Sunday, January 10, 2010

Underrated Performers of the Week: Patricia Collinge and Edna May Wonacott

(Pictured: Edna May Wonacott - seated in front; standing, left to right - Patricia Collinge, Charles Bates, Joseph Cotten and Henry Travers in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt)

This week our spotlight on supporting players takes a look at two standout members of the superb cast of Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 masterwork, Shadow of a Doubt: Patricia Collinge, a veteran stage actress in her second film outing, and Edna May Wonacott, a fledgling actress in her first role.

Patricia Collinge was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1892 and went on the London stage at the age of 18. In 1907, she and her mother emigrated to the U.S. where Collinge found steady work in American theater for the next 45 years.

Collinge originated the role of Birdie Hubbard in the 1939 Broadway production of Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes." She was again cast in the part when the play was adapted to film in 1941. It was her film debut and she garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Collinge's next film was equally auspicious - she was cast in Alfred Hitchcock's great classic, Shadow of a Doubt (several sources concur that she was also involved with script re-writes on the film). She made only seven films in her career and is primarily remembered for those first two. Both characters, Birdie in The Little Foxes and Emma Newton in Shadow of a Doubt, shared a certain tremulous, high-strung quality, but the two existed in very different milieus. Birdie, sensitive and tentative, was crushed by the avaricious and carnivorous Hubbard family; Emma is affectionately respected by the gentler Newton clan and is secure in her position at home and in the community. Collinge depicts both characters in fine detail.

Patricia Collinge's last film was The Nun's Story (1959) with Audrey Hepburn. She appeared on various TV drama anthology programs of the 1950s and in series TV of the 1960s. She passed away in New York City in 1974 at the age of 81.

Edna May Wonacott was born in Willits, California, in 1932. The daughter of a local area grocer, she was discovered by Alfred Hitchcock, who had set Shadow of a Doubt in bucolic Santa Rosa, California, and was using the town's citizens as extras in the film. He selected 9-year-old Edna May to portray Ann, younger sister of the protagonist, Charlie Newton, and daughter of Emma Newton (Collinge). Observant Ann was the one member of the family to be skeptical of charming Uncle Charlie from the beginning.

Following the success of Shadow of a Doubt, Wonacott and family moved to Southern California where she pursued an acting career for a time. She had small roles in only six more films, including the Leo McCarey classic, The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), and appeared on television, but left her career in the early 1950s to marry and raise a family.

Though Edna May Wonacott's career was brief, her striking performance as the smart, self-possessed bookworm, Ann Newton, earned her a place in the hearts of Hitchcock aficiondados and classic film buffs everywhere. She brought an appealing piquancy to each of her scenes and hardly seemed a novice onscreen with the likes of Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn, Wallace Ford, Macdonald Carey and Collinge.

Wonacott, now a great-grandmother, lives in Arizona.

Patricia Collinge
The Little Foxes (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Tender Comrade (1943), Casanova Brown (1944), Teresa (1951), Washington Story (1952),The Nun's Story (1959)

Edna May Wonacott
Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hi, Beautiful (1944), Under Western Skies (1945), This Love is Ours (1945), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Sunny Side of the Street (1951), The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951)


  1. Eve,what a wonderful choice. This is one of my wifes all time favorite films and is in my top 5 Hitchcock films. The casting of this film is amazing. The whole cast works so well with each other and makes it look so real and natural, which as you know is not easy. Not a false move in the entire film

  2. Eve, I love this tribute! Patricia Collinge is delightfully warm and loving as the mother of the Newton family and sister of Uncle Charlie. Edna May Wonacott is impeccable as the observant youngest daughter, Ann. About "Shadow of a Doubt," I love the scene of Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) first emerging from the train that has just emitted enormous black clouds of smoke, a harbinger of his true nature. When he takes the final train there is very little smoke and it is a very light color. Excellent post, Eve, and I really enjoyed your succinct writing.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. "Dial H" will post tomorrow morning and I hope you will check it out and add your impressions and opinions. Shadow of a Doubt has so much going on in it...and both of you who mentioned two aspects - an unbelievable cast and different methods of emphasizing the action, the nature of the characters, etc. - Thanks again...

  4. Eve, these actresses are both excellent choices for our weekly honors! I justed watched SHADOW OF A DOUBT this weekend and was thoroughly engaged by the natural, believable performances of Edna May Wonacott and Patricia Coolinge. Some reviews focus on the humor provided by Ms. Wonacott's character Ann and, while that's true, Ann's subtle suspicions of Uncle Charlie are a treat (e.g., her reaction to her father's newspaper being used for the paper house). I didn't know she was in THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S, which also featured Una O'Connor, last week's Underrated Performer of the Week. As for Patricia Coolinge, I love her performance in SHADOW, too, especially the scenes where she eagerly recalls youthful times with her brother, perhaps before he hated the world. I want to see THE LITTLE FOXES again now, so I can contrast her two best-known performances. Thanks for a superb post!

  5. Thank you, Rick. I watched Shadow again the other night and was attuned to Edna May's performance, particuarly her reaction to Uncle Charlie. I also like the scene in which she asks if she can switch seats with her younger brother at's clear she no longer wants to sit next to her Uncle. I enjoy watching Collinge, too. She's so skillful. I was surprised to find out she was Irish, by the way. I've not seen her film Teresa, but understand she plays against type in it as an unsympathetic mother figure.

  6. Thank you for the article on Patricia Collinge, she was a very talented lady, apart from acting as well, having written articles for the New Yorker. I met her on only two occasions, the last time in her later years when I went with my father (cousin) to visit her. We enjoyed watching 'Shadow of a Doubt' again tonite. It is nice to see her appreciated here.
    Thank You again, J. (Collinge) Walker