Jimmy Stewart’s Movie Mom

Happy Mother’s Day this weekend! One famous movie mom was Beulah Bondi’s portrayal of Ma Baily in It’s a Wonderful Life. It was a great performance, including a touching scene with her son George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, as she sends him off to court Mary Hatch, played by Donna Reed. At the other extreme, in an alternate reality in the same movie, Bondi plays a bitter and angry version of the character who does not recognize her son.

Did you know that Beulah Bondi played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in a total of four movies? She also was his mother in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Vivacious Lady (1938 ), and Of Human Hearts (1938).

I did recently catch her as Stewart’s mom in Of Human Hearts on the Turner Classic Movies Channel. In that movie, she plays a faithful mother to Jimmy Stewart’s ungrateful son, resulting in Bondi’s second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I learned of the persistent Stewart-Bondi connection from Robert Osborne on TCM when the movie ended. This “Top Ten Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life” also notes the connection.

I have not seen Vivacious Lady, which finally became available on DVD after this original post was written. Bondi makes a brief appearance in this trailer for Vivacious Lady at around the 2:35 mark.

Beulah Bondi gave memorable performances in other movies, including Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), where she played an abandoned mother, and Our Town (1940), where again she played a mother but not to Stewart. Her other Oscar nomination resulted from The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), where she did not play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. Bondi regretted not playing the role of Ma Joad in Grapes of Wrath (1940), where she missed portraying the mother of Stewart’s good friend, Henry Fonda.

Bondi appeared on several television shows, winning an Emmy for a performance as Aunt Martha Corinne Walton on a 1976 episode of The Waltons. Her TV work also occasionally reunited her with Stewart. IMDb notes that Bondi played Stewart’s mother in one episode of The Jimmy Stewart Television Show (1971). Earlier, she appeared in one 1957 episode of G.E. True Theater, called “A Town with a Past,” with Stewart, although apparently not as his mother.

In movies today, producers’ obsession with an actress’s age sometimes lead them to cast a mother who is in reality too young to be the mother of the actor son. For example, in The Fighter (2010), Melissa Leo played Mark Wahlberg’s mother while being only 11 years older than him. But in Bondi’s case, she was a more realistic age to play Stewart’s mother. She was born May 3, 1888 and Stewart was born May 20, 1908, which would have made her 20 years old when she gave birth to the fictional James Stewart.

In real life, one of the movies’ greatest moms never married and never became a mother herself, passing away in 1981. But Bondi’s warm portrayal of movie mothers gives her a special place in the hearts of anyone who loves old movies or moms. So Happy Mother’s Day to Beulah Bondi, to my mom, to the other mothers out there, and to all those who were born by mothers.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Bryan Cranston As LBJ in “All the Way” (Short Review)
  • Robert Osborne & The Beverly Hillbillies
  • The Circus Town’s Been Born
  • “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Short Review)
  • Gary Cooper’s Three Oscars
  • TCM Remembers Entertainers We Lost in 2013
  • (Some Related Chimesfreedom Posts)