Jean Adair

Slight, birdlike Jean Adair came to the screen after playing a succession of crotchety or maternal roles on the stage. She was born Violet McNaughton in Ontario, Canada, and absolved her acting studies in Chicago. After extensive touring with local stock companies and a few seasons on the vaudeville Orpheum Circuit performing in one-act plays, she landed a starring role on Broadway in the 1922 comedy hit “It’s a Boy!”. From then on, she was never out of work.

The screen, alas, saw very little of Jean Adair. She danced a waltz with Gene Kelly in a minor musical, Living in a Big Way (1947). Otherwise, we remember her from her one indelible performance, a role she created for the original stage version of the long-running black farce and subsequent film version, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): as Martha Brewster, one of two goofy spinster aunts (the other was Josephine Hull), who dispatch lonely old geezers by poisoning their elderberry wine.

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