Eleanor Audley: evil fairy, classy mother, and wicked stepmother to the masses!
From Maleficent to The Beverly Hillbillies…
Here’s a riddle for you: What do Disney’s Cinderella and The Beverly Hillbillies have in common? One woman with a voice that can send chills up your spine — Eleanor Audley.
Audley had a rich career across television and film, with more than one appearance on MeTV programs. She made her performance debut at just 20 years old in the Broadway in the show Howdy, King (1926). Her career took off from here, with show after show lined up for her to shine in.
Audley loaned her talents to a slew of movies, television shows, and radio productions. Her resume should technically include "Disney Villainess Extraordinaire," as she’s made multiple bone-chilling appearances in animated Disney films. You might remember her as Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother in Cinderella (1950), or perhaps the dastardly fairy Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959).
Audley went above and beyond in her portrayal of these characters, acting as the physical model for animators of both films. Working this hard wasn’t always easy; she initially turned down the role of Maleficent because she was battling tuberculosis at the time of casting. However, she pushed through and provided a performance that would delight for years to follow. Many can recall the sound of her trademark wicked cackle.
With all of the work Audley was doing, she managed to make appearances on multiple MeTV programs, including two separate recurring roles. The first took place on The Beverly Hillbillies as Mrs. Millicent Schuyler-Potts, the prim headmistress of the school that Jethro Bodine eventually attends. At first, she does not believe that the family could afford to attend the school, but when Jed Clampett brings up the $25 million that the family sits on, her arms (and the school’s wallet) open wide to receive their newest student.
Her longest run on MeTV is on Green Acres. From 1965 to 1969, Audley played to recurring character Eunice Douglas, Oliver Douglas’s highly critical and disapproving mother. She appeared in a total of 18 episodes, every time trying to convince her son to "come back to America" and leave the rural living behind. She appears in splendorous outfits and certainly knows how to wear a hat, all while delivering an impeccable performance alongside Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert.
Between 1954 and 1970, she also had the roles of as Eleanor Spaulding the Flower Judge on I love Lucy (1957), as Lois Gilbert (1958) and headmistress Lorimer (1960) on Perry Mason, Mrs. Whitney (uncredited, 1960) on The Twilight Zone, and as a party-goer (1961) and as Mrs. Peggy Billings (1962–1963) on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
What was your favorite Eleanor Audley moment?
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"Dear sweet Leota, beloved by all. In regions beyond now, but having a ball."
I liked the mother/daughter-in-law relationship. It was unique for that time, I thought. It wasn't the [stero] typical relationship that was shown. Usually, the M-I-L would say something like, "Why did my son marry you?" With Eunice it was just opposite. I think there were times when she said things like: "Lisa you should leave Oliver. Come back to NY w/me."
About her performance as Maleficent: It was good. What a trooper she was. Soldiering through that part with tuberculosis. I am sorry that she had to suffer through it. Then again, it could have been the tuberculosis that gave Maleficent's cackle the wicked edge it had. If she had been well during the filming, it might not have had quite the wicked edge. I have heard of performers working through their roles with a malady, that actually helped to better it, if they hadn't had it.