Martha Scott, Oscar-nommed stage and film thesp who played Emily Webb in the original Broadway production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” died of natural causes May 28 in Van Nuys, Calif. She was 90.
She recreated the role of Emily for the 1940 film of “Our Town,” garnering a best actress Acad nom. She was also a stage and film producer over her career, which spanned 60 years.
Jamesport, Mo., native earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from the U. of Michigan in 1934. After acting in Shakespearean productions at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, she headed to Gotham. Her casting in “Our Town” is legendary: She had no luck finding work at first in the winter of 1937-38, but when helmer Jed Harris became desperate to find an Emily for “Our Town,” with tryouts skedded in eight days and two Emilys already fired — and Harris ready to close the show — another cast recommended Scott and she started rehearsing the same day.
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After making the movie version two years later, she worked consistently in both films and Broadway, appearing in more than 20 pics and 16 Broadway shows.
Early bigscreen roles included ones opposite Cary Grant in “Howards of Virginia,” John Wayne in “In Old Oklahoma” and Fredric March in “One Foot in Heaven.” Later she appeared in “The Desperate Hours” with Humphrey Bogard and “Sayonara” with Marlon Brando. She also appeared in two biblical epics with Charlton Heston: “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur,” playing Heston’s mother in the latter.
She made many TV appearances, including Lindsay Wagner’s guardian on “The Bionic Woman” and Bob Newhart’s mother on “Newhart.”
She remained active on Broadway throughout her career, making her final appearance in 1991, in the inaugural production of Tony Randall’s National Actors’ Theatre production of “The Crucible.” She joined Robert Ryan and Henry Fonda as founder of the Plumstead Theatre Company in 1968, which produced classic revivals with all-star casts.
In 1985, Plumstead’s last production, “Twelve Angry Men,” opened the Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the entrance to which is the site of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Scott’s first husband was radio and film producer Carleton Alsop. Her second marriage, which lasted 52 years, was to Pulitzer Prize-winning composer-musician Mel Powell. During Powell’s 15 years on the music faculty at Yale, the couple lived in Connecticut. In 1969, they moved to Los Angeles when Powell became founding dean of the School of Music at California Institute of the Arts. He died in 1998.
She is survived by a son, two daughters and a brother.