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Mae Clarke, and Other Forgotten Stars

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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jdb1

Postby jdb1 » October 30th, 2007, 8:54 am

I've been unusually busy this past week, and I haven't had much chance to read the Mae Clarke book, short as it is.

I did read some on the train ride home last night. Interesting what she says about the infamous "grapefruit scene." It is generally said that she didn't know what Cagney was going to do - even our friend Ben Mankewiecz said so in his afterward comments to Public Enemy last Saturday.

However, in this book, Mae said she knew all along what was planned. The scene was shot first without any violence, and Mae went to her dressing room. A few minutes later, Cagney came in and asked if she would be willing to re-shoot the scene, with the added ending where Cagney would do the grapefruit thing, which he and the director had devised -- he promised he woudn't hurt her. She said she wasn't happy about it, but since she wasn't a big enough star to object, and because she didn't want to get a reputation as being uncooperative, she agreed. She found the whole thing very disturbing, and that may be what registers on her face, not surprise.

She also said that there was quite an outcry when the movie first came out -- she said many women's groups protested such displays of violence against women on the screen (oh, for those old days!) She feared that her career would be affected; in fact, I think she does ascribe the downward arc of her career in part to that notorious scene.

However, once she committed to it, she felt she had to follow through, and she gamely posed for stills afterward. Those are what are still in circulation, and she said her discomfiture was genuine. She does have nothing but good to say about Cagney, though. She said he went about his screen acting like a dancer - his acting was, in effect, self-choreographed.

When the interviewer asks Mae her opinion of the people she worked with early on, it's interesting to me that most men are described as "clean." "He was very clean;" "He had such clean fingernails." I guess we have slightly different standards of description now.

One person she has nothing good to say about was Edward G. Robinson, with whom she made one film. She called him "nasty and a snob." She said he only wanted to talk about art, and she knew nothing about art, so they had nothing to say to each other. She thought he was arrogant, but maybe that was her own insecurity talking.

Mae revealed that she had an affair with Sidney Blackmer, who was married at the time. It appears that she admired him; she called him a gentleman, but then she said he treated her badly and then unceremoniously dumped her. Years later, she met Blackmer's wife on the street in New York, and they went to the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station and badmouthed Blackmer for hours, laughing hysterically. Blackmer's wife opened the conversation with "Well, was he as bad to you as he was to me?"

Mae said that after her first breakdown, in 1932, two of her mother's relatives, an aunt and an uncle, came to live with them in Los Angeles to help take care of her. I wonder just how difficult Mae was at that point, they she needed six adults (her mother and father, brother and sister and an uncle and aunt) to maintain her. In 1934, after making a few more films, she had another breakdown, this time more serious. Mae said her family had her committed much too soon - they were nervous about every little thing she did. She said they kept a straight jacket in the house.

In the hospital Mae received shock treatments (without anesthetic, as was the method at the time), and psychiatric therapy. She said she was manic depressive, but the term and the condition weren't well documented at the time. The interviewer asked her if she had scene the movie about Frances Farmer, and Mae said "That's just what happened to me." But she doesn't go into much detail.

At this point in the book, Mae is still a studio player, having gone from MGM to Columbia, to Universal, RKO and now she is at Republic. Stay tuned.
Last edited by jdb1 on November 27th, 2007, 4:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

feaito

Postby feaito » October 30th, 2007, 10:31 am

Mae said that after her first breakdown, in 1932, two of her mother's relatives, an aunt and an uncle, came to live with them in Los Angeles to help take care of her. I wonder just how difficult Mae was at that point, they she needed six adults (her mother and father, brother and sister and an uncle and aunt) to maintain her. In 1934, after making a few more films, she had another breakdown, this time more serious. Mae said her family had her committed much too soon - they were nervous about every little thing she did. She said they kept a straight jacket in the house.

In the hospital Mae received shock treatments (without anesthetic, as was the method at the time), and psychiatric therapy. She said she was manic depressive, but the term and the condition weren't well documented at the time. The interviewer asked her if she had scene the movie about Frances Farmer, and Mae said "That's just what happened to me." But she doesn't go into much detail.


Poor Mae, I really feel sorry for her. She must have suffered very much. She really went through a lot of things in her life.

BTW, thanks for your effort Judith. I really appreciate that you are taking the time to share this book with all of us.

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » November 1st, 2007, 12:18 pm

Well, we've come to the end of the trail with "Featured Player: An Oral Biography of Mae Clarke."

Mae Clarke, despite the fact that she was relegated to small and even smaller parts, seemed to have worked very steadily throughout her career.

As the book goes on, Mae's story becomes less clear - the interviewer asks her many questions about her life which she is either reluctant to talk about and, rather, talks around, or simply doesn't remember. According to the book, she had at least four breakdowns (she says she doesn't remember one of them at all). However, she never seems to want for work.

Interestingly, she hardly ever mentions her agents. According to the interviews in the book she just has a part - hardly any mention of how she got them. She says early on, when she is just starting out that "in those days agents didn't talk to you, they just sent you to work."

