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Mary Wickes

Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Mary Wickes
    Book Description:

    Moviegoers know her as the housekeeper inWhite Christmas, the nurse inNow, Voyager, and the crotchety choir director inSister Act. This book, filled with never-published behind-the-scenes stories from Broadway and Hollywood, chronicles the life of a complicated woman who brought an assortment of unforgettable nurses, nuns, and housekeepers to life on screen and stage.

    Wickes was part of some of the most significant moments in film, television, theatre, and radio history. On that frightening night in 1938 that Orson Welles recorded his earth-shattering "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, Wickes was waiting on another soundstage for him for a rehearsal ofDanton's Death, oblivious to the havoc taking place outside.When silent film star Gloria Swanson decided to host a live talk show on this new thing called television, Wickes was one of her first guests. When Lucille Ball made her first TV appearance anywhere, Wickes appeared with her--and became Lucy's closest friend for more than thirty years. Wickes was the original Mary Poppins, long before an umbrella carried Julie Andrews across the rooftops of London. And when Disney began creating101 Dalmatians, it asked Wickes to pose for animators trying to capture the evil of Cruella de Vil.The pinched-face actress who cracked wise by day became a confidante to some of the day's biggest stars by night, including Bette Davis and Doris Day. Bolstered by interviews with almost three hundred people, and by private correspondence from Ball, Davis, Day, and others,Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Beforeincludes scores of never-before-shared anecdotes about Hollywood and Broadway. In the process, it introduces readers to a complex woman who sustained a remarkable career for sixty years.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-957-0
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. XIII-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Pardon Me Lady, But Did You Drop a Fish?
    (pp. 3-25)

    ALTHOUGH THEY LIVED ONLY ABOUT TWO MILES APART, WORKED IN the same industry, and were fond of each other, Rosemary Clooney and Mary Wickes had not seen each other once in the forty years since they appeared together inWhite Christmas, the most popular film of 1954. That changed on Christmas Eve of 1994, when Clooney attended midnight mass at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, which had been Mary’s church for decades. Clooney’s son Gabriel Ferrer had become a rector at the church, and he was officiating that night. As Clooney turned to leave after the service, she...

  6. CHAPTER TWO From Stockbridge to the Mercury Theatre
    (pp. 26-48)

    MARY ISABELLA WICKENHAUSER BECAME MARY WICKES SO CAVALIERLY that she almost missed it. Some weeks before Mary arrived at Stockbridge in 1934, Strick wrote to keep her abreast of preparations for the summer season—the plays selected for production, rehearsal schedules, costumes and the like—and inserted this casual note: “By the way, you are Mary Wickes. We’ll take out the E if you don’t like it.” Wickenhauser, he later told her, was simply too long for the Playhouse’s marquee.

    Mary adopted her new name without objection, one of the few times in her life she accepted significant change without...

  7. CHAPTER THREE On Stage and On Air
    (pp. 49-70)

    TODAY’S AUDIENCES MAY FIND IT HARD TO IMAGINE THE BROADWAY of the 1940s. It was a time of theatres without air conditioning. It was a time of wartime restrictions on paper, which meant theatregoers were expected to share their copies of the playbill. It was a time when the playbill warned theatregoers to remain in their seats “in the event of an alert,” but also carried notes like: “The Alvin Theatre is perfumed with Prince Matchabelli’sStradivari.” It was also a time when a theatre might brag about its “ new asbestos curtain.”

    For struggling performers like Mary, it was...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Anatomy Is Destiny
    (pp. 71-82)

    LIKE SO MANY NEW YORK ACTRESSES SEEKING STAGE ROLES IN THE 1940s, Mary made the rounds to agents’ offices, hoping for a job that would bring in a regular paycheck. She was more tenacious than most, relentlessly putting her name and face before any agent who might arrange an audition. One such agent was Sarah Enright, who cast many of Brock Pemberton’s productions and who had a reputation for being patient with actors, often welcoming them if they came in without an appointment. When Mary dropped in, Enright would inevitably say, “Oh, Mary, I don’t know what I could send...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Miss Bedpan
    (pp. 83-96)

    MARY WAS REHEARSINGSKYLARKWITH GERTRUDE LAWRENCE AT THE Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts, in August 1939 when she learned of the part that would cement her career. She received a letter from Irving Schneider of the Sam Harris production office, telling her about “a new farce-comedy” by Kaufman and Hart that would be “ideal for you.” The play was calledSuch Interesting People, but shortly before previews it would be renamedThe Man Who Came to Dinner.

