FLORENCE BATES: IT’S A GRAND FEELING! My Interview with Ann Hamilton, Florence Bates’ Granddaughter, and Rachel Hamilton, Florence Bates’ Great-Granddaughter
Ever watch a film with Florence Bates in it? If you did, you probably had a difficult time taking your eyes off of her formidable image or tuning out her dialogue as she clipped and snapped orders around the room. I know I did.

The first time I saw Rebecca with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, I knew who they were, but I was also impressed with someone else.

Florence Bates portrayed Edythe Van Hopper! She ordered poor Joan Fontaine around like she was a piece of furniture, she demanded that her hired nurse do her bidding, and I seriously doubt Mrs. Van Hopper paid much attention to her doctor or his orders when she demanded a chocolate right after she took her medicine.

Such curiosity also led me to seek out more information about Florence Bates, and I discovered that she has her own entry in the Texas State Historical Association website. Born Florence Rabe (pronounced “Robbie”) on April 15, 1888 in San Antonio, Texas, her father was the owner of an antique store. As a child, Bates showed unusually advanced musical talent on the piano, but an injury to her hand kept Bates from pursuing a professional career in music, even though she continued to play and to enjoy her arpeggios the rest of her life.
Bates graduated from high school in 1903 and pursued a degree in mathematics at the University of Texas in Austin, graduating in 1906. She subsequently worked as a schoolteacher and social worker until she married a man named Joseph Ramer around 1909, and gave up her career to raise her daughter, Mimi. When her marriage didn’t succeed, Bates divorced, a scandalous step in the early 1900s, and no one ever found out what became of Mr. Ramer.

Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Florence Bates in Love Crazy as Mrs. Cooper, the epitome of the nagging, nosy mother-in-law.

Encouraged by a judge in San Antonio who was a family friend, Bates used the judge’s personal law library to study for the bar, and passed the grueling exam six months later in 1914, becoming one of the first, if not the first woman to earn a law degree in the state of Texas, practicing law for four years.

When Bates’ parents died, she left the legal profession so that she and her sister could manage the family antique store, and traveled to Europe and Asia, using her foreign language skills and her ability to negotiate as a buyer for the retail establishment. It was also during this time that she became a bilingual radio commentator on a program designed to foster relations between the United States and Mexico. In 1929, Florence Bates’ sister died and after the stock market crash, she closed the antique business and married William F. Jacoby, a well-to-do Texas oilman.

She and her husband moved to Mexico and El Paso, but when Jacoby lost his financial holdings when Mexico nationalized its petroleum industry, they moved to Los Angeles and opened the P & J Bakery which operated successfully until 1940 when the Jacobys sold the company. (The “J” stands for Jacoby, but no one knows what the “P” symbolizes.)

According to Ann Hamilton, Florence Bates’ granddaughter, not long after arriving in California, Florence Jacoby went to the Pasadena Playhouse with a friend, Estelle Rosenfield, who had planned to audition for a role in Emma. Hamilton recalls that “Estelle was a mean, nasty woman. She really wanted the part, but since my grandmother had just come with her to the audition, the director, DeWitt Bodeen, told her to begin her reading. And my grandmother said, ‘No, no. I’m not here to do a reading.’ Bodeen told her,”well, you’re already here.” Hamilton stated that “My grandmother got the part, although Estelle really wanted it badly.”

Florence Jacoby’s experience with Emma was so successful that she kept the last name of her character, Mrs. Bates, and was billed professionally henceforth as ‘Florence Bates,’ and frequently flourished as a wealthy but aggressive matron, much like her character of Edith Van Hopper in Rebecca opposite Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

But Hamilton claims that her grandmother was “larger than life, charismatic, and confident.” One episode came to light when she was contacted by a family friend, a man named Bernard, who still lives in Texas, and he related his experiences with Florence Bates when he met her on a visit to California in the 1940s. A mutual acquaintance of Bernard’s knew Bates, and helped him make a connection with her on his first visit to Los Angeles. “This friend, Sue, who is 85, stated my grandmother was a ‘true Bohemian’ ,” claimed Hamilton. “Bernard was 18 at that time, and my grandmother was in her 50s, and Bernard said that she picked him up at the station, and as he was in the army, he needed to go to San Diego for some reason, and she lent him her car. Bernard said she was incredibly warm, was the life of the party, and hosted several social events. He spoke lovingly of her nurturing, motherly self and said she was incredibly lively,” Hamilton said proudly as we spoke on the phone.

Huddling with S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall…

“It was wonderful to talk to someone after so many years who knew about my grandmother, and Bernard also said that Will and Florence had a beautiful love affair, he was her advisor and supportive of her, they made a great team. Will was her anchor, and their marriage was a happy one.”

Evidently Will was a meek, mild, quiet kind of guy, but he completely supported Bates in all her endeavors, according to Bernard.

