Sunday, March 3, 2013

Miss Mary Brian

One of my favorite movies from the silent era is 1924's Peter Pan. The amazing cast included Betty Bronson, Esther Ralston, Anna May Wong, Ernest Torrance, and as Wendy Darling, Mary Brian. She looked the part of the sweet and demure older sister and mother figure in Neverland. This movie is definitely one to put on your must see list.

Mary Brian was born Louise Byrdie Dantzler (has a nice ring, doesn't it?) on February 17, 1906 in Corsicana, Texas. She was the second child born to Taurrence and Louise Dantzler. Brother, Taurrence Jr. was three years older than Mary.

A month after her birth, Mary's father died. As a result, her mother took the kids to Dallas to live with her parents. The family stayed there until the early 1920s when they moved out to California.

Mary's first ambitions were towards illustrating, but her goal took a backseat when she caught a big break while appearing in a beauty contest. One of the judges was movie star Esther Ralston, the woman who would later go on to play her mother in Peter Pan. Mary didn't win the contest, but she was singled out by Esther who wanted the 16 year old Mary to be tested for the role of Wendy Darling.

While almost every young screen starlet of the day was tested for the part of Wendy Darling, the director was really wanting an unknown, so it all seemed to be a case of fate when Mary walked in to his door. Mary got the role, a new stage name, two years subtracted from her age (18 sounded too old for the role), and a film contract.

In 1926, Mary was named a WAMPAS Baby Star along with such beauties as Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, and Mary Astor.

Her film career at first was a lot like Mary Pickford's in that even though she kept getting older, her film roles were that of a young innocent girl. Sadly, most of these films are considered lost.

Unlike many of her silent star friends, Mary transitioned into the talkies pretty effortlessly. Although she didn't become a huge star, it wasn't like her career completely bombed either. Case in point, her first talking picture was The Virginian in 1929 with Gary Cooper. Can't beat having him as a co-star!

In 1932, her long term contract with Paramount ended, and instead of signing with a new studio, she decided to go unsigned and just do whatever pictures she felt the strongest about. She also began appearing on stage.

When she was done with working in films, she moved on to the fairly new medium of television, playing a mother role in the series Meet Corliss Archer. She also went back to painting, her first love.

Mary Brian passed away on December 30, 2002 in Del Mar, California.

She was buried at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills.

Mary was married twice. Her first husband was a magazine illustrator named Jon Whitcomb who she married in 1941...for six weeks. I don't know what happened between them but it must have been bad and it must of been quick. In fact, her friends didn't even know what happened because she never talked about it. She was quoted in a Florida newspaper a few days before her marriage saying, "I'm so excited I can hardly talk! I don't even know who will perform the ceremony!"

Her second marriage was much happier and lasted much longer. In 1947, she married the film editor George Tomasini and they remained married until his death in 1964. Neither marriage produced children.

Mary also had some pretty famous boyfriends during her days in Hollywood. She briefly dated Jack Pickford and was even engaged to Cary Grant and Dick Powell (at different times, of course).

During WWII, she went overseas to entertain the troops.

She remained close friends with her Peter Pan co-stars, Betty Bronson and Esther Ralston for the rest of their lives. She was also good friends with her husband's frequent collaborator, Alfred Hitchcock.

"Getting into pictures was hard enough. But that was easy compared with living down Wendy. People spoke of me as that 'little girl.' But the years have remedied the fault, and Hollywood at last realizes that I am grown up. Talking pictures had much to do with the changed impression." ~~ Mary Brian, Reading Eagle - July 19, 1930

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