Josephine Hull

Josephine Hull
Born Mary Josephine Sherwood
(1877-01-03)January 3, 1877
Newtonville, Massachusetts, US
Died March 12, 1957(1957-03-12) (aged 80)
The Bronx, New York, US
Alma mater Radcliffe College
Occupation Actress
Years active 1905–1955
Spouse(s) Shelly Hull (1910–1919; his death)

Josephine Hull (January 3, 1877 – March 12, 1957) was an American stage and film actress who also was a director of plays. She had a successful 50-year career on stage while taking some of her better known roles to film. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Harvey (1950), a role she originally played on the Broadway stage.


Hull was born January 3, 1877[1] as Mary Josephine Sherwood in Newtonville, Massachusetts, one of four children born to William H. Sherwood and Mary Elizabeth ("Minnie") Tewkesbury;[2] but would later shave years off her true age.[3] She attended the New England Conservatory of Music and Radcliffe College, both in the Boston area.



Hull made her stage debut in stock in 1905, and after some years as a chorus girl and touring stock player, she married actor Shelley Hull (the elder brother of actor Henry Hull) in 1910. After her husband's death as a young man, the actress retired until 1923, when she returned to acting using her married name, Josephine Hull. The couple had no children.

She had her first major stage success in George Kelly's Pulitzer-winning Craig's Wife in 1926. Kelly wrote a role especially for her in his next play, Daisy Mayme, which also was staged in 1926. She continued working in New York theater throughout the 1920s. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hull appeared in three Broadway hits, as a batty matriarch in You Can't Take It with You (1936), as a homicidal old lady in Arsenic and Old Lace (1941), and in Harvey (1944). The plays all had long runs, and took up ten years of Hull's career.[4] Her last Broadway play, The Solid Gold Cadillac (1954–55), was later made into a film with the much younger Judy Holliday.[5]


Hull made only six films, beginning in 1927 with a small part in the Clara Bow feature Get Your Man, followed by The Bishop's Candlesticks in 1929. That was followed by two 1932 Fox features, After Tomorrow (recreating her stage role) and The Careless Lady.[5]

She missed out on recreating her You Can't Take It With You role in 1938, as she was still onstage with the show. Instead, Spring Byington appeared in the film version. Hull and Jean Adair played the Brewster sisters in the 1944 film version of Arsenic and Old Lace (starring Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane), and Hull appeared in the screen version of Harvey, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Variety credited Hull's performance: "the slightly balmy aunt who wants to have Elwood committed, is immense, socking the comedy for every bit of its worth." [6]

After, Hull made only one more film, The Lady from Texas (1951); she had also appeared in the CBS-TV version of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1949, with Ruth McDevitt, an actress who often succeeded Hull in her Broadway roles, as her sister.[5]


Josephine Hull died on March 12, 1957, aged 80, from a cerebral hemorrhage.[7]

Broadway appearances

Broadway director credits


Year Film Role Awards
1929 The Bishop's Candlesticks
1932 Careless Lady Aunt Cora
After Tomorrow Mrs. Piper
1944 Arsenic and Old Lace Aunt Abby Brewster
1950 Harvey Veta Louise Simmons Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
1951 The Lady from Texas Miss Birdie Wheeler

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1952 Theatre Guild on the Air The Meanest Man in the World[8]

See also


  1. 1880 United States Census (Massachusetts, Middlesex, Newton Ward 2, District 474, page 55); 1900 United States Census (Massachusetts, Middlesex, Newton Ward 2, District 895, page 19), each showing Mary Josephine Sherwood born to William Sherwood and Mary E. Tewksbury Sherwood in Massachusetts in January 1877.
  2. GREAT STARS OF THE AMERICAN STAGE by Daniel Blum ca. 1952 Profile #111
  3. For example, her marriage certificate in 1910 (when she was 33) states that she was 28. See Marriage Records, Chicago, Illinois and Newton, Massachusetts, April 3, 1910 (Mary Josephine Sherwood and Shelly Vaughn Hull). She likewise represented herself as several years younger in the 1910 census. 1910 United States Census (Connecticut, Litchfield, Barkhamstead, District 249, page 21), stating that "Josephine Hull" was 27. Still later sources list Hull as born on January 3, 1886, nine years later than her real birth date.
  4. Josephine Hull at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. 1 2 3 Josephine Hull at the Internet Movie Database
  6. "Review: Harvey", Variety, December 31, 1949.
  7. Stage star Josephine Hull dies,; accessed January 16, 2016.
  8. Kirby, Walter (February 17, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 1, 2015 via

Further reading

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