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The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Professional Tourist » September 1st, 2013, 1:31 pm

Steve_Taravella wrote:All indications are that she had no interest in children whatever and was at times even uncomfortable in their presence.

This is what I thought of first, when I wondered why Mary had never married. For some religious people -- depending on the religion -- willingness to have children is a requirement for marriage. But from what you described previously it certainly sounds as though Mary socialized quite a bit with gentlemen and enjoyed their company. :)

A couple more questions, if I may:

1) Mary was not quite twenty, still nineteen, when she graduated from university, whereas most people are twenty-one or twenty-two, even back then. Do you know how she managed this? Did she skip a couple of grades in school as a child?

2) Since they had some good friends and associates in common, such as Vincent Price, Orson Welles, and Lucille Ball, it seems that Mary and Agnes Moorehead would have come in contact with each other throughout the years. Do you know if they were friends? Did you find any letters or christmas cards from Miss Moorehead in Mary's archive?

Steve_Taravella

Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Steve_Taravella » September 1st, 2013, 1:32 pm

Countessdelave wrote: I went to high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the early 70s, one of my classes had a field trip to see "The Mystery Cycle", at ACT. Imagine my surprise and delight to see Mary Wickes in it, playing Noah's wife. She was funny and perfect in the role. I was struck by something written in the program's bio. It said that she was going to UCLA to get her Master's degree. Can you comment about this period of her life and why she decided to get her degree at this stage of her career?


I love this question :)

One of the things I came to admire most about Mary was her innate sense of fairness. Not just in regard to herself, but in regard to others around her as well. So when Washington University, her alma mater, gave her an honorary doctorate in the late 1960s, Mary felt that, to be fair, it was only right that she earn the master's degree to demonstrate that she deserved the doctorate.

She enrolled in UCLA for a master's in theatre arts (I can't recall if there was a specific discipline), and chose as her thesis subject the history of the Muny. The Muny is the grand Municipal Opera of St. Louis -- at 12,000+ seats, perhaps the largest outdoor theatre operating in the US. It holds a special place in St. Louis history -- and held special significance for Mary: She attended many performance there as a girl, developed her love of theatre in its seats, and later returned to perform there many times. But over the years, she became disenchanted with the Muny. This in itself was not uncommon with Mary, as various institutions fell in and out of favor with her based on her reaction to whatever decisions they were making at the time. But this was more personal than most, since it was rooted in resentment over her not being chosen to play Parthy Ann in a particular production of Show Boat there in the 1960s. She had played Parthy Ann several times on that stage before and felt somehow entitled to it. When she was not offered the role, she mounted a campaign aimed at the Muny's board, which succeeded only in making her look rather silly. In short order, a thesis on the Muny lost its pull for her and she never finished it. She completed four chapters of what was to be a much larger effort. They are in her papers, but I have not read them.

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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby JackFavell » September 1st, 2013, 1:41 pm

Did Mary have any favorite movies herself? I mean ones that she watched. Or was she so busy that she never made time for them? I know many theater people who never go to the theater, they prefer acting to watching.

Steve_Taravella

Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Steve_Taravella » September 1st, 2013, 2:09 pm

Professional Tourist wrote: 1) Mary was not quite twenty, still nineteen, when she graduated from university, whereas most people are twenty-one or twenty-two, even back then. Do you know how she managed this? Did she skip a couple of grades in school as a child?

2) Since they had some good friends and associates in common, such as Vincent Price, Orson Welles, and Lucille Ball, it seems that Mary and Agnes Moorehead would have come in contact with each other throughout the years. Do you know if they were friends? Did you find any letters or christmas cards from Miss Moorehead in Mary's archive?


Hi. You're right that she was younger than most of her classmates. Mary was pushed ahead two years in grade school. This practice, used to alleviate crowding, was not uncommon in St. Louis during that period.

Funny that someone should ask about Moorehead. I expected to come across something about her in researching Mary's life -- but encountered nary a word. They never worked together. I cannot be certain the two ever met, though certainly that's likely, given that they were of roughly the same generation, both spent their youth in St. Louis, were both part of the Mercury Theatre (though not in the same productions) and, as you point out, had friends in common. My guess is they would not have been drawn to each other in any event, as they appear to have been very different. For instance, Mary was the sort of person who celebrated Midwestern life -- she adored everything about St. Louis -- the people, the culture, the parks -- whereas Moorehead's attitude, according to someone who knew both women, was more like, "When's the next bus leaving?" She might have found Mary tiresome -- but I say this based only on my knowledge of Mary. I've not read any of the biographies of Moorehead and know surprisingly little about her life.

