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Mae Murray

The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips

Michael G. Ankerich. foreword by Kevin Brownlow

Publication Year: 2012

Mae Murray (1885--1965), popularly known as "the girl with the bee-stung lips," was a fiery presence in silent-era Hollywood. Renowned for her classic beauty and charismatic presence, she rocketed to stardom as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, moving across the country to star in her first film, To Have and to Hold, in 1916. An instant hit with audiences, Murray soon became one of the most famous names in Tinseltown.

However, Murray's moment in the spotlight was fleeting. The introduction of talkies, a string of failed marriages, a serious career blunder, and a number of bitter legal battles left the former star in a state of poverty and mental instability that she would never overcome.

In this intriguing biography, Michael G. Ankerich traces Murray's career from the footlights of Broadway to the klieg lights of Hollywood, recounting her impressive body of work on the stage and screen and charting her rapid ascent to fame and decline into obscurity. Featuring exclusive interviews with Murray's only son, Daniel, and with actor George Hamilton, whom the actress closely befriended at the end of her life, Ankerich restores this important figure in early film to the limelight.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Screen Classics

Front Cover

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Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

Research can be disturbing. You expect to read an uplifting story of ambition and artistry, and you instead find yourself enmeshed in a psychiatric casebook. We demand too much of artists...

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pp. 1-6

“How are you going to introduce me?” the woman in the blonde wig and picture hat asked through her red bee-stung lips. She lifted her head and waited for him to speak...

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1. Untangling Mae Murray's Tangled Beginnings

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pp. 7-14

Carol Lee, writing for Motion Pictures magazine in 1917, found extracting biographical data from stage and film star Mae Murray akin to “trying to chain butterflies.”1

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2. Dancing into the New Century

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pp. 15-18

Fifteen-year-old Anna Mary Koenig danced her way into the new century and never looked back. It was through dancing that she was able to forget her dreary beginnings. “Dancing, of course, is second nature to me,” she later said...

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3. Ziegfield and the Millionaire

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pp. 19-28

Mae’s initial reluctance in meeting Florenz Ziegfeld stemmed from perceptions that she and many of her friends held about theatrical giants and their female stowaways. She was careful not to develop into one of the showgirls who, as actress Barbara...

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4. Life Is a Cabaret

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pp. 29-38

The lives of Mae Murray and the other members of the Chorus Ladies’ Anti-Millionaires’ Sons Amalgamated Union took varied courses. The career of Edna Loftus derailed after her divorce from Harry Rheinstrom. She died in poverty in 1916 and would have been buried in a potter’s field had it not been for the intervention of friends...

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5. From Footlights to Kliegs

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pp. 39-46

Mae had plenty of trepidation about breathing new life into the Sans Souci. Vernon and Irene Castle had tried the previous year to reopen the basement club beneath the Heidelberg Building, but with their limited...

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6. The Disillusions of a Dream Girl

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pp. 47-62

When actress Madge Bellamy arrived in Hollywood after a stint on the New York stage, she was ready to turn on her heel and catch the next train home. “I was frightfully disappointed and disillusioned,” she said. “I had it built up in my mind that it was as large as New...

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7. Ready for My Close-ups, Mr. Lasky!

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pp. 63-68

Mae Murray had anything but a merry little Christmas in 1916 after her alleged forced marriage to Jay O’Brien and her hellacious honeymoon. She claimed to have had only one more encounter with her socialite husband after the ceremony...

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8. The Delicious Little Mae

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pp. 69-88

In March 1915 Carl Laemmle opened the world’s largest motion picture production facility, Universal City Studios, on a 230-acre converted farm just over the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood. Under Laemmle’s leadership, Universal thrived. In 1915 alone the studio...

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9. On with the Dance

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pp. 89-100

Emerging from World War I physically unscathed and economically strong, the United States became a nation on the move. Cultural blinders were discarded, and aging sojourners from the Victorian Age roared into the 1920s with twinkles in their eyes...

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10. Strutting Like a Peacock through Tiffany's

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pp. 101-120

When the S.S. Olympic sailed into New York Harbor on September 15, 1920, Mae Murray emerged from the ship a bigger star than ever. On with the Dance had set into motion a new excitement and energy surrounding the tiny movie queen. Her following of fans...

