Josephine Hull (born January 3, 1877; died March 12, 1957) was an Academy Award winning 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 in Harvey, a role she originally played on the Broadway stage.
Hull was born as Josephine Sherwood in Newtonville, Massachusetts to William H. Sherwood and Mary Elizabeth Tewkesbury. She attended theNew England Conservatory of Music (Boston) and Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hull was born on January 3, 1877, though she later represented herself as having been born later than she was.
Hull made her stage debut in stock in 1905, and after some years as a chorus girl and touring stock player, she married actor Shelly 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 under the name Josephine Hull. She and Shelly Hull had had no children.
Josephine Hull 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 30s and 40s, 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.
Her last Broadway play, The Solid Gold Cadillac (1954–55), was later made into a film with the much younger Judy Holliday.
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. 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 Canadian-born Jean Adair did play the Brewster sisters in the 1944 film Arsenic and Old Lace (starring Cary Grant), and Hull was in the screen version of Harvey as well, playing James Stewart's sister.
It was for that role that Hull won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar; it was her sole nomination. 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." After, Hull made only one more film, The Lady from Texas (1951); she had also appeared in the CBS-TV version ofArsenic and Old Lace in 1949, with Ruth McDevitt, an actress who often succeeded Hull in her Broadway roles, as her sister.
Hull retired in 1955, and died in The Bronx in 1957 from a cerebral hemorrhage, aged 80.