WEIRDLAND: Marie McDonald (The Body), Judy Holliday (The Brain) - "Living in a Big Way", "Born Yesterday"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marie McDonald (The Body), Judy Holliday (The Brain) - "Living in a Big Way", "Born Yesterday"

“When a woman is in love she is really living; when she’s isn’t, she’s only existing. Love is more important to me than success. I’d much rather have the agony of love than have great success and drabness without it.” -Marie McDonald

Marie McDonald (6 July 1923, Burgin, Kentucky, USA - 21 October 1965, Calabasas, California). Nickname: The Body. Her mother was a former Ziegfeld girl and her grandmother an operatic singer. Her father was not so artistically inclined, earning a living as a warden at Leavenworth Prison. Her parents divorced when Marie was just 6 years old. Marie's mother remarried and the new family moved to Yonkers, New York, where she attended Roosevelt High School and excelled in piano and wrote for the school newspaper.

Although Marie was offered a college scholarship by Columbia University in journalism, her impressive beauty and physical assets propelled Marie to try a show business career.

A Powers model at 15, she quit high school and started entering beauty contests, winning the "Miss Yonkers" and "The Queen of Coney Island" titles, among others. In 1939 she was crowned "Miss New York," but subsequently lost at the "Miss America" pageant.

The attention she received from her beauty titles, however, pointed her straight to the Broadway stage and the "George White's Scandals of 1939."

This in turn led to her move to Los Angeles, finding work in the chorus line while trying to break into pictures. She found her first singing work with Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra on his radio show and eventually joined other bands as well. Although Universal signed her up, she couldn't get past a few one-line jobs.

Was the model used by illustrator Alex Raymond for the Dale Arden and Princess Aura creations for the Flash Gordon comic strip. Some of the beauty titles Marie held were Miss Yonkers, Miss Loew's Paradise, Queen of Coney Island and Miss New York.

In 1947 Marie was booked for a six-week stay in Las Vegas to get a divorce from agent Vic Orsatti. Bugsy Siegel's girlfriend, Virgina Hill, asks her to ride in the Heldorado Days parade as Queen of the Flamingo Hotel float. When she refuses the companionship of gangsters and murderers, Siegel has to cuff her once or twice to convince her.

Press agents dubbed Marie "The Body" and the tag eventually stuck. Though her physical attributes were impressive, her talent was less so. Managing to come her way were the films "Guest in the House" (1944), "Getting Gertie's Garter" (1945), "Living in a Big Way" (1947) with Gene Kelly, "Tell It to the Judge" (1949) and "The Geisha Boy" (1958) with Jerry Lewis. Marie was once in contention for the Billie Dawn role in "Born Yesterday," which could have been her big break, but she lost out to Judy Holliday.

Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)

Marie McDonald married seven times, twice to Harry Karl, the shoe tycoon who went on to marry Debbie Reynolds. In March 1958, Marie had sued for divorce from Karl and was awarded a million-dollar settlement. After Marie's death, her three children went to live with Karl and Debbie Reynolds.

She replaced sexpot Mamie Van Doren in the movie "Promises! Promises!" (1963) but had numerous fights on the set with the other bombshell star Jayne Mansfield. She married the producer of that movie, Donald F. Taylor, who would be her last husband.

She was found dead from an overdose of Percodan sleeping pills at her dressing table by her husband in their Calabasas Hidden Hills ranch home in the San Fernando Valley. Her seventh husband, Donald F. Taylor, committed suicide shortly after.

Gene Kelly and Marie McDonald in "Living in a Big Way" (1947), directed by Gregory La Cava, which features what Gene Kelly considered some of his favorite dance creations.

This was Gene Kelly's first picture since serving in World War II in the Navy. Gene Kelly (Army pilot Leo Gogarty) marries model Margaud Morgan (Marie McDonald) in a nine-day whirlwind romance before shipping out, and doesn't even have time to consummate the marriage.

Marie McDonald plays Gene Kelly’s bride (a role Louis B. Mayer hoped would launch her on a Lana Turner-type career). But the film’s true focal point is Kelly. You’ll see him cavorting with a clever dog, wooing a statue, scampering across the beams of an uncompleted apartment and joining children in a medley of games. Source:

"It had to be you" - Gene Kelly and Marie McDonald, from the movie "Living in a Big Way" (1947) directed by Gregory La Cava

Elizabeth Taylor holding her book "Nibbles and Me" with Marie McDonald on the set of “Living in a Big Way” in 1947.

No girl has ever been called more names! That would be Evelyn, the guest who manages to throw her pretty shadow around where any man near must see it - and when it comes to a man she grants no rights to anyone but herself! -"Guest in the House" (1944)

Six years before entering film history in the title role of "All About Eve" – as duplicitous, back-stabbing ingenue Eve Harrington – Ann Baxter took a trial run in John Brahm's "Guest in the House" (1944), also known as "Satan in Skirts". The impressive cast of characters include Ralph Bellamy (Blind Alley), Aline MacMahon (Heat Lighting), Ruth Warrick (Citizen Kane), Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) and Marie McDonald (Living in a Big Way).

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) directed by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Hagen's hilarious performance owes something to Judy Holliday, who developed a similar character in routines worked up with Singin' in the Rain screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green when all three were part of a New York satirical troupe called "The Revuers."

Judy Holliday had since become a movie star, thanks to her Oscar-winning performance as Billie Dawn, another squeaky-voiced character, in "Born Yesterday" (1950) directed by George Cukor. Because a supporting role no longer was appropriate for Holliday, the "Singin' in the Rain" producers went after Jean Hagen, her understudy in the stage version of "Born Yesterday".

Over fifty years ago, Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar in this comic fable, confounding her competition, Bette Davis in "All About Eve" and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard". She plays Billie Dawn, the unruly mistress of millionaire junk dealer Harry Brock. Afraid she'll embarrass him in front of the congressman he is planning to bribe, Harry hires a tweedy tutor (William Holden) to smooth her rough edges. Of course, everyone gets the education they deserve.

But, unlike the madcap heiresses of 1930s screwball comedy, the wacky behavior of the 1950s dumb blonde is linked to dimness, rather than a liberating eccentricity.

Holliday was a comedienne of shrewd intelligence and exuberant talent. Her not-so-dumb blondes enjoy a superior detachment from the world and were a model for the slightly later comic characters of Marilyn Monroe.

Holliday also had a false start in films. As a member of the comedy group, The Revuers, with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, she was hired to appear in a Carmen Miranda movie called Greenwich Village. The Revuers act was cut out of the film, but they can still be glimpsed as extras. One of their nightclub routines was a satire of the early days of talking pictures, which Comden and Green expanded into the brilliant musical "Singing in the Rain".

In the film, Jean Hagen closely modeled her performance of the screeching diva Lina Lamont on Holliday's performance in the nightclub skit.

Harry Cohn of Columbia paid $1 million for the play "Born Yesterday" intending to star his hottest property, Rita Hayworth. He was forced to shelve the project after her marriage to Aly Kahn. Cohn, a famously vulgar and abusive film mogul, did not want Holliday "that fat Jewish broad" in the part.

Judy Holliday only made 6 other films. She was called before the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee right after making this film. She mystified the questioners who accused her of Communist activities by answering in the voice and illogical logic of her "Born Yesterday" character, Billie Dawn. She wasn't officially blacklisted by the HUAC, but her refusal to cooperate cost her at least part of her career. Source:


vis.fatale said...

A great read. Thanks

Kendra said...

you're welcome, vis.fatale, I love your username :)