Mae Clarke, and Other Forgotten Stars

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jdb1

Mae Clarke, and Other Forgotten Stars

Post by jdb1 »

We had a brief discussion on the Trivia/Do You Know Me thread about Mae Clarke. She was a very good actress whose career never seemed to get off the ground after a few good starring roles in the early 30s. She is the woman who got the grapefruit in the face from Cagney in Public Enemy, and she starred in the 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge shown recently on TCM.

I started looking for information about her on the Internet, and there isn't much. I found a book at Amazon which is her own oral history. It's called "Featured Player," compiled by James Curtis. However, Amazon lists it at $53.00. A bit expensive for my amateur investigations. Maybe I can find a better price.

I have found references on several sites to her unlucky life; her bio on the TCM site gives words to that effect as well, but I haven't yet found any elaborations. Several sites claim that Clarke was the basis for Lorelei Lee of Anita Loos' "Gentleman Prefer Blondes." At some point she was married to Fanny Brice's brother. One site said that she retired and taught acting when her career finally fizzled out in the 70s. I found a not very enlightening obituary in the NY Times, which is really just a list of her film credits.

And she did start her career as a chorus girl. Below is a YouTube link to a musical number from 1932. I'm not sure, but I suspect it's from a film called Night World, about a night club. I think Mae is the shortest dancer on the extreme right when the women form a single line (it's hard to see their faces clearly). It is a quite nice little musical number from so early a film. I'm going to keep looking -- there are a few books about Hollywood in the 30s that mention her; it's just a question of finding the books. Anyone who knows anything about Mae Clarke, please chime in.
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

Mae Clarke in the chorus

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZKzVCbENeY[/youtube]
feaito

Post by feaito »

I'm pretty certain that I might have a book in which she's either interviewed or profiled, but since I'm going out of town today on the afternoon, I won't be able to check it until monday evening when I return to Santiago.
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

feaito wrote:I'm pretty certain that I might have a book in which she's either interviewed or profiled, but since I'm going out of town today on the afternoon, I won't be able to check it until monday evening when I return to Santiago.


Muy amable, Nando. I did find a copy of her memoirs online for $13, which is more in my line, so I bought it and should have it soon (it's not exactly a book that's in demand).

Further research at lunchtime showed some references to mental troubles. Poor Mae; she further intrigues me. I'll appreciate what light you can shed on Miss Clarke's life.
JDB

PS - Are you going someplace nice?
feaito

Post by feaito »

Since my wife and I celebrated our 14th Wedding Anniversary on October 2nd, she invited me (as a gift) to a cute resort in the mountains near Santiago (it's around 45 minutes -driving time- away from the city). There are many of this type of resorts/spas in Chile and they are called "Termas". It has thermal waters and baths and is set against the beautiful background of the Andes' Mountains.

Regarding Mae, I'm almost sure that at least she's profiled in James Robert Parish's book "Hollywood Players of the Thirties", a copy of which I own.
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

Well, friends, the Mae Clarke book I ordered has finally arrived.

It's such a small book, about 270 pages, with copious notes, filmography and bibliography. I can't believe Amazon wanted $53 for it! I paid $13 at one of Amazon's third-party dealers.

I just started it, and it's already pretty interesting. It's actually the transcription of a series of interviews Clarke gave over the course of a few years before her death in 1992. The filmography in the back is an eye-opener. She made a slew of movies, and dozens of TV appearances, mostly uncredited. Now I'm going to find out why.

Stay tuned . . . . .
feaito

Post by feaito »

I had forgotten I had promised to look for Mae's profile in "Hollywood Players of the '30s"... Sorry :oops:

Well, she is profiled and Parish says that the notoriety caused by the grapefruit scene in "Public Enemy" doubtlessly contributed to her later box-office value, but it is also possible that it may have saddled her with a limited screen image that was too hard to shake.

He adds that by 1934 she was reduced to playing supporting roles in pictures.

