Who could forget her?
She was one of classic Hollywood’s best comedienne/actresses, loud, disruptive, wise-cracking and thoroughly ingratiating. And typical for talented supporting player of the period, she had a very long career covering nearly 150 movie and tv credits over a 63-year span.
Born Mary Isabella Wickenhauser in St, Louis in 1910, she was raised in a family of comfortable means (she was a society debutante, for heavens sakes), and nurtured aspirations for a legal career after taking a political science degree from Washington University. Instead, she wound up pursing summer stock assignments in Stockbridge, Mass.
Never a glamourpuss — the plain-faced and slightly hawkish looking Mary Wickes was unfashionably tall and gawky — she reveled in the comic roles most offered, often of characters far older than she actually was.
This became her ticket to Hollywood as she made an indelible impression as Miss Preen, the nurse who deftly manages Monty Woolley as the wheel-chair bound radio star who does indeed show up for dinner in the George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart comedy, The Man Who Came To Dinner. Wickes played the part opposite Woolley on Broadway and in the 1942 movie version.
(There she is below experiencing an uplifting moment courtesy of another disruptive comic, Jimmy Durante. Looking on is Woolley to the right. Wickes also replayed her “Miss Bedpan” role in a 1972 tv version with Orson Welles taking over the Woolley part.)
Wickes took on another nurse role as Gladys Cooper’s aide in 1942’s Now, Voyager, the Bette Davis vehicle. She played a World War II WAC in the same year’s Private Buckaroo with the Andrew Sisters. And she traded wisecracks with Lou Costello in Who Done It. (See Below. That’s Bud Abbott in the middle.)
Wickes continued working in big screen projects through the Fifties (she made four movies with Doris Day) and began a prolific tv career in the Sixties. In various capacities she played second banana to Danny Thomas, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. She won an Emmy nomination for her support of Gertrude Berg in the 1961 series The Gertrude Berg Show. (See below.)
Later in her career, she turned up as a bus-driving nun in two successful Whoopi Goldberg vehicles, 1992’s Sister Act, and its 1993 sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.
She and sister comedienne Lucille Ball were close friends and neighbors. Do yourself a favor. Check out Wickes’ turn as a no-nonsense dance instructor in a segment of the I Love Lucy series. (See below.)
Wickes never married. She died in 1995 of multiple causes. She was 85.