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Mary Wickes

I Know I've Seen That Face Before

Steve Taravella

Publication Year: 2013

Moviegoers know her as the housekeeper in White Christmas, the nurse in Now, Voyager, and the crotchety choir director in Sister Act. This book, filled with never-published behind-the-scenes stories from Broadway and Hollywood, chronicles the life of a complicated woman who brought an assortment of unforgettable nurses, nuns, and housekeepers to life on screen and stage.

Wickes was part of some of the most significant moments in film, television, theatre, and radio history. On that frightening night in 1938 that Orson Welles recorded his earth-shattering "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, Wickes was waiting on another soundstage for him for a rehearsal of Danton's Death, oblivious to the havoc taking place outside.

When silent film star Gloria Swanson decided to host a live talk show on this new thing called television, Wickes was one of her first guests. When Lucille Ball made her first TV appearance anywhere, Wickes appeared with her--and became Lucy's closest friend for more than thirty years. Wickes was the original Mary Poppins, long before an umbrella carried Julie Andrews across the rooftops of London. And when Disney began creating 101 Dalmatians, it asked Wickes to pose for animators trying to capture the evil of Cruella de Vil.

The pinched-face actress who cracked wise by day became a confidante to some of the day's biggest stars by night, including Bette Davis and Doris Day. Bolstered by interviews with almost three hundred people, and by private correspondence from Ball, Davis, Day, and others, Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before includes scores of never-before-shared anecdotes about Hollywood and Broadway. In the process, it introduces readers to a complex woman who sustained a remarkable career for sixty years.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xii

... I was reading the Los Angeles Times one October morning in 1995, as I did every morning in the years I lived in California, and turned the page to see Mary Wickes peering up from the obituary section. I had never met this character actress and had no relationship with her, yet I immediately felt a sense of loss. ...

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pp. xiii-xvii

WHEN I BEGAN EXPLORING MARY WICKES AS A BIOGRAPHICAL SUBJECT in 1998, three years after she died, a friend in Los Angeles surprised me by saying, “My friend Bill went out with Mary Wickes all the time. You need to speak with him.” He introduced me to Bill Givens, Mary’s friend and frequent escort, who became one of the first people I interviewed. ...

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1. Pardon Me Lady, But Did You Drop a Fish?

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pp. 3-25

ALTHOUGH THEY LIVED ONLY ABOUT TWO MILES APART, WORKED IN, the same industry, and were fond of each other, Rosemary Clooney and Mary Wickes had not seen each other once in the forty years since they appeared together in White Christmas, the most popular film of 1954. That changed on Christmas Eve of 1994, when Clooney attended midnight ...

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2. From Stockbridge to the Mercury Theatre

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pp. 26-48

MARY ISABELLA WICKENHAUSER BECAME MARY WICKES SO CAVALIERLY that she almost missed it. Some weeks before Mary arrived at Stockbridge in 1934, Strick wrote to keep her abreast of preparations for the summer season—the plays selected for production, rehearsal schedules, costumes and the like—and inserted this casual note: “By the way, you ...

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3. On Stage and On Air

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pp. 49-70

TODAY'S AUDIENCES MAY FIND IT HARD TO IMAGINE THE BROADWAY of the 1940s. It was a time of theatres without air conditioning. It was a time of wartime restrictions on paper, which meant theatregoers were expected to share their copies of the playbill. It was a time when the playbill warned theatregoers to remain in their seats “in the event of an ...

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4. Anatomy Is Destiny

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pp. 71-82

LIKE SO MANY NEW YORK ACTRESSES SEEKING STAGE ROLES IN THE 1940s, Mary made the rounds to agents’ offices, hoping for a job that would bring in a regular paycheck. She was more tenacious than most, relentlessly putting her name and face before any agent who might arrange an audition. One such agent was Sarah Enright, who cast many of ...

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5. Miss Bedpan

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pp. 83-96

MARY WAS REHEARSING SKYLARK WITH GERTRUDE LAWRENCE AT THE Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts, in August 1939 when she learned of the part that would cement her career. She received a letter from Irving Schneider of the Sam Harris production office, telling her about “a new farce-comedy” by Kaufman and Hart that would be “ideal ...

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6. Los Angeles, Mother in Tow

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pp. 97-107

BETTY GARRETT WAS DRIVING DOWN SUNSET BOULEVARD ONE SPRING afternoon in 1951 when she caught sight of two pedestrians “dressed like ladies out of Edward Gorey,” the illustrator of genteel but macabre gothic characters. In Southern California, “where nobody dresses formally at all,” Garrett could not help but notice these women wearing long, ...

