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Marie Dressler--another Canadian.


slaytonf
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Again, I am surprised and dismayed at learning yet another of my admired film personas is an immigrant from the Great North.  I might have suspected it, based on her most famous line (from Dinner @ 8, 1933):  "Oh my dear, that's something you need never worry aboot."

 

No, really, all the foregoing is just to grab peoples' attentions.  Not that that is necessary for someone like Marie Dressler.  Unlikely is the word one would attach to her appellation of movie star, given her looks.  But, like Wallace Beery, a frequent co-star, she defied norms and beat out Garbo, Shearer, and Francis, as the top draw for the final years of her career.  Her life is anomalous in another way.  As many, if not most movie stars reach a peak, and then decline in later years (sometimes disastrously), Marie reached the peak of her success right at the end of her life.  Ambiguous victory, as cancer killed her just as she was queening it.

 

Her previous career--life, even, can be summed up in one word:  uneven.  She enjoyed periods of success and failure in vaudeville, on Broadway, on the road, and in her personal fortunes (both monetary and relational).  This was due to her varied abilities singing and acting.  She initially pursued a singing career in New York after sequential success in touring opera/operetta companies.  But as that wasn't going anywhere, and at the urging of her friend Maurice Barrymore (yes, the father of those Barrymores), she exploited her considerable talents facial, corporeal, and performing, for making people laugh.  This led to great success, intermittently, as a vaudeville star, both here and in England, and on the Broadway stage.  Most notably in a play called Tillie's Nightmare (1910).  Persons familiar with early movies will be delighted to find that their suspicions that this was the basis for Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914) are correct.  This was the first full length comedy, and a big boost to Charlie Chaplin's early career.

 

It didn't turn out to be much of a boost for Marie.  The yo-yoing of her career on stage and screen, including multiple bankruptcies (due mainly to her efforts to create dramatic companies, or stage shows), was leading to an inexorable decline, with hints, in various biographies, of dire recourses, until, well, in a life imitating art manner, she was sighted by some old friends of hers (Allan Dwan, and Frances Marion), and given some parts in movies, including one playing Marion Davies mother in The Patsy (1928).  Her second movie career was following in old patterns of unevenness, until finally, finally, in 1930 she was cast in Greta Garbo's talkie premiere Anna Christie.  Well, as you may know, she hit it out of the park, playing a decrepit barge captain's plaything, unceremoniously tossed into the East River when his prostitute daughter comes home.  After that came a contract with MGM, a couple pairings with Wallace Beery, one of which, Min and Bill (1930), got her the best actress Oscar.  And at last, the role which cemented her fame through time, as Carlotta Vance in Dinner At Eight (1933).

 

Then she died of cancer.

 

Marie Dressler, star of the month.

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Miss Copeland: You were wonderful!

 

Carlotta Vance: Yes, that was the last thing I did.

 

Miss Copeland: I remember it as plain as if it were yesterday.

 

Carlotta Vance: Hmm.

 

Miss Copeland: Though I was only a little girl at the time.

 

Carlotta Vance: How extraordinary!

 

Miss Copeland: Oh, it's wonderful, seeing you like this.

 

Carlotta Vance: Yes, it 'tis. You know, we must have a long talk about the Civil War sometime. Just you and I.

 

==

 

:guffaw:

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Chasing Rainbows (1929) this evening offers us a double treat--and a major frustration.  We get not only Marie Dressler, but Bessie Love as well.  The movie's a clunker, so I just watch it to admire the two stars.  Marie didn't get high billing, but she was given ample opportunity for her business.  It doesn't all come off well, but there are brilliant moments.  She's given Polly Moran as a foil, and they play well off each other.  Bessie Love was about the best bundle of talent in early movies.  The real irony of her career is that most of it was in silents.  But her ability to act, sing, play instruments, and dance made her a little powerhouse on the soundie screen.  She had a vibrant energy, and naturalistic presentation, and was so professional in her musical performances, you'd swear she came out of vaudeville (which she didn't).  Which leads us back to the major frustration of the move, as the segments she got to perform in, shot in technicolor, are lost.  You'll have to go to They Learned About Women (1930) and others to see her sing and dance..  

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