon, on 29 May 1889. They remained together until his death on 1 April 1920. Robson's son, Edward Gore, was her business manager.


On 17 September 1883, she became an actress in ''Hoop of Gold'' at the Brooklyn Grand Opera House stage. Her name was incorrectly spelled "Robson" in the billing, which she used from that point forward "for good luck". Over the next several decades, she flourished on the stage as a comedian and character actress. Her success was partly due to her affiliation with powerful manager and producer Charles Frohman and the Theatrical Syndicate. She established her own touring theatrical company by 1911. She appeared as herself in a cameo in the 1915 silent film, ''How Molly Made Good''. Robson starred in the 1916 silent film ''A Night Out'', an adaptation of the play she co-wrote, ''The Three Lights''. In 1927, Robson went to Hollywood where she had a successful film career as a senior aged woman. Among her starring roles was in ''The She-Wolf'' (1931) as a miserly millionaire businesswoman based on the real-life miser Hetty Green. She also starred in the final segment of the anthology film ''If I Had a Million'' (1932) as a rest home resident who gets a new lease on life when she is given a $1,000,000 check by a dying business tycoon. She played the Queen of Hearts in ''Alice in Wonderland'' (1933), Countess Vronsky in ''Anna Karenina'' (1935), Aunt Elizabeth in ''Bringing Up Baby'' (1938), Aunt Polly in ''The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'' (1938), and a sharp-tongued Granny in ''A Star Is Born'' (1937). Robson was top-billed as late as 1940, starring in ''Granny Get Your Gun'' at age 82. Her last film was 1942's ''Joan of Paris''.

Academy Award nomination

In 1933, Robson was nominated for an Academy Award at age 75 in the Best Actress category for ''Lady for a Day'' but lost to Katharine Hepburn; both actresses later appeared in the Hepburn-Grant classic film, ''Bringing Up Baby'' (1938). Robson was the first Australian-born person to be nominated for an acting Oscar, and, for many years, she held the record as the oldest performer nominated for an Oscar.


May Robson died in 1942 at her Beverly Hills, California home at age 84. In its obituary of Robson, the ''Nevada State Journal'' stated that Robson died of "a combination of ailments, aggravated by neuritis and advanced age." Her remains were cremated and buried at the Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York, next to her second husband, Augustus Brown. The ''New York Times'' obituary for Robson called her the "dowager queen of the American screen and stage".



The following is a partial list of her stage performances: * ''Called Back'' (1884) * ''An Appeal to the Muse'' (1885) * ''Robert Elsmere'' (1889) * ''The Charity Ball'' (1890) * ''Nerves'', adapted from ''Les Femmes Nerveuses'' (1891) * ''Gloriana (1892) * ''Lady Bountiful'' (1892) * ''Americans Abroad'' (1893) * ''The Family Circle'' (1893) * ''The Poet and the Puppets'' (1893) * ''Squirrel Inn'' (1893) * ''No. 3A'' (1894) * ''As You Like It'' (1894) * ''Liberty Hall'' (1894) * ''The Fatal Card'' (1895) * ''The Importance of Being Earnest'' (1895) * ''A Woman's Reason'' (1895) * ''The First Born'' (1897) * ''His Excellency, The Governor'' (1900) * ''Are You a Mason?'' (1901) * ''Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall'' (1904) * ''Cousin Billy'' (1905–1907) * ''The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary'' (1907) * ''The Three Lights (A Night Out)'' (1911)



* ''The Terrible Kids'' (1906)short * ''Getting Evidence'' (1907)short * ''How Molly Made Good'' (1915) - Herself * ''A Night Out'' (1916) - Granmum * ''Snow White'' (1916) - Hex Witch(*replaced originally scheduled Alice Washburn) * ''Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'' (1920) - Prostitute outside of music hall (uncredited) * ''Pals in Paradise'' (1926) - Esther Lezinsky * ''Rubber Tires'' (1927) - Mrs. Stack * ''The King of Kings'' (1927) - Mother of Gestas * ''The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary'' (1927) - Aunt Mary Watkins * ''The Angel of Broadway'' (1927) - Big Bertha * ''A Harp in Hock'' (1927) - Mrs. Banks * ''Turkish Delight'' (1927) - Tsakran * ''Chicago'' (1927) - Mrs. Morton - Matron * ''The Blue Danube'' (1928)