    In the play, a famous man of letters suffers a fall while traveling and is forced to recuperate in a stranger’s home....

  10. CHAPTER SIX Los Angeles, Mother in Tow
    (pp. 97-107)

    BETTY GARRETT WAS DRIVING DOWN SUNSET BOULEVARD ONE SPRING afternoon in 1951 when she caught sight of two pedestrians “dressed like ladies out of Edward Gorey,” the illustrator of genteel but macabre gothic characters. In Southern California, “where nobody dresses formally at all,” Garrett could not help but notice these women wearing long, high-waisted dresses and enormous elaborate hats. As she approached the corner of Sunset and Stanley, she realized the women standing before her were Mary and Isabella.

    Garrett was thrilled, because she had not seen them since she left New York herself a few years earlier. “There was...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Lucille Ball’s Best Friend
    (pp. 108-133)

    IN SEPTEMBER 1949, PRODUCER ARTHUR SCHWARTZ OFFERED MARY A regular role onInside U.S.A. with Chevrolet, a half-hour, every-other-week TV variety show modeled after a successful Bea Lillie Broadway vehicle. At this point, Mary had made only a dozen appearances in the new television medium, including stints on a few game shows. A series meant regular work, and she took it. Broadcast live from New York by CBS,Inside U.S.A.starred husband-and-wife performers Mary Healy and Peter Lind Hayes and featured big guest stars of the day. Lucille Ball was to perform on the November 24 show, one of her...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Cookies and Milk with Mother
    (pp. 134-145)

    BILL SWAN MET MARY IN STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, IN THE SUMmer of 1957, when he was performing inBus Stopand she was rehearsingThe Great Sebastians. After they both returned to Los Angeles, Mary suggested they get together, so Swan picked her up for a night at the Hollywood Bowl. At the end of the evening, when he drove Mary back to the Voltaire, she invited him in. “If you’d like to come up, we can have some cookies and milk and you can meet Mother. She’ll be waiting up for me,” Mary said. So, at a time when scotch...

  13. CHAPTER NINE She Kept It to Herself
    (pp. 146-158)

    IGGIE WOLFINGTON OFTEN VISITED RESIDENTS OF THE MOTION PICture and Television Fund’s nursing home, part of an industry-supported retirement community in Woodland Hills, California. One day in the early 1970s, he arrived while Mary was visiting as well. “She was being very thoughtful with an old, cantankerous character actor,” a well-known, second-tier performer of about eighty whom Wolfington prefers not to name. Because Mary had been gracious to this actor, “the next time I was out there, I said, making conversation, ‘Have you seen Mary Wickes lately?’” Wolfington was startled when the man responded gruffly that he found Mary’s visits...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Mary’s Secret Cousin
    (pp. 159-168)

    MARY WOULD HAVE LIKED JERARD BROOKS ADKINS. BORN TWO YEARS after Mary, he lived by many of the same values she did. Driven by a strong midwestern work ethic, he assembled Buick steering wheels at a Dayton, Ohio, factory before beginning a forty-year sales career at Central Ohio Paper Company. Brooks, as he was known, had gone to church regularly since he was five years old, always at Dayton’s Christ Episcopal Church. He married, bought a home, raised a son, put him through college, and became a grandfather. He liked big band music, especially his Russ Morgan record collection. When...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN “Not an Ounce” of Romance
    (pp. 169-192)

    MARY JACKSON, THE CHARACTER ACTRESS BEST KNOWN AS MISS EMily Baldwin fromThe Waltons, invited Mary to a small dinner party at her Hollywood Hills home in the early 1970s. The actor Kendall Clark, who lived a few doors away on Whitley Terrace, phoned Jackson to explain he would be running late. Because Clark had earlier offered to pick Mary up, Jackson now phoned Mary to suggest that she come over by herself, as it seemed unlikely Clark would have time to go from Hollywood to Century City and back during rush hour. “I expected her to say, ‘Well, I’ll...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE Nurses, Nuns, and Housekeepers
    (pp. 193-220)

    IT’S ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE SCENES OF HER CAREER, BUT nothing about it was as it seemed. InThe Trouble with Angels, Mary plays Sister Clarissa, an earnest but unconventional nun at a Catholic girls’ school that is turned upside down by two mischievous students. Sister Clarissa is the school’s physical education instructor, and when the two girls begin flailing during a swimming lesson, the script called for Mary to jump into the pool in full, flowing nun habit to rescue them.