In 1936 it was announced that she would marry Dr. Frank G. Nolan, but a year later she became the wife of a China Clipper pilot, Captain Stevens Bancroft. She made two double-billers with Jack Holt in 1937 and was off the screen until 1940.

Her studio employment became less frequent after her divorce from Bancroft and she married Captain Herbert Langdon in 1946. Thereafter her career slowed down to 1 picture a year, and they were mostly Republic program fillers. In 1949 she hit cinematic "bottom" by playing the lead of a newspaper photographer in Republic's 12-episode serial of King of the Rocket Men.

Then Parish writes that she appeared in insignificant small parts in often major films in which she received no onscreen billing. Around 1953 she began getting a lot of TV Work...

There's data in this book, but not much insight or reasons. I bet Judith will find the reasons in Miss Clarke's Memoirs :wink: .
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

I've already found something significant: early on in the interviews, when Mae is talking of her youth and of how much she loved going to shows (she grew up in Atlantic City, where her father was a musician), the interviewer asks her when she decided she wanted to be in the movies. Her answer is that she didn't - she says things just happened to her. It remains to be seen, as I read through the book, whether this passiveness and lack of ambition is real, or just a rationalization on Mae's part.

One thing this book sorely lacks is photos. There's a nice one of young Mae on the cover, a nice Hurrell photo of her at the frontispiece, one of the famous "grapefruit" scene on the back cover, and a small photo of her at about age 80 or so, looking rather elegant, on the back flap of the jacket, and that's it. Too bad - she was a very interesting looking woman, and enough of a good character actress to look very different in different photos.
feaito

Post by feaito »

jdb1 wrote:One thing this book sorely lacks is photos. There's a nice one of young Mae on the cover, a nice Hurrell photo of her at the frontispiece, one of the famous "grapefruit" scene on the back cover, and a small photo of her at about age 80 or so, looking rather elegant, on the back flap of the jacket, and that's it. Too bad - she was a very interesting looking woman, and enough of a good character actress to look very different in different photos.


In my opinion, she looks especially "alluring" in the 1933 MGM film "Penthouse". The MGM glamour treatment :wink:
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

I'm halfway through the Mae Clarke book (called "Featured Player"), and here's an interim report:

First of all, yes, there are photos in this book. The pages in the middle were pressed down so flat I didn't even see them until I came to that place in the book - this volume must have been sitting in a warehouse for years before someone (me) asked for it. It was published in 1996.

Now, as to Mae's contention that "things just happened" to her -- I don't think so; at least, not early in her career.

She loved to dance, went to a dance school in Atlantic City, and always contrived to be the star of each show. At this time, the late 20s, Atlantic City was thriving as a weekend getaway - sort of as it is now, without the gambling. In one of the dance school shows, she was seen by a NYC producer, who gave her a chorus girl job. Once in New York, she met Barbara Stanwyck (still Ruby Stevens then). Mae says she was told that Ruby was talented, smart and tough, so Mae got herself into Ruby's clique and she, Ruby and another girl shared an apartment (Mae was about 16 at the time). Tagging along with the aggressive Ruby, Mae landed many more, increasingly prestigious dancing jobs in night clubs and shows. Having had a small part in the play where Ruby Stevens got her first speaking role, Mae used that same climactic speech to audition for a movie contract.

Mae spoke of how much she loved and admired Fanny Brice. She met Fanny's brother, Lew Brice, a song and dance man man twice her age, and in jig time she and Lew were married, and Fanny Brice became Mae's mentor. Fanny helped Mae to get the movie contract. Mae made a few films in the early 30s, became a minor star, dumped Lew, and got herself engaged to a producer, the former husband of Colleen Moore. That gentleman, on the eve of their wedding, absconded to Hawaii and married someone else. Shortly thereafter, Mae's option was not picked up. She was at a party, met Harry Cohn, and told him "I'd like to be in your movies." Bingo - she had a contract at Columbia. Cohn also lent her out frequently to Universal. This is not the resume of someone who just lets things happen to her.

