Florence Bates was an American character actress who often played grande dame characters in her films.
Born Florence Rabe in San Antonio, Texas, the second child of Jewish immigrants, Bates showed musical talent as a child, but a hand injury inhibited her from continuing her piano studies. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Mathematics in 1906, after which she taught school. In 1909 she met and married her first husband and gave up her career to raise their daughter. When her marriage ended in divorce, she began to study law and passed the bar in 1914, becoming at the age of 26 the first female attorney in her home state.
After the death of her parents, Bates left the legal profession to help her sister operate their father's antique business. She became a bilingual radio commentator whose program was designed to foster good relations between the United States and Mexico. In 1929, she closed the antique shop and married wealthy oil baron William F. Jacoby. When he lost his fortune, the couple moved to Los Angeles and opened a bakery.
In the mid-1930s, Bates auditioned for and won the role of Miss Bates in a Pasadena Playhouse adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. When she decided to continue working with the theatre group, she changed her professional name to that of the first character she played on stage. In 1939 she was introduced to Alfred Hitchcock, who cast her in her first major screen role, the vain dowager Mrs. Van Hopper, in Rebecca.