Oscar Actors: Hull, Josephine–Background; Career; Awards

Updated May 28, 2020

Josephine Hull Career Summary

Occupational inheritance:

Social Class:

Education: New England Conservatory of Music; Radcliffe College

Training (theater):

Stage debut: 1905; age 28

Broadway debut: 1926; age 49

Film debut: 1927; age 50

Oscar awards: 1 Supporting Actress, Harvey, 1950; age 73

Oscar nominations: No

Other Awards: No

Career Span (screen):

Last film:

Marriages: 1 (actor, died young)


Death: 1957; age 80

A famous stage actress, Hull appeared in only a handful of films, but left a lasting memory in “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) and in “Harvey” (1950), for which she won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. In both films, she recreated parts she had successfully played on Broadway.

Hull made only one more movie after winning the Oscar, and then retired.

Oscar Alert

In 1950, Hull won the Supporting Actress Oscar in a contest that included Hope Emerson in “Caged,” Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter, both for “All About Eve,” and Nancy Olson in “Sunset Boulevard.”

Hull was born January 3, 1877, in Newtonville, Massachusetts, one of four children born to William H. Sherwood and Mary Elizabeth Tewkesbury, but would later shave years off her true age.

She attended the New England Conservatory of Music and Radcliffe College, 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 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, 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.

Her last Broadway play, The Solid Gold Cadillac, in 1954, was later made into a film version with the much younger Judy Holliday in the role.

Career Output: 6 films

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 played Aunt Abby who, along with Jean Adair as Aunt Martha, was one of the two Brewster sisters in the film version of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) starring Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane.

Supporting Actress Oscar

She appeared in the screen version of Harvey (1950), for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

After Harvey, Hull made only one more film, The Lady from Texas (1951).

She 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.

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