In any event, Mae made many more movies, did radio, and was in many dramas in the early days of TV. Her descriptions of the seat-of-the-pants nature of live TV are funny and fascinating.

Mae seems to have had a strong friendship with Herbert Yates, head of Republic, and the entire Yates family (though not so much after the first Mrs. Yates died and Yates married Vera Hruba Ralston). Consequently, she had a lot of work at Republic. The most significant movie she did for Republic was The Flying Tigers (a small part). She didn't think much of John Wayne.

Mae married three times: Lew Brice (Fanny's brother), Stevens Bancroft (a pilot and business manager for Pan Am), and Herbert Langdon.

According to Mae, Brice was at the ebb of his song and dance career and drank too much. Bancroft was under too much pressure to increase Pan Am's business in Brazil (where he and Mae lived during the short marriage) and drank too much. Langdon was an "entertainer" of unspecified type who couldn't get a career going after WWII, and drank too much. I don't think any of Mae's marriages lasted more than two years.

In the 1950s and 60s, Mae did a lot of TV work, and appeared on most of the popular dramas and anthology series of the day. She was even in an episode of Batman (with Vincent Price as "Egghead"). She also had a recurring role as Nurse Marge Brown on General Hospital in the early 60s. Mae worked until 1980. Her last screen appearance was in 1967 for the Paulist Fathers syndicated TV show "Insight," a series, usually broadcast on Sunday mornings, about people undergoing crises in faith. In this book she doesn't mention what she was doing from 1967 until 1980, when she took up residence in the Motion Picture Country home, but another source I read said she taught acting classes. She still received fan mail throughout the twelve years she lived there at the Country Home. She died in 1992.

From what I can deduce from Mae's comments and descriptions, despite her mental difficulties and lack of education (as far as the 8th grade), she was a smart and witty person who liked people. She was probably a good friend and a fun companion, and she was able to stay afloat because of her good nature and basic strength of character. Based on the little I've seen of her screen work, the earliest films speak of a real talent, but perhaps Mae just didn't have the self-confidence to take herself as far as she could have gone. Despite all the difficulties of her life, this book shows a professional and observant woman who never lost her sense of humor.

Anyone out there who has the means might like to organize a Mae Clarke film festival. Her resume is quite long, and her last appearance in a major film was in Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1966. If TCM had a Mae Clarke evening, we could have a "spot Mae" contest.

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knitwit45
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Postby knitwit45 » November 1st, 2007, 1:06 pm

Judith, I just purchased "Thoroughly Modern Millie", and have watched it several times (I'm quite a fan of this movie :lol: ) What part of the movie is Mae Clarke in?
Thanks!
Nancy

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » November 1st, 2007, 2:29 pm

knitwit45 wrote:Judith, I just purchased "Thoroughly Modern Millie", and have watched it several times (I'm quite a fan of this movie :lol: ) What part of the movie is Mae Clarke in?
Thanks!
Nancy


The filmography in the book says "Woman in Office." I assume it means the office where Mille worked. Mae would have been in her mid-50s; she was blonde.

There's a photo in the book of Mae as Nurse Marge Brown in General Hospital. I can't quite put my finger on who it is she looks like, to help you spot her elsewhere. A bit like Arlene Francis, actually - do you know who that is?

Now that I know who Mae is and what she looks like, it'll be fun trying to spot her in the very many films she made and all the vintage TV shows which may air from time to time. Her filmography generally lists her simply as "bit" for her films, so it will be a challenge. I think she had slightly larger parts in her TV work.

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knitwit45
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Postby knitwit45 » November 1st, 2007, 4:15 pm

Thanks, Judith. I often wish that movies could have the little balloons above the "bit" players heads, giving their names, but then of course, you would lose all continuity of the film...I'm sure someone will figure out a way, perhaps on future DVD's?

I will look for her tonight!

Nancy

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » November 2nd, 2007, 8:37 am

knitwit45 wrote:Thanks, Judith. I often wish that movies could have the little balloons above the "bit" players heads, giving their names, but then of course, you would lose all continuity of the film...I'm sure someone will figure out a way, perhaps on future DVD's?

I will look for her tonight!

Nancy


My stepfather always used to complain about how movies gave their redits. He liked the movies from the early 30s that showed the actor, his name, and sometimes the name of the character, at the start of the film. Actors were often introduced in a similar way in silents - the dialog card introduced the character and gave the name of the actor. I just hate it when TV movie broadcasts don't include the ending credits. Even then, I'm not always sure I remember the names of the characters so that I can match them to the names of the actors. It would be nice if future DVDs included a little gallery of players, either on the disc or in an insert.

Case in point: maybe someone can identify for me this actress: She had a round face with a pug nose, and curly hair. She usually played "cute" girls. She was in "Another Part of the Forest," where she played a "fast" girl brought into the Hubbard house by the profligate son, Oscar. She told the father that she often played Mozart "on a little drum." I looked at the list of characters on IMDb, but I'm not sure what her character's name was. Anyone know her?
Last edited by jdb1 on November 5th, 2007, 12:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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moira finnie
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Postby moira finnie » November 2nd, 2007, 8:56 am

It's been a long time since I've seen Another Part of the Forest, Judith, but could it be Dona Drake? Here's a bioof her and a picture:
Image
Last edited by moira finnie on November 2nd, 2007, 8:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » November 2nd, 2007, 8:56 am

Now I've had some time to digest what I read in Mae Clarke's memoirs.

