When Martha Vickers started out she had such a promising career at Warner Brothers. What happened?
Perhaps its a lesson of sorts that good looks ain’t everything.
Born Martha MacVicar in Ann Arbor, Mich. in 1925, she broke into Hollywood in the Forties as a photographer’s model, not as an actress. Soon several producers took notice, notably David O. Selznick, and had other ideas. Things didn’t pan out, initially, however.
Universal snapped up her contract and Vickers soon found herself in her first picture 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, the kind of not-A-list outing that turned up all too frequently in her short career. (Vickers died early, of cancer at age 46, leaving behind 33 movie and tv credits.)
It’s no exaggeration to say, however, that she will be always remembered as the gorgeously slutty daughter in director Howard Hawks 1946 film noir, The Big Sleep. Vickers all but steals the picture out from under Lauren Bacall as her sensible and sinister older sibling with designs on detective Philip Marlowe. (There she is with Bogie as Marlowe below.)
Yet somehow Vickers was unable to parlay her exquisite performance into a range of A-list projects. Though she was always a talented looker, she seemed unable break out from solid supporting characterizations.
One indie film in which she appears is a favorite of Joe’s. It’s Ruthless, (1948), produced and released by Eagle Lion, and features all those “stars” that had been cultivated at other studios — Zachary Scott, Louis Hayward, Diana Lynn, and Sydney Greenstreet. Raymond Burr is in it too, but he didn’t receive name above the title billing as did the others. See it, it’s fun.
Also, catch Martha in 1957’s The Burglar, a solid noir title starring Dan Duryea and a young Jayne Mansfield. She plays another been-around-the-block-several-times woman who attracts Duryea to an unhappy result. Another Vickers solid performance.
Offscreen, Vickers drew attention when she married second husband Mickey Rooney in 1949. It lasted only two years and ended badly.