    Unfortunately, Mary had never learned how to swim. When she confided this information in advance to producer...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN When Acting Is Everything . . .
    (pp. 221-242)

    SOMETIMES, ESPECIALLY AFTER ISABELLA DIED, IT WAS AS IF MARY PURposely arranged a grueling schedule to avoid being alone. Consider this eight-week period in a seemingly ordinary summer in 1971. On May 24, she began a four-day assignment onHere’s Lucy, taping “Lucy and Her All-Nun Band.” While taping, she signed a contract to perform the following week in an episode ofThe Jimmy Stewart Show, beginning June 2. That job behind her, she flew to Oregon to shoot scenes with Michael Douglas for Disney’sNapoleon and Samanthafilm. She returned to Los Angeles in late June in advance of...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Becoming the Characters She Played
    (pp. 243-255)

    SOMETIMES ACTORS STRUGGLE TO EMBRACE THE CHARACTERS THEY play. Other times, they struggle to leave their characters behind. In Mary’s case, over time, she became more and more like her characters. A vibrant, adventurous woman became increasingly rude and withdrawn—even imperious—ultimately blurring the distinction between her personal and professional identities. This transformation surfaced in her interactions with friends, colleagues, and the media—with whomever she happened to encounter.

    People in Mary’s life trace this change to Isabella’s death in 1965. The passing of the person Mary loved more than anyone else left a huge void in her life....

  19. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Success Returns
    (pp. 256-277)

    MARY’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE 1980OKLAHOMA!PRODUCTION ON Broadway began two years earlier, when she signed on to play Aunt Eller in two back-to-back, week-long performances in July 1978, first at the St. Louis Muny, and then at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City. She was paid $1,750 per week. This was her first time playing Eller, the rural matriarch who in many ways is the heart of the show. Mary claimed she had never seenOklahoma!before performing in it, but this is hard to believe. She lived in New York during the entirety of the musical’s groundbreaking 1943...

  20. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Physical Deterioration
    (pp. 278-284)

    FORCED TO GIVE UP DRIVING AND HER TRUSTED, FOUR-DOOR BLUE Ford Fairlane, Mary found herself for the first time in her life depending on others for help. And she hated it. For social events, the Davises (who lived in nearby Bel Air) or Emily Daniels (who lived in what is now called Valley Village) often picked her up and drove her home. For work, she now sometimes asked production companies to send a car. For errands, she often turned to public transit, surely making her one of the few established actresses who relied on Los Angeles County’s bus system. Only...

    (pp. 285-299)

    A TUMBLE THAT MARY TOOK ON THEFATHER DOWLINGSET IN DECEMber 1990—tripping over a cable and making “a perfect three-point landing on my nose and knees”—was a bit of foreshadowing in the truest theatrical sense. Mary was not hurt badly, but in her final years, arthritic knees and deteriorating vision conspired against her in devastating ways. On at least three subsequent occasions in her eighties, alone in her apartment, Mary tripped over things she did not see, fell to the floor, and blacked out. The events surrounding these three incidents, more than anything else, shaped the last...

  22. The Roles of Mary Wickes
    (pp. 300-315)

    MARY’S FILM, TELEVISION, AND STAGE ROLES ARE PRESENTED IN chronological order. For films, the relevant year used reflects the date each was first released in the United States. For television series on which she had a regular or semi-regular role, the years listed are those in which Mary appeared, not the years the series aired. Episodic television appearances are listed by original broadcast date, as best can be determined from reference books, newspapers and magazines of the period, Mary’s performance contracts, and her own records. Where a precise airdate could not be identified, the episode appears in its most likely...

  23. NOTES
    (pp. 316-357)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 358-370)
  25. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)