Adeline De Walt Reynolds is an actress that no one knows, or remembers. At least no one that I know. I was watching the Jimmy Stewart-Hedy Lamarr flick Come Live with Me (1941) the other night, and per my usual fashion, I immediately looked up any of the performers that I didn't recognize. When I stumbled onto the actress who played 'Grandma,' Adeline De Walt Reynolds, who from first glance I assumed was a character actress who had been trudging away at acting on and off screen for years. Well, as my mother says, "You know what happens when you assume something? You make an ass out of you and me." Proving once again that my mother is always right and I should never question her wisdom or advice (and no she did not make me write that). Turns out, Adeline (we're on a first name basis because in my mind she and I would be best friends) was making her film debut in Come Live with Me, and while in 1941 this was not totally out of the ordinary for older actors because film was still a new medium, it is in Adeline's case because this was one of her first acting jobs, EVER. At the age of 79. Really proving that it truly is never too late. We can all learn something from her.
From research I've done an Adeline's background, she was very much a woman of her time, meaning that she had to follow all the societal conventions that women were forced to abide by (and these days sometimes still have to): marriage, children, squashing her dreams at an early age, the usual. Born in 1862 to a farming family as one of ten children, Adeline actually wanted to be an actress from a very young age, but her father wouldn't let her. When she was eighteen, she started teaching at a rural school (one of the only jobs her father approved of), and she actually lied about her age to get the job, saying she was twenty instead. After a few years, she left the position when she found out that the male teachers were being paid more than her (wow, some things really never change). In 1885, she married and started having children. It seems that around 1892, she was able to take classes at the Boston Conservatory of Speech, and was apparently offered an acting role in a touring company, but she decided to turn it down to focus on raising her children. She ended up in San Francisco, where her husband suddenly died, and sometime after, witnessed the devastating 1906 earthquake. After raising her family as a single parent, she went to UC Berkeley to get her Bachelor's degree at the age of 64, and graduated with honors at 68. After a few roles on the stage, she was spotted by director Clarence Brown, who cast her in Come Live with Me. Talk about an incredible woman. She never became a major film star, but she worked consistently, and I would imagine that after years of not being able to live out her childhood dream of acting, she must have been happy and proud to have the chances just to work at something she loved. She also appeared on television before she died at the age of 98. At the time, she was the oldest, active member of the Screen Actors Guild.
To anyone reading this (assuming you've made it this far), it might seem odd to focus on and discuss an old woman who was never a film star, much less an actress that no one knows about. It definitely is odd, but I found Adeline's story to be so rich and appealing. She had a dream from a young age, and while it took her a while to get to achieve it, she never gave up, she was resilient, she never let her age hold her back, she never told herself that she missed her window. In fact, she would just open another one till she got what she wanted. I truly believe that if more people lived their life like Adeline (and if society was frankly more encouraging of people taking chances at all points in their life), everyone would be much happier. Then again, I'm saying that as a cockeyed optimist, twenty-something millenial. But I still believe it.
Here are some of Adeline's other films:
Who are some actors or actresses that you like, but no one seems to know about? Or people in any other field who are not well-known? Do you agree that it's never too late? Do you feel inspired by Adeline's story?