Monty Woolley

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Monty Woolley
Monty Wooley 1949.JPG
Born Edgar Montillion Woolley
(1888-08-17)August 17, 1888
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Died May 6, 1963(1963-05-06) (aged 74)
Albany, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Actor, stage director
Known for The Man Who Came to Dinner

Monty Woolley (August 17, 1888 – May 6, 1963) was an American stage, film, radio, and television actor.[1] At the age of 50, he achieved a measure of stardom for his best-known role in the stage play and 1942 film The Man Who Came to Dinner. His distinctive white beard was "his trademark"[2] and he was affectionately known as "The Beard."[3]

Early life

Woolley was born Edgar Montillion Woolley[4] in Manhattan to a wealthy family (his father owned the Bristol Hotel) and grew up in the highest social circles. Woolley received a bachelor's degree at Yale University, where Cole Porter was an intimate friend and classmate, and master's degrees from Yale and Harvard University.[5] He eventually became an assistant professor of English and dramatic coach at Yale.[6] Thornton Wilder and Stephen Vincent Benét were among his students. He served in World War I in the United States Army as a first lieutenant assigned to the general staff in Paris.[5]

Acting career

Woolley's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, showing the television emblem, though his official category is "Motion Pictures"
Hollywood Walk of Fame, 6542 Hollywood Blvd.

Woolley began directing on Broadway in 1929,[7] and began acting there in 1936 after leaving his academic career. In 1939 he starred in the Kaufman and Hart comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner for 783 performances. It was for this well-reviewed role he was typecast as the wasp-tongued, supercilious sophisticate.[8][9]

Like Clifton Webb, Woolley signed with 20th Century Fox in the 1940s and appeared in many films through the mid-1950s. His most famous film role was one which he first performed on Broadway, that of a cranky radio wag restricted to a wheelchair because of a seemingly injured hip in 1942's The Man Who Came to Dinner, a caricature of the legendary pundit Alexander Woollcott. The film received a good review from the New York Times.[9] He played himself in Warner Bros.' fictionalized film biography of Cole Porter, Night and Day (1946), and the role of Professor Wutheridge in The Bishop's Wife (1947).

He was also a frequent radio presence as a guest performer, from the time he first appeared in the medium as a foil to Al Jolson.[10] Woolley became a familiar guest presence on such shows as The Fred Allen Show, Duffy's Tavern, The Big Show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and others. In 1950, Woolley landed the starring role in the NBC series The Magnificent Montague. He played a former Shakespearean actor whose long fall onto hard times forced him to swallow his pride and take a role on daily network radio, becoming an unlikely star while sparring with his wife, Lily (Anne Seymour); and, his wise-cracking maid, Agnes (Pert Kelton). The show lasted from November 1950 through September 1951.[11]

Monty Woolley's concrete tile showing, from the top, the words "My beard" adjoining his beard imprint, the inscription "To Sid [Grauman] Wish you were here", his signature, the date "5-28-43", and his handprints
Hand and beard print at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Woolley appeared on television at first in cameos, then his own dramatic play series On Stage with Monty Woolley.[6] He starred in a CBS TV adaptation of The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1954,[12] which he and some reviewers lambasted,[13][14] and appeared in other televised dramas in the series Best of Broadway.[8][12][15]

After completing his last film, Kismet (1955), he returned to radio for about a year, after which he was forced to retire due to ill health.

Woolley was nominated twice for an Academy Award, as Best Actor in 1943 for The Pied Piper and as Best Supporting Actor in 1945 for Since You Went Away. He won a Best Actor award from the National Board of Review in 1942 for his role in The Pied Piper.

His handprints and beard were impressed in the pavement of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1943.[2][16] Woolley received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, officially listed in the "Motion Picture" category,[17] though his star bears the television emblem.[18]


Woolley died due to complications from kidney and heart ailments on May 6, 1963, in Albany, New York, aged 74.[3] He is interred at the Greenridge Cemetery, Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County, New York.

Personal life

Woolley and Cole Porter enjoyed many adventures together in New York and on foreign travels, although Porter reportedly disapproved of Woolley taking a black man as his lover.[19] Woolley has been described in scholarly and other works as gay and closeted.[20][21][22]

According to Bennett Cerf in his 1944 book Try and Stop Me, Woolley was at a dinner party and suddenly belched. A woman sitting nearby glared at him; he glared back and said, "And what did you expect, my good woman? Chimes?" Cerf wrote, "Woolley was so pleased with this line that he insisted it be written into his next role in Hollywood."[2][23]

In 1943, Alfred Hitchcock wrote a mystery story for Look magazine, "The Murder of Monty Woolley".[24]



Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1942 Philip Morris Playhouse The Man Who Came to Dinner[27]



  1. Obituary Variety, May 8, 1963, page 223.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Actor Monty Woolley Dies in Hospital at 74". Miami News. May 6, 1963.
  4. Truitt, Evelyn Mack. Who Was Who Onscreen New York: Bowker (1977)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Heart, Kidneys give out, Monte Woolley dies at 74". The Evening Independent. May 4, 1963. p. 3A.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Monty Woolley to Appear in a Series of Television Films". Schenectady Gazette', NY, July 11, 1953. p. 8. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  7. Green, Stanley (1976). Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre. Da Capo Press. p. 323.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Monty Woolley Dies In Albany". St. Petersburg Times, May 7, 1963. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Crowther, Bosley (January 2, 1942) "The Man Who Came to Dinner". Review. New York Times. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  10. Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 423. ISBN 0-19-507678-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Everitt, David (2000). King of the half hour: Nat Hiken and the golden age of TV comedy. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-0676-5. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Hawes, William (2001). Filmed television drama, 1952-1958. McFarland & Company. pp. 23, &nbsp, 29. ISBN 978-0-7864-1132-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Thomas, Bob (AP) (June 27, 1955). "Monte Woolley Snorts At Liberace, Bore Bars". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  14. Gould, Jack. (October 15, 1954). "Television in Review; Bite Taken Out of Man Who Came to Dinner". New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  15. "Television: Program Preview, Oct. 11, 1954". Time Magazine. October 11, 1954. Retrieved August 9, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 1940s. Grauman's Chinese Theatre
  17. "Monty Woolley". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Note: Official category is Motion Pictures but his star bears the television emblem.
  18. "Hollywood Star Walk—Monty Woolley". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-07-25.
  19. Schwartz, Charles (1979). Cole Porter: A Biography. Da Capo Press. pp. 38, 49, 111 & etc. ISBN 0-306-80097-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Harbin, Billy J.; Marra, Kim; Schanke, Robert A., eds. (2005). The Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era (Triangulations: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Theater/Drama/Performance). University of Michigan Press. pp. 11, 321, 393. ISBN 978-0-472-09858-3. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Hadleigh, Boze (2001). The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films--Their Stars, Makers, Characters, and Critics. Citadel Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8065-2199-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Gross, Larry; Woods, James D., eds. (1999). The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics. Columbia University Press. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-231-10447-0. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Cerf, p. 57. (remainder of quote).
  24. Brunsdale, Mitzi M. (2010). Icons of Mystery and Crime Detection: From Sleuths to Superheroes. 2. Greenwood. p. 440. ISBN 978-0313345302.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Monty Woolley". Internet Broadway Database.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Green, p. 455.
  27. "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. July 10, 1942. p. 11. Retrieved August 6, 2015 – via<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> open access publication - free to read

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