Margaret Wycherly

Apart from a supporting role in "Midnight" (1934), Wycherly did not work again in film until 1940. She had successfully managed the transition to character parts on stage, perhaps most memorably in "Tobacco Road" (1933), in the kind of role, a Georgia backwoods dweller, she would often play later in Hollywood. Her features interestingly hardened and her voice harsh and stony, Wycherly made a vivid, Oscar-nominated impression as the stoic mother of a gentle hillbilly (Gary Cooper) who becomes a WWI hero in the patriotic biopic "Sergeant York" (1941). Hollywood work was steady after that for the next dozen years; Wycherly played variations on stern rural earth mothers in films including "The Yearling" (1946), but she also played a decent variety of sympathetic and villainous ethnic roles in films like "Hangmen Also Die" (1943) and "The Loves of Carmen" (1948).1949 saw Wycherly at her screen peak in what is thankfully her best-remembered film role. She may have played maternal types, but it was often tough love with her, and love between mother and son was never made of meaner stuff than in Raoul Walsh's galvanizing gangster landmark "White Heat." As the psychotic but simmering mother of the decidedly more demonstrative James Cagney, Wycherly made an unforgettable impression incestuously cradling her grown son on her lap while they plot their every heist. She made a handful of other films into the 50s, and played another possessive mother on the short-lived comedy-drama series "Claudia: The Story of a Marriage" (NBC, 1952) starring Joan McCracken, before her death in 1956.