Goodbye to Another Glorious Gal: Mary Carlisle

There are precious few stars of the 1930s who are still with us today, and it is with sadness that we share the news that Mary Carlisle, born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston, Massachusetts, has passed at the age of 104.

The last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, an annual promotional campaign sponsored from 1922-1934 by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers that honored 13 young actresses (the number was 15 in 1932, the year Carlisle was honored) whose careers showed great promise, Carlisle was discovered in 1928 by studio executive Carl Laemmle, Jr. while dining at the Universal Studios commissary. She was just 14.

Mary Carlisle

In 1930, Carlisle signed a one-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, appearing mostly as a dancer in musical shorts, but it was with Paramount Pictures that she would achieve her greatest success. She appeared opposite Bing Crosby in three films—College Humor (1933), Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938)—and would go on to appear in more than sixty pictures in the course of her 14-year career, most of them “B” pictures with titles reminiscent of the early scene in Preston SturgesSullivan’s Travels, in which successful but artistically frustrated director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is reminded of some of his greatest successes: Ants in Your Plants of 1939, Hey Hey in the Hayloft, and So Long, Sarong.

Some of Carlisle’s pictures could’ve been plugged right into John L. Sullivan’s filmography, titles like Hotel Haywire (1937), Ship A Hooey! (1932), and Handy Andy (1934), and we’d pay good money and line up early to see that triple feature tonight, if only some bijou were screening it.

Carlisle was wed to actor James Edward Blakeley (he would go on to become an executive producer at 20th Century-Fox) in 1942 and retired from motion pictures soon thereafter. But more than five dozen pictures is nothing to sneeze at, nor is living (and staying vital) to 104 years of age. What a rich, full life Ms. Carlisle enjoyed.

Rest in peace, Ms. Carlisle, and thank you.

This story originally appeared in a slightly different form on February 3, 2016.

Happy 104th Birthday, Gene Kelly!

Gene Kelly was born 104 years ago today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which seems apt, given that he was something of a blue-collar hoofer. As Kelly once put it, “Fred Astaire represented the aristocracy, I represented the proletariat.” Here are 10 GK Did-You-Knows:

  • Kelly’s father was of Irish descent, and his mother was Irish and German.
  • Kelly’s father was Al Jolson‘s road manager in the 1920s.
  • He attended Penn State University for a while before graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in economics.
  • At Pitt, Kelly was a member of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity.
  • He and his younger brother, Fred, had a dance act in vaudeville. Fred eventually replaced Gene as Harry the Hoofer in the 1939 Broadway production of The Time of Your Life.
  • While Kelly was starring in Pal Joey on Broadway, he signed a contract with producer David O. Selznick. Selznick, after struggling to find a suitable role for Kelly, sold his contract to MGM.
  • Kelly was fighting a high fever while filming the iconic rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain.
  • The first two of Kelly’s three wives were dancers.
  • He was a dance consultant for Madonna‘s 1993 Girlie Show tour.
  • Kelly was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Happy birthday, Gene Kelly, wherever you may be!

Gene Kelly

Happy Birthday, Mary Carlisle!

There are precious few stars of the 1930s who are still with us today, but Mary Carlisle, born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston, Massachusetts, 102 years ago today, is still going strong, bless her heart.

The last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars (an annual promotional campaign sponsored by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers from 1922-1934 that honored 13 young actresses [the number was 15 in 1932, the year Carlisle was honored] whose careers showed great promise), Carlisle was discovered in 1928 by studio executive Carl Laemmle, Jr. while dining at the Universal Studios commissary. She was just 14.

Mary Carlisle

In 1930, Carlisle signed a one-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, appearing mostly as a dancer in musical shorts, but it was with Paramount Pictures that she would achieve her greatest success. She appeared opposite Bing Crosby in three films—College Humor (1933), Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938)—and would go on to appear in more than sixty pictures in the course of her 14-year career, most of them “B” pictures with titles reminiscent of the early scene in Preston SturgesSullivan’s Travels, in which successful but artistically frustrated director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is reminded of some of his greatest successes: Ants in Your Plants of 1939, Hey Hey in the Hayloft, and So Long, Sarong.

Think some of Carlisle’s pictures couldn’t have been plugged right into that dialogue, titles like Hotel Haywire (1937), Ship A Hooey! (1932), and Handy Andy (1934)? But we’d pay good money and line up early to see that triple feature tonight, if only some bijou were screening it.

Carlisle was wed to actor James Edward Blakeley (he would go on to become an executive producer at 20th Century-Fox) in 1942 and retired from motion pictures soon thereafter. But more than five dozen pictures is nothing to sneeze at, nor is being vital and alert at the age of 102, which, by all reports, our Mary is.

Happy birthday, Mary! We hope you enjoy a truly grand day!