As for her personal attire while at home, Hamilton reveals that “Florence always wore a full-length dressing gown, or a floor length hostess gown, and carried her eyeglasses on a handle, a lorgnette. She dressed outlandishly, and had very long fingernails.” (Evident in her performance as Edith Van Hopper in Rebecca.) Hamilton also related that “she told me she was almost a concert pianist, and she told me she was good. Her fingernails were so long that they would click on the keys as she played the piano, and when they began to make more noise than the piano, she would trim them.”

Hamilton remembers that she spent a few summers at Big Bear Lake summer camp, and also went to several movie sets with her grandmother. “I helped Joseph Cotten with his lines in Portrait of Jennie. When Bates appeared at the La Jolla Playhouse in Arsenic and Old Lace, her granddaughter went with her and saw ten shows a week. “Richard Carlson had the Cary Grant lead in that particular run of the play.”

Ann’s daughter, Rachel Hamilton is an improvisational comedian, writer, and instructor living in San Francisco, and has appeared in 30 Rock, Chaos Theory, and spent several years as a cast member at Second City, Chicago, so the acting and performing genes definitely run in the family.

Florence Bates and Gregory Peck in rehearsal for “Light Up The Sky” in December 31, 1948. ..

Comedian Rachel Hamilton with friend Tami Sagher

Rachel has gone to The Paley Center For Media during the time she was living and performing improvisational comedy in New York City, and seen footage of her great-grandmother performing on a game show in the 1950s with stars and celebrities of the day as they played charades in two different teams. “In that clip, she is not in character, yet she is in a full-beaded gown, with pince nez,” and she believes that Bates “walked the world in character.” Mother Ann chimed in and stated warmly that “she was warm and fuzzy and kindhearted and sympathetic as can be,” wherein daughter Rachel claimed her own mother was a “chip off the old block.” Both women speak fondly of their famous “character” relation, and their enthusiasm for Florence Bates’ acting abilities never ceases. “I loved her appearance in I Love Lucy (“Pioneer Women”episode, 1952) because she always seemed sharp, hilariously sharp” in all of her appearances.

Florence Bates has appeared in more than 70 films and television programs and some of her more memorable appearances are as the pushy Mrs. Manly in A Letter to Three Wives, and the vindictive Mrs. Van Hopper in Rebecca, but a few of her more kindly characters like the motherly Mollie Veech in Whistle Stop (Ava Gardner’s first major scree role) have also fascinated me because it was such an unusual departure from some of her aggressive, nasty ladies she usually portrayed to keep the action on screen moving forward.

Her turn as social arbiter Sophie Bellop in Saratoga Trunk starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman is my favorite Bates’ role because she is aggressive when she needs to be, but very sweet and endearing when she’s working her charms and trying to convince Ingrid Bergman as Cleo Dulaine to allow her to be Dulaine’s chaperon:
“I know my way around this world. I know what it is to be very rich, and I know what it is to be very poor…I live by my wits. It’s a grand feeling. They can’t take those away from me!”

Such a heartfelt comment was written in the script for the character of Sophie Bellop, but what made it ring so true on film was that it described the exciting, event-filled existence Florence Bates personally experienced.
Follow the link to view a clip of Florence Bates in Saratoga Trunk: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e8Fuur3ViDU

John Warburton, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Florence Bates and Ethel Griffies in Saratoga Trunk

Filmed in 1943, but not released until 1945, Saratoga Trunk had been screened for two years to Armed Forces’ audiences in service club theaters all over the world. When it finally opened to the general public, it was a sensation, and by the fourth week of its release, the film, based on an Edna Ferber novel, had been seen by an audience one fourth the size of all of Los Angeles, and Look magazine ran a special issue hailing Saratoga Trunk as an exemplary film, and I must add that Sophie Bellop in Saratoga Trunk is one of Florence Bates’ most outstanding performances.

In her film career, Bates worked with Sam Wood, Joe Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Albert Lewin, David Butler and Alfred Hitchcock, who at first believed her to be from the British stage. Her characters have been women who moved the conflicts of film plots forward, and her own personal life as a “true Bohemian” has revealed what a character she really was. It was a “grand feeling” watching her in any of her appearances on film and on television, and it must have been “grand” seeing her on the stage of the Pasadena Playhouse.

But, then again, the world was her stage.

In San Antonio…

Florence Bates in A Letter To Three Wives: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mQBfZocvgzA

Title photo is of Florence Bates and Grady Sutton in My Dear Secretary(1949)

Personal Note: After completing all my research and speaking with Ann and Rachel Hamilton, I found that I actually had quite a bit in common with Florence Bates. I am bilingual, and a professional pianist! Many thanks to Ann and Rachel Hamilton!

