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Edna Cecil Cunningham (August 2, 1888 – April 17, 1959) was an American film and stage actress. She was noted for "lesbian" roles in movies. While in Germany, Anna May Wong became an inseparable friend of the director Leni Riefenstahl. Her close friendships with several women throughout her life, including Marlene Dietrich and Cecil Cunningham, led to rumors of lesbianism which damaged her public reputation. These rumors, in particular of her supposed relationship with Dietrich, further embarrassed Wong's family. They had long been opposed to her acting career, which was not considered to be an entirely respectable profession at the time.
Cunningham started her working life as a switchboard operator in a commerce bank and did some sittings as a photographer's model. Her early experience in music came as a member of the choir in the Fifth Baptist Church in St. Louis.
Cunningham's first show business job was in the chorus line of 'Mademoiselle Modiste' at the age of 18. She trained as a singer and appeared in opera. She worked as a vaudeville comedian at the Palace Theatre in New York City until the commencement of her movie career in 1929.
A.L. Erlanger selected her for the title role in the original production of The Pink Lady.
Cunningham's Broadway credits include Dance With Your Gods (1934), The Rose of China (1919), The Greenwich Village Follies (1919), Dancing Around (1914), Maids of Athens (1914), Oh, I Say! (1913), Iolanthe (1913), and Somewhere Else (1913). She also performed in Paris with the Boston Grand Opera Company, singing in Italian operas.
Cunningham was a Hollywood character actress with whitish hair cut like a man's, often in roles as a general "know-it-all". She made more than 80 appearances in movies between 1929 and 1946, many of them uncredited.
Cunningham was married to writer Jean C. Havez from 1915 to 1917.
On April 17, 1959, Cunningham died of heart disease at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She was 70 years old. Her remains are interred in Chapel of the Pines Crematory.
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