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A Great Big Girl Like Me

The Films of Marie Dressler

Victoria Sturtevant

Publication Year: 2009

In this study of Marie Dressler, MGM's most profitable movie star in the early 1930s, Victoria Sturtevant analyzes Dressler's use of her body to challenge Hollywood's standards for leading ladies. At five feet seven inches tall and two hundred pounds, Dressler often played ugly ducklings, old maids, doting mothers, and imperious dowagers. However, her body, her fearless physicality, and her athletic slapstick routines commanded the screen. Sturtevant interprets the meanings of Dressler's body by looking at her vaudeville career, her transgressive representation of an "unruly" yet sexual body in Emma and Christopher Bean, ideas of the body politic in the films Politics and Prosperity, and Dressler as a mythic body in Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Women and Film History International

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I thank Joan Catapano, Rebecca McNulty Schreiber, and everyone at the University of Illinois Press for their faith in my manuscript and their extraordinary efforts on its behalf. Thanks also to Kay Armatage, Jane M. Gaines, and Christine Gledhill for putting together the Women and Film History International book series, in which I am proud to have this work included. ...

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1. Tillie's Punctured Romance: Genre and the Body

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pp. 1-29

Marie Dressler was never a delicate beauty. In her earliest films, she played ugly ducklings and old maids, and in her later career she played doting mothers and imperious dowagers. Though this sounds like the career trajectory of a supporting actress, Dressler was definitely a star, the central protagonist of most of her films, ...

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2. Breaking Boundaries: The Unruly Body

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pp. 30-59

From 1927 to 1930, Marie Dressler played queens or slatterns and very few other types in between. A publicity still juxtaposing two very different characters from her films of 1930 illustrates some of the extraordinary paradoxes of her supporting roles (figure 5).1 Dressed in cotton and wool, the shadow of her rumpled hat falling across her face, ...

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3. Politics and Prosperity: The Body Politic

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pp. 60-92

The most popular and profitable films of Dressler’s starring years were her films with Polly Moran, a series of unpretentious manic comedies featuring broad slapstick that recalled the silent era: pratfalls, pies in the face, drunken stumbling. The low budgets and low-brow humor of these movies have contributed to their being eclipsed ...

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4. Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie: The Mythic Body

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pp. 93-125

When a fan clipped the above verse from a newspaper and mailed it to Marie Dressler, claiming it “exactly expresses how I feel about you,” the star was so touched by the tribute that she had the poem engraved on a small metal plate and carried it around in her handbag. When she died, the poem was read aloud at her funeral, ...

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5. Emma and Christopher Bean: The Sexual Body

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pp. 126-160

By 1930, Marie Dressler had long since traded her vanity for the pleasures of comic stardom. A reviewer wrote of her 1910 appearance in Tillie’s Nightmare, “The show is dominated by an actress whose sole aim is to make herself a monstrosity that she may use ugliness as a bludgeon to wallop the ignorant into blithering and painful laughter.”1 ...

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Conclusion Dinner at Eight: The Unclosed Body

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pp. 161-172

Dressler’s unique stardom presented an ideological challenge to the generic logic of Hollywood filmmaking that went beyond the right to dictate to directors (career control), buy diamond bracelets (economic control), and get fat (bodily control—or pleasurable uncontrol). Her films also afforded the actress a certain ideological flexibility, ..


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pp. 173-184

Filmography: Dressler's Feature Films

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pp. 185-186


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pp. 187-194

back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252092626
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252034282

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Women and Film History International