Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Late Great Mary Carlisle

Mary Carlisle, the beautiful actress who played opposite such leading men as Bing Crosby, Lew Ayres, and Gene Autry and who was the last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, died today. She was believed to be 104.

Mary Carlisle was born Gwendolyn Witter February 3 in either 1912 or 1914 in Boston, Massachusetts. It was after her father's death that her family moved to Los Angeles, California. Her uncle was film editor and producer Robert Carlisle, through whom she learned of a casting call for chorus girls at MGM. She hurriedly took dance lessons and was surprised when she was hired. Once the truth came out that she didn't know how to dance, she was made a substitute, someone to step in if one of the chorus girls couldn't perform.

Mary Carlisle made her film debut in an uncredited part in Long Live the King in 1923. She spent the late Twenties and very early Thirties appearing in similar uncredited roles (including one as Little Bo Beep in the notorious pre-Code film Madam Satan). Her first credited role was as Cassandra Phelps in This Reckless Age in 1932. Miss Carlisle would prove to be very busy during the Thirties. She played opposite Bing Crosby in three films: College Humour (1933), Double or Nothing (1937), and Doctor Rhythm (1938). She appeared as a young honeymooner in Grand Hotel (1932). During the Thirties she was very prolific, appearing in such films as The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933), Should Ladies Behave (1933), Palooka (1934), Murder in the Private Car (1934), Kentucky Kernels (1934), One Frightened Night (1935), The Old Homestead (1935), Hotel Haywire (1937), Hold 'Em Navy (1937), Hunted Men (1938), Illegal Traffic (1938), Beware Spooks! (1939), Rovin' Tumbleweeds (1939), and Dance, Girl, Dance (1940).

In the Forties Mary Carlisle appeared in the films Rags to Riches (1941), Torpedo Boat (1942), Baby Face Morgan (1942), and Dead Men Walk (1943). In 1942 she married actor James Edward Blakeley and retired from acting not long afterwards. Mr. Blakeley later became a 20th Century Fox executive and served as production manager on Batman and other shows. The two remained married until his death, a full 65 years. For years she was the manager of an Elizabeth Arden salon in Beverly Hills.

For her whole career Mary Carlisle was generally cast as ingénues. There should be little surprise why. Blonde and possessing a delicate beauty, Miss Carlisle certainly looked the part. That having been said, she possessed more talent than many young actresses who played ingénues during the era. Miss Carlisle was always convincing in the roles she played and showed a particular gift for comedy. While most of her roles were in low budget programmers, she remained very much in demand. She acted for multiple studios, from MGM to Republic. She also played opposite an impressive array of leading men, including Lew Ayres, Joe E. Brown, Ralph Byrd, Leo Carillo, Bing Crosby, and Wheeler and Woolsey. Charming and remarkably pretty and possessed of a good deal of talent, Mary Carlisle was always a delight to see on screen.

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