Hope Emerson

Hope Emerson (October 29, 1897[1][2] – April 24, 1960;[3] some sources[4][5] cite October 30, 1897) was an American actress, vaudeville and nightclub performer, and strongwoman. An imposing person physically, she weighed between 190 and 230 pounds (86 to 104kg) and stood six-feet-two-inches (188cm) tall in her prime.

Hope Emerson
Studio publicity Hope Emerson.jpg
Studio publicity photo, 1950s
Born(1897-10-29)October 29, 1897 (some sources cite October 30, 1897)
DiedApril 24, 1960(1960-04-24) (aged 62)
OccupationActress, vaudeville performer, strongwoman, nightclub performer
Years active1900–1960

Early lifeEdit

Emerson was born in Hawarden, Iowa, to John Alvin and Josie L. (née Washburn) Emerson, the middle and only surviving child of three (her two siblings died in infancy). She began her career at age three, touring Iowa with her mother, a character actress. Following her graduation from West High School in Des Moines in 1916, she moved to New York City, where she performed in vaudeville.


Emerson made her Broadway debut in Lysistrata in 1930, when theatrical producer Norman Bel Geddes cast her for the role of Lamputo, an Amazon. She made her film début in Smiling Faces (1932) but then returned to the theater. In 1947, critic Brooks Atkinson praised her performance ("vastly entertaining as the garrulous old crone") in Street Scene.[6] In the 1940s, Emerson was also known as the voice of "Elsie the Cow" in radio commercials for Borden Milk.[7]

Some of Emerson's more memorable roles were as a circus strongwoman in the film Adam's Rib (1949), lifting actor Spencer Tracy up in the air; as a nefarious masseuse-conspirator in the noirish Cry of the City (1948); and as a mail-order bride in Westward the Women (1952). Her most famous character, however, was the sadistic prison matron Evelyn Harper in Caged (1950), a role that garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[8]

On television, Emerson guest-starred in "Housekeeper", the final episode of the series It's a Great Life. In that episode she portrays a bossy housekeeper who temporarily takes charge while Amy Morgan, played by Frances Bavier, is away on vacation.[9] She had a regular role as well, as "Mother", on the detective series Peter Gunn (1958), for which she received an Emmy nomination; and she appeared on the CBS sitcom The Dennis O'Keefe Show (1959), starring with Dennis O'Keefe and Ricky Kelman.[10] She died during the run of Peter Gunn and was succeeded in the same role by Minerva Urecal, who bore a strong resemblance to Emerson but was far shorter.


Emerson died of liver disease in 1960 at age 62 in Hollywood on April 24, 1960. She is interred in Grace Hill Cemetery in her hometown of Hawarden, Iowa. She never married or had children.


  1. ^ "Ancestry Library Edition". search.ancestrylibrary.com.
  2. ^ "Ancestry Library Edition". search.ancestrylibrary.com.
  3. ^ New York Times obituary dated April 25, 2016 (stating she died "last night"), nytimes.com; accessed April 24, 2016. (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Ancestry Library Edition". search.ancestrylibrary.com.
  5. ^ California, Death Index, 1940–1997 gives Hope Emerson date of birth as October 30, 1897.
  6. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (January 10, 1947). "New York Times" – via ProQuest.
  7. ^ "Hope Emerson profile". Soylent Communications. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  8. ^ Alex Heigl (June 15, 2016). "From Caged to Orange Is the New Black: A Brief History of Incarcerated Women on Screen". People. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  9. ^ ""It's a Great Life": "The Housekeeper"". tv.com. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  10. ^ "Hope Emerson profile". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 16, 2016.

External linksEdit