* ''The She-Wolf'' (1931) - Harriet Breen * ''Letty Lynton'' (1932) - Mrs. Lynton, Letty's Mother * ''Red-Headed Woman'' (1932) - Aunt Jane * ''Strange Interlude'' (1932) - Mrs. Evans * ''Little Orphan Annie'' (1932) - Mrs. Stewart * ''If I Had a Million'' (1932) - Mrs. Mary Walker * ''Men Must Fight'' (1933) - Maman Seward * ''The White Sister'' (1933) - Mother Superior * ''Reunion in Vienna'' (1933) - Frau Lucher * ''Dinner at Eight'' (1933) - Mrs. Wendel, the cook * ''One Man's Journey'' (1933) - Sarah * ''Broadway to Hollywood'' (1933) - Veteran Actress * ''Beauty for Sale'' (1933) - Mrs. Merrick * ''Lady for a Day'' (1933) - Apple Annie * ''The Solitaire Man'' (1933) - Mrs. Vail * ''Dancing Lady'' (1933) - Dolly Todhunter * ''Alice in Wonderland'' (1933) - Queen of Hearts * ''You Can't Buy Everything'' (1934) - Mrs. Hannah Bell * ''Straight Is the Way'' (1934) - Mrs. Horowitz * ''Lady by Choice'' (1934) - Patricia Patterson * ''Mills of the Gods'' (1934) - Mary Hastings * ''Grand Old Girl'' (1935) - Laura Bayles * ''Vanessa: Her Love Story'' (1935) - Madame Judith Paris * ''Reckless'' (1935) - Granny * ''Strangers All'' (1935) - Anna Carter * ''Age of Indiscretion'' (1935) - Emma Shaw * ''Anna Karenina'' (1935) - Countess Vronsky * ''Three Kids and a Queen'' (1935) - Mary Jane 'Queenie' Baxter * ''Wife vs. Secretary'' (1936) - Mimi Stanhope * ''The Captain's Kid'' (1936) - Aunt Marcia Prentiss * ''Rainbow on the River'' (1936) - Mrs. Harriet Ainsworth * ''Woman in Distress'' (1937) - Phoebe Tuttle * ''A Star Is Born'' (1937) - Grandmother Lettie Blodgett * ''The Perfect Specimen'' (1937) - Mrs. Leona Wicks * ''The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'' (1938) - Aunt Polly * ''Bringing Up Baby'' (1938) - Aunt Elizabeth * ''Four Daughters'' (1938) - Aunt Etta * ''The Texans'' (1938) - Granna * ''They Made Me a Criminal'' (1939) - Grandma * ''Yes, My Darling Daughter'' (1939) - 'Granny' Whitman * ''The Kid from Kokomo'' (1939) - Margaret 'Maggie' / 'Ma' Manell * ''Daughters Courageous'' (1939) - Penny, the Housekeeper * ''Nurse Edith Cavell'' (1939) - Mme. Rappard * ''That's Right—You're Wrong'' (1939) - Grandma * ''Four Wives'' (1939) - Aunt Etta * ''Granny Get Your Gun''(1940) - Minerva Hatton * ''Irene'' (1940) - Granny O'Dare * ''Texas Rangers Ride Again'' (1940) - Cecilia Dangerfield * ''Four Mothers'' (1941) - Aunt Etta * ''Million Dollar Baby'' (1941) - Cornelia Wheelwright * ''Playmates'' (1941) - Grandma Kyser * ''Joan of Paris'' (1942) - Mlle. Rosay (final film role)

See also

* List of Australian Academy Award winners and nominees * List of oldest and youngest Academy Award winners and nominees



Further reading


External links

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young May Robson
(unknown photographer) {{DEFAULTSORT:Robson, May Category:1858 births Category:1942 deaths Category:19th-century American actresses Category:20th-century American actresses Category:Disease-related deaths in California Category:American film actresses Category:Australian film actresses Category:American silent film actresses Category:Australian silent film actresses Category:20th-century Australian actresses Category:American stage actresses Category:Australian stage actresses Category:Actresses from Melbourne Category:Australian expatriate actresses in the United States Category:Burials at Flushing Cemetery Category:19th-century Australian women