Best-known for playing dithery society matrons in 1930s films, this performer actually had a long and varied career. The daughter of famed theatrical producer William A. Brady and stepdaughter of stage great Grace George, Alice Brady rejected a career in grand opera and began acting in stock companies. She first reached Broadway as an ingenue in "The Balkan Princess" (1911) and scored a hit in several Gilbert and Sullivan revivals the following year. Brady varied between light comedy and heavy drama over the next twenty years in shows like "Little Women" (1912, as Meg), "Sinners" (1915), "Anna Ascends" (1920), "Zander the Great" (1923), "The Bride of the Lamb" (1926) and "Love, Honor and Betray" (1930). Perhaps her biggest Broadway hit was as the tragic daughter Lavinia in Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra" (1931).
Brady's film career was just as impressive as her work onstage. Her father's film company, World, sponsored her screen bow in 1914's "As Ye Sow." She went on to appear in a total of 50 silent films as a glamorous leading lady, including "The Gilded Cage" (1916), "The Divorce Game" (1917), "The Whirlpool" (1918), the film versions of "Sinners" (1920) and "Anna Ascends" (1922), and her last, "The Snow Bride" (1923). At age 30, she abandoned her screen work and returned to the stage.
But Alice Brady's return to the screen in 1933 heralded a whole new career as one of Hollywood's busiest character actresses. She made five films for MGM in 1933 alone, including her talkie debut, "When Ladies Meet." She appeared in more than 25 features, often stealing the films from such able stars as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ("The Gay Divorcee," 1934), Mae West ("Go West, Young Man," 1936) and Deanna Durbin ("100 Men and a Girl" and "Three Smart Girls," both 1937). Perhaps Brady's ultimate comic role was as Carole Lombard's giggly, self-absorbed mother in the classic "My Man Godfrey" (1936), for which she earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
Surprisingly, Brady managed to avoid the type-casting which effectively limited so many other careers. She played a hard-hearted "Stage Mother" (1933), won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the industrious Irish widow Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow purportedly started the Great Fire in "In Old Chicago" (1938), and was the mother of youths defended by Henry Fonda's "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939). Brady was only 46 and at the height of her career when she lost a long battle with cancer in 1939.