Now Mae is working hard, supporting her family, who she brought out to Hollywood with her, and there are some cracks showing. As Mae tells it, she had a bad sinus infection, and was given some painkillers by a doctor. These drugs caused her to hallucinate, and she started to feel anxious, so she checked herself into a hospital, where she began to scream and rave. She was then transferred to another hospital where she was restrained and put in a bath of the kind used for mental patients. She insists she had no idea what was going on, and that her mother was not allowed to see her. The story is a harrowing one, but it has lots of holes, and doesn't make complete sense. I'll resume reading this evening.

By the way, Mae is a very good storyteller, and certainly shows humor and good grace in the telling of her life. She speaks affectionately of her parents, and of her sister and brother. There's a photo in the book of little Mae and her Daddy in the surf at Atlantic City that is awfully sweet.
Last edited by jdb1 on November 8th, 2007, 1:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by moira finnie »

Hi Judith,
I'm enjoying your reports on Mae Clarke's life very much. After seeing her in Waterloo Bridge (1931) last year and reading the bio called "James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters" by James Curtis, she is much more than the girl who had the grapefruit mashed into her face. And yes, it certainly doesn't sound as though Mae just "let things happen to her"!

What does she have to say about Ruby Stevens' family background? Wasn't Stanwyck about the same age as Clarke? Thanks for posting this info.
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jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

Moira, Mae hasn't said much about Stanwyck so far, save that she was from Brooklyn and had a reputation very early on as nobody's fool. She did mention that Stanwyck was an excellent dancer, and that in her movies she was never really given the chance to show what she was capable of (in those where she danced, that is).

Interestingly, she spoke very admiringly of Harry Cohn, saying that she never found him to be quite the ogre that others did. I don't get the sense from this book that there was ever anything but a professional relationship there. The interviewer, James Curtis, also mentioned that he spoke to many "old Hollywood" people in preparation for his interview with Mae, and that they weren't particularly hostile toward Cohn. Maybe his ogre-ness grew with his success.

By the way, Mae always looked more mature than her age, and she was but 21 when she made Waterloo Bridge. She said that Bette Davis had tried out for the lead, but Mae didn't know that at the time (Davis played the boyfriend's younger sister). She tried to befriend Davis, who she liked, and didn't understand why Davis wasn't very warm toward her, although they were friendly on the set. Only years later, when Mae had a bit part in Davis' movie The Catered Affair, did Davis tell her about how much she really wanted to play Myra in Waterloo.
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Post by Mr. Arkadin »

moirafinnie wrote:Hi Judith,
I'm enjoying your reports on Mae Clarke's life very much. After seeing her in Waterloo Bridge (1931) last year and reading the bio called "James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters" by James Curtis, she is much more than the girl who had the grapefruit mashed into her face. And yes, it certainly doesn't sound as though Mae just "let things happen to her"!


That's a good book. I read it all in one sitting when I had to spend the night at my business a couple of years ago because someone ripped off our electical lines to the building for the copper. It was kinda creepy sitting in the dark with an electric lantern and a book (my business is in a very crime ridden area of town), but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

Mae praised Whale to the skies. She said he would only have to say "Another take," and the actors would immediately begin to analyze what they had just done, and what they might do differently. She loved working with him and felt he taught her a lot about screen acting, very gently.
jdb1

Post by jdb1 »

I just made a correction to my 10 AM posting, because I noticed I left the "e" off of "Clarke." Mae was very proud of that "e" and said when it was omitted in a credit she took it as a personal insult (I have the impression that was a tongue-in-cheek remark). Her real name was "Klotz," and she told of how, at some night club when she was still a teen, a comic picked her out of the audience to banter with and made fun of her name (he sounded like a Don Rickles type). So she changed it to "Clarke," which sounds something like "Klotz," only has more elegance, to Mae's way of thinking.

Sorry, Ms. Clarke.
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