UPDATED!–Texas State Historical Association, A Handbook of Texas: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjact
International Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0060904/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
The Pasadena Playhouse: http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org/
Personal Interviews with Ann Hamilton and Rachel Hamilton: October 2013




Well, my numbers may be a little fuzzy on this, but hopefully not the titles. It seems Gone With The Wind is the all-time favorite with 7 entries, Arsenic and Old Lace tied with Sunset Boulevard at 5 entries, and The Wizard of Oz and Rebecca both had 4. All About Eve , The Night of the Hunter, and The House on Haunted Hill each had 3 entries.

The total number of entries? 298, give or take a few that might have been deleted. Some of the links to contestant videos I was not able to access or open, and one or two had been removed.


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
A Bridge Too Far
A Christmas Carol (2)
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
The African Queen
After The Thin Man
A Hard Day’s Night
A Letter For Evie
All About Eve (3)
Among The Living
An American in Paris
Angels With Dirty Faces
Animal Crackers
The Apartment
A Place in the Sun
Arsenic and Old Lace (5)
The Artist
The Asphalt Jungle

Baron of Arizona
The Beguiled
Bell, Book and Candle
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Big Country
The Blob
The Birds
The Blackboard Jungle
Blue Velvet
Born Yesterday
Breaker Morant
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (2)
Bride of Frankenstein
Brief Encounter
Bringing Up Baby
Broadway Melody (2)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Calamity Jane
The Cameraman
Captain Newman, M.D.
Cat and the Canary
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Charley’s Aunt
The Chase
Cinema Paradiso
The Clown (2)
Cool Hand Luke (2)
Count Three and Pray

Dark Passage
The Detective
Dog Day Afternoon
Don’t Torture a Duckling
Duck Soup

The Eddie Duchin Story

Father of the Bride
Fight Club
The Fisher King
The Fugitive Kind
Force of Evil
Funny Face

The Gay Sisters
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Gilda (2)
The Goldiggers of 1933
Grand Hotel
Grand Slam
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The Great Gatsby
The Great Waltz
The Great Ziegfield
Gone With The Wind (7)
Guys and Dolls

Harvey (2)
The Heiress
Hello, Dolly
Hell Raiders
High and Low
Hit the Deck
The Hill
Hodoo Ann
Hold Back The Dawn
Hour of the Wolf
How Green Was My Valley
How To Marry A Millionaire
Hound of the Baskervilles
The House on Haunted Hill (3)
The Horror of Party Beach
The Hurricane

If A Man Answers
I Love You Again
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Inherit the Wind
It Happened One Night (2)
It’s A Wonderful Life (2)
I Wake Up Screaming

The Jazz Singer (2)
Johnny Guitar

Kind Lady
King Kong
Kings Go Forth
Kings Row
Kiss Me, Deadly

The Lady Eve
Lamb Chops
Lillies of the Field
Little Emily
The Little Foxes (2)
The Little Princess
The Letter
London After Midnight
Love Letters

The Mad Miss Manton
The Major and The Minor (2)
Make Way For Tomorrow
Manhattan Murder Myster
Mary Poppins
Meet Me in St. Louis
Midnight Lace (2)
Mildred Pierce
Mr. Blandings Builds Hi Dream House
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Murder My Sweet
Muppet Movie
My Fair Lady
My Favorite Year

The Naked City (FIRST  PLACE)
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
New York, New York
Night of the Hunter (3)
Night of the Living Dead
Nights of Cabiria
North By Northwest
Number One

The Offense
One Way Passage
On the Waterfront
Out of Sight

Peeping Tom (2)
Phantom of the Opera (’43)
The Philadelphia Story (2)
The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Quiet Man (3)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (2)
Random Harvest
The Rat Race
The Razor’s Edge (2)
Rear Window (2)
Rebecca (4)
Rebel Without a Cause
Rhythm on the River
Rio Bravo
Robin and the 7 Hoods

Sabrina (3)
Shall We Dance?
Silence of the Lambs
Since You Went Away

Singin’ in the Rain (3)
Shock Corridor
The Shop Around The Corner (2)
Sleepless in Seattle
Some Like It Hot
Somewhere in Time
Son of Frankenstein
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Spirited Away
Streetcar Named Desire
Sunset Boulevard (5)
Sweeping Against the Winds
Sweet Revenge

12 Angry Men
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
The Thin Man (2)
The Third Man
The Three Musketeers
To Catch A Thief (2)
To Have and Have Not (2)
Top Hat
The Treasure of Sierra Madre
Trouble in Paradise
Two Lane Blacktop
Two For the Road

Umbrellas of Cherbourg
The Uninvited

Vertigo (2)

War of the Worlds
The West Point Story

What a Way to Go
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Witness For The Prosecution
The Wrong Man
The Wings of Eagles
The Wizard of Oz (4)
The Women (2)
White Christmas
Withnail and I

Ziegfield Girl