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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pre-code Bookshelf #6 : Featured Player An Oral Autobiography of Mae Clarke

Best remembered today for having her face on the recieving end of a Jimmy Cagney grapefruit, Mae Clarke was also described as nearly beautiful, and often had her last name misspelled as Clark. She may have been the Rodney Dangerfield of pre-code actresses...she got no respect I'm tellin ya', no respect. She also had some bad luck and serious illnesses derail her carerer. It's too bad because she was a fine actress, natural and unmannered, unlike many of her early talkie contemporaries. Some respect should come via TCM 's upcoming release of Forbidden Hollywood #1. Along with the uncensored Baby Face 1933, and Red-Headed Woman 1932, the release will also feature Waterloo Bridge 1931, which contains perhaps Mae's best performance.
Mae's oral autobiography was dictated to James Curtis in 32 one hour sessions, over a period of two years, and was completed just before her death at The Motion Picture Country House in 1992. In her autobiography she talks about her early years in vaudeville with Ruby Stevens, later known as Barbara Stanwyck, her mental illness, failed marriages, and discusses her co-workers, including Tod Browning and John Gilbert, and also manages to "out" actor David Manners. The book contains two photos which are very telling, and pretty much sum up her career. One is of her chauffered Rolls Royce taken on the MGM lot in 1933, when she was a popular contract star, and dating a studio executive who had the chauffered Rolls cart her around. The other photo was taken nearly twenty years later, when she was again at that same studio, in that very same spot, only now as as a bit player, sans contract, executive boyfriend, chauffeur, and Rolls. She humorously posed herself with a bicycle in place of the chauffeur and Rolls Royce. Now that's Mae Clarke for ya' ... that's Clarke... with an 'e'.

Middle: From Featured Player, Mae with director Tod Browning on the set of Fast Workers 1933
Bottom: Mae in a publicity photo for Waterloo Bridge 1931
Thanks again to MichaelE for the photo


Blogger M said...

She sounds like a really interesting person, she must have given one hell of an interview.

3:09 AM  
Blogger jtk said...

She was very interesting, and had some great stories to tell. I think she also left as much out of the autobiography as she put in it. Mae was said to be the inspiration for Anita Loos character of Lorelei Lee in Loos famous novel Gentlemaen Prefer Blondes. Mae would have been only 14 or 15 at the time it was written in 1925.

8:27 AM  

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