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7. Lucille Ball’s Best Friend

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pp. 108-133

IN SEPTEMBER 1949, PRODUCER ARTHUR SCHWARTZ OFFERED MARY A regular role on Inside U.S.A. with Chevrolet, a half-hour, every-other-week TV variety show modeled after a successful Bea Lillie Broadway vehicle. At this point, Mary had made only a dozen appearances in the new television medium, including stints on a few game shows. A series meant ...

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8. Cookies and Milk with Mother

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pp. 134-145

BILL SWAN MET MARY IN STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, IN THE SUMMER of 1957, when he was performing in Bus Stop and she was rehearsing The Great Sebastians. After they both returned to Los Angeles, Mary suggested they get together, so Swan picked her up for a night at the Hollywood Bowl. At the end of the evening, when he drove Mary back to the ...

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9. She Kept It to Herself

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pp. 146-158

IGGIE WOLFINGTON OFTEN VISITED RESIDENTS OF THE MOTION PICTURE and Television Fund’s nursing home, part of an industry-supported retirement community in Woodland Hills, California. One day in the early 1970s, he arrived while Mary was visiting as well. “She was being very thoughtful with an old, cantankerous character actor,” a well-known, ...

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10. Mary’s Secret Cousin

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pp. 159-168

MARY WOULD HAVE LIKED JERARD BROOKS ADKINS. BORN TWO YEARS after Mary, he lived by many of the same values she did. Driven by a strong midwestern work ethic, he assembled Buick steering wheels at a Dayton, Ohio, factory before beginning a forty-year sales career at Central Ohio Paper Company. Brooks, as he was known, had gone to church ...

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11. “Not an Ounce” of Romance

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pp. 169-192

MARY JACKSON, THE CHARACTER ACTRESS BEST KNOWN AS MISS EMILY Baldwin from The Waltons, invited Mary to a small dinner party at her Hollywood Hills home in the early 1970s. The actor Kendall Clark, who lived a few doors away on Whitley Terrace, phoned Jackson to explain he would be running late. Because Clark had earlier offered to pick Mary ...

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12. Nurses, Nuns, and Housekeepers

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pp. 193-220

IT'S ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE SCENES OF HER CAREER, BUT nothing about it was as it seemed. In The Trouble with Angels, Mary plays Sister Clarissa, an earnest but unconventional nun at a Catholic girls’ school that is turned upside down by two mischievous students. Sister Clarissa is the school’s physical education instructor, and when the two ...

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13. When Acting Is Everything . . .

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pp. 221-242

SOMETIMES, ESPECIALLY AFTER ISABELLA DIED, IT WAS AS IF MARY PURPOSELY arranged a grueling schedule to avoid being alone. Consider this eight-week period in a seemingly ordinary summer in 1971. On May 24, she began a four-day assignment on Here’s Lucy, taping “Lucy and Her All-Nun Band.” While taping, she signed a contract to perform the ...

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14. Becoming the Characters She Played

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pp. 243-255

SOMETIMES ACTORS STRUGGLE TO EMBRACE THE CHARACTERS THEY play. Other times, they struggle to leave their characters behind. In Mary’s case, over time, she became more and more like her characters. A vibrant, adventurous woman became increasingly rude and withdrawn— even imperious—ultimately blurring the distinction between ...

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15. Success Returns

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pp. 256-277

MARY'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE 1980 OKLAHOMA! PRODUCTION ON Broadway began two years earlier, when she signed on to play Aunt Eller in two back-to-back, week-long performances in July 1978, first at the St. Louis Muny, and then at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City. She was paid $1,750 per week. This was her first time playing Eller, the rural ...

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16. Physical Deterioration

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pp. 278-284

FORCED TO GIVE UP DRIVING AND HER TRUSTED, FOUR-DOOR BLUE Ford Fairlane, Mary found herself for the first time in her life depending on others for help. And she hated it. For social events, the Davises (who lived in nearby Bel Air) or Emily Daniels (who lived in what is now called Valley Village) often picked her up and drove her home. For work, she now sometimes asked production companies to send a car. ...

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17. Fade Out

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pp. 285-299

A TUMBLE THAT MARY TOOK ON THE FATHER DOWLING SET IN DECEMBER 1990—tripping over a cable and making “a perfect three-point landing on my nose and knees”—was a bit of foreshadowing in the truest theatrical sense. Mary was not hurt badly, but in her final years, arthritic knees and deteriorating vision conspired against her in devastating ways. ...

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The Roles of Mary Wickes

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pp. 300-315

MARY'S FILM, TELEVISION, AND STAGE ROLES ARE PRESENTED IN chronological order. For films, the relevant year used reflects the date each was first released in the United States. For television series on which she had a regular or semi-regular role, the years listed are those in which Mary appeared, not the years the series aired. Episodic television ...


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pp. 316-357


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pp. 358-370

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039570
E-ISBN-10: 1621039579
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604739053

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2013