Heavens to Mrs. Norman Maine, you readers out there are hard to stump. Hello everybody. The classic movies guys, Joe Morella and Frank Segers here again.
We started off July 25′s blog with one of one of our many “never before seen” photos taken from The Donald Gordon Collection. (We are re-running the picture in today’s blog.)
We asked you to identify the somewhat blowsey-haired, slightly spacey-looking woman posing with Donald. (Notice in last week’s full photo that he has a pretty good arm lock around her waist.)
To be honest, Frank had to pause several seconds before tentatively coming up with the woman’s identity. As usual, Joe knew right away. So did one of our readers identified simply as Sandy-NJ, who wrote us:
“The July 25 mystery woman is Marie Wilson?????????”
No question marks needed, Sandy. It sure is. But that begs the question, just who IS Marie Wilson?
For one thing, she was a California girl, born in Anaheim in 1916 as Katherine Elizabeth Wilson. Her parents divorced when she was an infant although her businessman father later left her an $11,000 trust (a nice sum in those days), which financed Marie’s early show biz ambitions.
By the time she was 18, Wilson was appearing in a series of uncredited roles in a number movies including Laurel and Hardy’s “Babes in Toyland” in 1934. At 19, she made her first credited movie, “Stars Over Broadway.”
Joe thinks her best performance is in 1938′s “Boy Meets Girl,” a Warner Brothers comedy in which Marie plays pregnant waitress adopted by a pair of lazy screenwriters (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien) .
In any case, she quickly learned to capitalize on her gift for comedy as the ditzy foil and sexy straight woman. It helped enormously that Marie sported a knockout figure, reportedly measuring 39D-23-38. At first, she was compared to Gracie Allen. Later she was regarded as an early version of what became Marilyn Monroe.
Dumb sexpot is the part Wilson played many times in many of her eclectic movie career. Her character in “The Fabulous Joe,” the 1947 comedy that costarred Walter Abel was named “Gorgeous Gilmore.” (By the way, at the time she posed in the early Forties with Donald Gordon, Marie’s career was sharply on the rise.)
She was a huge hit on radio creating one of her best known roles, that of Irma Peterson, prototypical fetching but boneheaded female in “My Friend Irma.” In 1949 she starred in a Paramount version so her fans could see what the dumb blonde looked like. The studio used the film to mark the movie debuts of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. (Marie also played “Irma” on TV, noting that back then “Irma had to be a virgin for the network.”)
When she was 36, Marie was cast opposite a 62-year-old Groucho Marx in the goofy comedy, “A Girl in Every Port.” In one of her strangest roles, she turned up as Marie Antoinette in Warner Brothers’ “The Story of Mankind,” a 1957 curiosity with an all-star cast (among others, Ronald Coleman, Hedy Lamarr, Virginia Mayo, Vincent Price, Charles Coburn and, of all things, a young Dennis Hopper as Napoleon Bonaparte.)
After she appeared in a somewhat matronly role in 1962′s “Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation” (which costarred James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara and Fabian), Wilson spent the rest of her career working in television.
By Hollywood standards, Marie led a rather placid private life. She was married only twice, the second time to actor-tv producer Robert Fallon, a union that lasted 21 years ending in 1972 when Wilson died of cancer in Hollywood — three months past her 56th birthday.