First of all, Nancy, I read over again Mae's description of her appearance in Thoroughly Modern Millie. I don't think I actually read that entry before.

Mae played John Gavin's receptionist. She describes how, when shooting her brief scene with Julie Andrews, they had the usual waiting around time, and Mae, being an old hand, attempted to make a little conversation with Ms. Andrews to fill the time. The way Mae tells it, Ms. Andrews was supercilious, cold, and rebuffed any attempts at cordiality. As a conversation opener, Mae told her that she had made Waterloo Bridge at this studio, and Ms. Andrews acted as though she didn't want to hear about it. Mae says she wasn't trying to brag or make herself more important than The Star; she was just trying to fill the silence. Ms. Andrews acted as though this tiresome old person was trying to give herself importance she didn't deserve. I think Mae was puzzled by this, rather than offended.

I get no sense at all from this book that Mae was in any way tiresome. Rather, as I said earlier, she seems like a warm and funny person, and appears to have had many loyal friends. She maintained close ties with her family all her life.

So -- in light of my first comment about Mae -- how she said things just happened to her. I don't think so. I think she liked being a performer, and she kept at it and basically enjoyed it. Mae talks about setbacks, but there's no sense of bitterness in her words. This is what happened to me, I was down for a while, I got back up, and I'm still here.

I do get a sense that Mae was very social and gregarious, and being an actress was an ideal career for someone of a creative bent who liked to be around people. She had her moment in the spotlight, and it took a terrible toll on her both physically and mentally. I think she ultimately recognized her limitations, and stuck with the supporting roles, working enough to make a living and keep her union status current. So very many of her colleagues had similar stories, and ended up in much worse situations than did Mae. She was proud of her work. From her descriptions of her career and the events of her life, it's clear she liked what she was doing, valued her friends, and was satisfied.

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Postby knitwit45 » November 2nd, 2007, 9:01 am

Thanks, Judith, for the additional info.
I just looked at TCM's description of "Another Part of the Forest", and I think it was Dona Drake you were asking about.

Oops, our beloved "leader", Moira, just posted a much better description!

Nancy

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » November 2nd, 2007, 9:01 am

Re: Dona Drake

Yes, Moira, I think she's the one. I looked on IMDb, and just the name of the character in APOTF, Laurette Sincee, sounds like the right one.

Thanks.

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Postby Ann Harding » January 17th, 2008, 11:06 am

OMG! Mae Clarke's life story sound terrible like that Frances Farmer.... :(
I'll certainly purchase that book one of these days! :)

I am glad I managed to see Big Time, her first film: she was superb in it! 8) The print I saw was from the MOMA, a reasonnable 16 mm slightly grainy.

I'd like too see her in Lewis Milestone's The Front Page (1931). Has anybody seen this film?

feaito

Postby feaito » January 17th, 2008, 11:37 am

Ann Harding wrote:I'd like too see her in Lewis Milestone's The Front Page (1931). Has anybody seen this film?


I saw it two or three years ago and I recall that the dialogue was snappy and delivered in an extremely fast way :shock: . I do not remember details, but Mae had little screen time on it.

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » January 31st, 2008, 9:26 am

I'm back -- the one-woman Mae Clarke Fanclub.

So? Did anyone see Lady Killer last night? The film was pretty cute, with Cagney as an inadvertent movie star who used to be a crook, and Mae as his perfidious moll, who does the right thing at the end. A few scenes were really funny, especially Cagney filming a scene, dressed as a Regency dandy, complete with curly dark wig, lace at the neck, and a little moustache, given garlic to eat by the director, to make the love scene "real." The expression on the face of Margaret Lindsay, as his co-star in the scene, was priceless.

Mae seemed to be imitating Joan Blondell here, probably at the behest of the director, but I didn't really think it was necessary. She was quite a poised and funny performer all on her own (and looked great), and her enthusiasm for working with Cagney certainly showed; they were very good together. Still hard to believe she was so young then; only early 20s.

My daughter watched about 20 minutes of the movie with me, and commented that Mae seemed very "modern," by which I think she meant she didn't look or act particularly dated. The at the time notorious scene where Cagney drags Mae out of a room by the hair and throws her into the hall was very well done, and was funny, rather than shocking - Mae, a dancer, did physical comedy very well. Once again, we saw the great talent and potential of this versatile, but underused, actress. She would have been wonderful in "women's pictures," as she was in Waterloo Bridge, and she would have been equally excellent in screwball comedies.

(Oh, and by the way, did you catch the little in-joke reference between Mae and Cagney to "grapefruit" when they were at the railroad terminal deciding if they should go to California?)

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Postby silentscreen » March 19th, 2008, 6:33 pm

Hi Brenda here! I haven't begun to really read Mae's autobiography, but I get the sense that her second husband was the love of her life. Does she tell what happened there? So many books, and so little time! :)
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