Steve_Taravella

Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Steve_Taravella » September 1st, 2013, 2:19 pm

JackFavell wrote:Did Mary have any favorite movies herself? I mean ones that she watched. Or was she so busy that she never made time for them?


Mary loved watching movies and went to the cinema (and the theatre) often. As her vision deteriorated, she found the images very dark in cinemas, so in later years she often watched films on videotapes at home. I don't know of any particular favorites, but they would likely have been of the wholesome, family-fare variety. One of her favorite television programs was the family sitcom Home Improvement. She and Greg Richards, her pastor and close friend, considered collaborating on a script to submit to that show but didn't proceed.

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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Professional Tourist » September 1st, 2013, 2:36 pm

Steve_Taravella wrote:Funny that someone should ask about Moorehead. I expected to come across something about her in researching Mary's life -- but encountered nary a word. They never worked together. I cannot be certain the two ever met, though certainly that's likely, given that they were of roughly the same generation, both spent their youth in St. Louis, were both part of the Mercury Theatre (though not in the same productions) and, as you point out, had friends in common. My guess is they would not have been drawn to each other in any event, as they appear to have been very different. For instance, Mary was the sort of person who celebrated Midwestern life -- she adored everything about St. Louis -- the people, the culture, the parks -- whereas Moorehead's attitude, according to someone who knew both women, was more like, "When's the next bus leaving?" She might have found Mary tiresome -- but I say this based only on my knowledge of Mary. I've not read any of the biographies of Moorehead and know surprisingly little about her life.

If anyone would wonder about a Moorehead connection, it would be me. Notice avatar. :lol: :P :lol:

Actually, AM had strong mid-western ties, although more so to Ohio where her family farm and second home were located, and to Wisconsin. She also favored the mid-western Mayo Clinic when she needed serious medical care. But she worked several summers at the Muny, and did other theatrical and local radio work in St. Louis before heading to New York to attend the drama academy in the late 1920s. In later years she would return to St. Louis occasionally to visit relatives, and had a cousin there who acted as her attorney for many years. She still has some family there. If you're ever interested in reading about her, the best of what's available so far is Charles Tranberg's biography.

Anyway, I'm sure Mary and AM socialized together once in a while, at least via their mutual good friend Lucille Ball. But as you mentioned, they may not have been compatible as friends. Even though they were both very religious and had some similar values, they were probably quite different.

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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby moira finnie » September 1st, 2013, 4:02 pm

Steve, thanks for clarifying the lengths that you went to write this book. I hope that the positive reaction of others to this book means that the University Press of MS will consider more books about character actors in the future.

Is it possible that we could expect more work in this field from you someday?

Is there any advice you might give to anyone considering writing a book about someone from the studio era?

Most of all, my gratitude for the time you have taken during this visit to give such detailed and entertaining stories about your adventures in biography and filling in more shading in your portrait of Mary Wickes. Please come back to visit anytime and post about any topics here that appeal to you. You will be most welcome (and we won't pelt you with questions every time).
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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Steve_Taravella » September 1st, 2013, 4:23 pm

moirafinnie wrote: Is there any advice you might give to anyone considering writing a book about someone from the studio era? Most of all, my gratitude for the time you have taken during this visit to give such detailed and entertaining stories about your adventures in biography and filling in more shading in your portrait of Mary Wickes. Please come back to visit anytime and post about any topics here that appeal to you. You will be most welcome (and we won't pelt you with questions every time).


Thanks, Moira -- and thanks to all of you who've shared such interesting questions and observations. I've enjoyed this experience, and I look forward to more interactions as I take part in this site going forward. I'm so glad it's here, and kudos to Moira, Christy and others for keeping it going.

As to advice, I'll offer just one thought, which won't be new to others in this group who have published biographies: Be persistent. This book was turned down by many agents who felt Mary was simply too obscure a subject to find an audience. I'm glad it has now found one, and I'm grateful to those of you this weekend who let me share a little about it.

Best,

Steve Taravella

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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » September 1st, 2013, 7:28 pm

Thank you so much for your visit here, Steve!
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Re: The Q & A with Mary Wickes Biographer, Steve Taravella

Postby mongoII » September 2nd, 2013, 11:16 am

Steve, I want to thank for your very informative visit to SSO. I enjoyed reading about our Mary Wickes
although I was surprised at some of her odd ways especially with children.
In any event I will always enjoy her performances on film.
Thanks again.
Joe
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