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11. Mae the Enchantress

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pp. 121-140

“What do you do when things go wrong?” the frustrated reporter asked, trying in vain to pull from Mae Murray some shred of truth about her inner self. She was, he informed his readers, “fastidious, charming in an impersonal, noncommittal way.” Their conversation...

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12. The Merry Widow and the Dirty Hun

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pp. 141-156

Although the making of The Merry Widow was akin to tactical warfare, Mae Murray never tired of talking about the picture over the years. In fact, it became an obsession...

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13. From Merry Widow to Gay Divorcee

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pp. 157-172

When Mae’s New York–bound train pulled into Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Sunday, March 15, a local reporter asked for an interview. Although she declined to allow the writer into her private compartment, she held the door open long enough to provide...

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14. Princess Mdivani

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pp. 173-188

When Mae Murray married Prince David Mdivani in June 1926 and claimed her place among Hollywood royals, Princess Mdivani’s friends and family felt she was harboring a dark secret...

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15. The Lion's Roar, the Baby's Cry

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pp. 189-200

The roar of the lion came quietly in the form of telegrams from Louis B. Mayer and Nicholas Schenck ordering Mae back to Hollywood—or else! Or else what? Mae had always called the shots; she had always gotten her way when she felt threatened...

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16. A World of Cheap Imitation

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pp. 201-214

Mae Murray, now a princess, was close to completing the fairy tale. She was married to a hot-blooded lover whose blood she thought ran blue, and she had a toddler to carry on the Mdivani lineage...

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17. The Sound of Bee-Stung Lips

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pp. 215-234

Mae Murray was in no rush to cross that perilous cavern between silents and talking pictures. Four years before, Mae was among the constellation of Hollywood’s biggest and most successful stars. When she walked away from her MGM contract, Louis B...

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18. Oh, Brother!

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pp. 235-242

After the confrontation between Mae and her sister-in-law, Ann King, in front of the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in late 1929, Mae cut off all communication with her brother, William, and his family. She now had severe financial worries of her own...

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19. From a Prince to a Toad

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pp. 243-250

It was in 1933 that Mae Murray went from riches to rags—not overnight, of course, but it was certainly a turning point in her life when everything she had amassed over the years, the status symbols of being a movie star, were taken or sold to pay debts. The reversal of fortune was a sober awakening to Mae, who was happiest when living in an insulated world of wealth and privilege...

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20. Losing Koran

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pp. 251-270

With Koran in tow, Mae fled to New York in hopes of reviving her faltering career. While skidding out of control in her personal and professional life, the ex-princess clung to those she had always felt she owed a debt: her adoring public. “They’re part of me and I’m part of them,” she never tired of saying. Mae had no concept of the passing parade...

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21. Outliving Fame

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pp. 271-284

Mae turned her sights from her son and focused her energy on someone who had never let her down, the most important person in her life: Mae Murray. “I think that you’re only somebody where people see you,” she said late in life. “Mae Murray is just a name, until you begin to be seen. Then, people say, ‘That is Mae Murray,’ then you become an entity...

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22. Self-Enchantment

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pp. 285-290

Part of Mae’s plan to polish the tinsel that shimmered over Hollywood had to do with telling the life story of the greatest actress who ever lived—Mae Murray. She had pitched the idea to numerous agents, studios, and directors since the early 1940s. Mike Connolly, columnist...

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23. A Star in Twilight

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pp. 291-302

When paramedics arrived at 628 South Ardmore Avenue and began working on the lifeless star, they detected a faint heartbeat and rushed Mae to Central Receiving Hospital, where she was revived. She had had a stroke. When stable, Mae was moved to the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland...

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pp. 303-306

Mae Murray, who had earned as much as $7,500 a week and lived like a queen during her heyday, died broke. In the absence of a will, her paltry estate was turned over to the state of California’s public administrator. Her personal property...

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pp. 307-310

Mae Murray’s devoted cameraman, Oliver T. Marsh, was credited with keeping the silent film diva’s youthful appearance alive on the screen during her most successful years in films. Her beloved close-ups, like her professional and personal lives, were purposely presented...

Professional Theater

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pp. 311-322


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pp. 323-336


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pp. 337-360


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pp. 361-364


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pp. 365-376

Series page

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p. 377-377

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136912
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136905

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Screen Classics