Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mary Jane Irving

Before we go on to our next silent film child star, I just wanted to bring up a couple of things. First, just a reminder that Silence is Platinum is now on Instagram. So, if you have an account, come follow me to see pictures of your favorite silent film actors and actresses and learn about others you may not be aware of! These last few weeks with the IG account has been a ton of fun, so check me out!

Second, just a reminder about posting comments on entries. When you first post a comment, it won't automatically appear on the page. The reason it doesn't first appear is because I have to approve the comments. Once I approve the comment, it will post and I will respond. I had to set it up this way not just to avoid spam and comments from trolls, but also because I wouldn't get notified when people posted! So, please keep that in mind. You don't have to post two or three times, just once is enough, and I will get to it when I get a chance.

Alright, enough housekeeping! On to little Mary Jane Irving!

Mary Jane Irving was born on October 20, 1913 in Columbia, South Carolina. She was the youngest child born to Frank, a clerk, and Louise Irving. She had an older brother, Frank Jr. and an older sister, Elizabeth. Frank and Louise would end up divorcing in 1930.

She got her start in pictures the way all aspiring actors and actresses wish they could, by being spotted on the street. Reportedly, while she was out walking with her mother one day, she was spotted by cowboy actor William S. Hart. Hart apparently was smitten by the little girl because he told her mother that he wanted her in his next picture. 

Mary Jane and William S. Hart

In 1917, Mary Jane made her screen debut in the William S. Hart film, The Square Deal Man. She played a child named Blossom. Her frequent appearances in Hart films would earn her the nickname of "Hart's Sweetheart."

"Well, there's little Mary Jane Irving...She's not a bit precocious, just a dear, sweet kiddie with a head bursting with affection. She always calls me 'Daddy Hart.'" Hart told Photo-Play Journal in March of 1919. 

Mary Jane and Ethel Clayton

During her career, which included 58 films, she and her family lived with Louise Irving's family in Los Angeles. Louise was a very important part of her daughter's career due to her ability to give Mary Jane a cue that would make her cry for a scene. When that didn't work, she would squeeze the little girl's face. Actress Bessie Barriscale apparently also helped with prompting Mary Jane to cry. 

Like most child stars, once the cuteness of childhood wore off, Mary Jane's film roles got smaller and smaller. She played a student in the 1929 film, The Godless Girl (starring Marie Prevost and Lina Basquette) along with other former child stars. She also appeared in The Florodora Girl, starring Marion Davies, and Tom Sawyer, with Jackie Coogan. Both of these films were released in 1930. 

The bit parts continued and she also worked for a time as a stand in for Janet Gaynor and Lily Pons. Reportedly, Mary Jane had planned to take a break from acting, but went back to work to help support her ailing mother. 

"The work keeps me up to date and enables me to meet directors , and to study the work of new stars," Mary Jane told Picture-Play Magazine in 1936.

While her last few film roles were uncredited, they were in smash hits like 1936's Follow the Fleet and 1937's A Star is Born. Her final screen appearance was in 1938 in the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Ginger Rogers film, Having Wonderful Time

Mary Jane Irving passed away on July 17, 1983 in Los Angeles. I don't know where she is buried.

Mary Jane was married once, to screenwriter Robert Carson. He was the writer behind two of her last films, Follow the Fleet and A Star is Born, to name a few. The couple married in 1938 and remained married until Carson's death in 1983. Mary Jane's death was almost six months after his. 

Ethel Clayton and Mary Jane in The Cradle

She was engaged to a stunt man during the 1920's who ended up permanently injured after a stunt went wrong. The same almost happened to Mary Jane when she and her fiance were both on set for the film A Godless Girl and she was preparing to do a stunt that involved jumping from a third floor balcony. With her fiance's support and her own stunt skills, she executed the stunt without any mishaps. 

Joe Butterworth, Brownie the Dog, and Mary Jane in front in The Good Bad Boy. 

"Miss Nilsson is one of my favorites, I guess you would say. I have always wanted to be a bit like her. And I know I've learned a lot just watching her act." ~~ Mary Jane Irving to Hollywood Vagabond - December 1, 1927


  1. It sounds like she had quite the career but, like many young stars, fell out of favour. It's nice to know she had a loving marriage

  2. I was fascinated by her in the Godless Girl. She was believable.