Beulah Bondi was a pioneering woman in the motion picture industry. If you've ever seen “It's a Wonderful Life” — and who hasn't? — you've seen her as “Ma Bailey,” Jimmy Stewart's mother. But that's only one of nearly 100 TV and film roles she played in her lifetime.
Bondi was named Beulah Bondy when she was born May 3, 1888, in Valparaiso. She performed the title role in “Little Lord Fauntleroy” on the Memorial Opera House stage at age 8 and earned a rave review. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Valparaiso University.
Bondi left Northwest Indiana to seek fame and fortune as an actress. She changed her name to Bondi because her father disapproved of her choice to pursue an acting career.
Bondi's first big break was on Broadway, four days before Christmas in 1925, when “One of the Family” debuted. She was in a variety of Broadway shows afterward. It was Elmer Rice's “Street Scene,” which debuted in 1929, that launched her film career. Bondi was asked to reprise her “Street Scene” role in the movie by the same name.
Bondi was a regular fixture in the 1930s and 1940s, when she was a key member of the ensemble casts that studios used to great effect as they cranked out films for eager movie audiences.
Bondi played Stewart's mother not just in “It's a Wonderful Life,” but also in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Of Human Hearts” and “Vivacious Lady.” Her TV filmography includes appearances on “The Waltons” and “Wagon Train.” She won an Emmy in 1976 for her role on “The Waltons.”
Bondi also was one of the first five actresses nominated for the newly created Oscars category of “Best Supporting Actress” for her role in “The Gorgeous Hussy.”
Her films often appear on TCM. Watch for movies like “Remember the Night,” “The Gorgeous Hussy,” “Watch on the Rhine,” “Tonight We Raid Calais” and more.
She returned to Valparaiso periodically to visit family and old haunts, including the Memorial Opera House and Valparaiso University. She is credited with giving a “generous donation” in 1967 to the Memorial Opera House to help purchase new seating.
The Porter County Museum of History has a collection of artifacts that once belonged to her.
Bondi never married. She died on Jan. 11, 1981, from complications of a fall — after she tripped over her cat.