Mary Macgregor (1904-1954) a brief adventure in Hollywood

An enlargement of a publicity still. Myrna Loy (left) and Mary Macgregor of Queensland (as the maid Ellen), in “Wife Vs Secretary” (1936). Author’s Collection. Source – probably MGM.

Mary Macgregor (not to be confused with Mary Maguire) was born Francis Mary Macgregor on 16 August 1904, into a Queensland family with considerable social standing; her father Peter Balderston Macgregor was a highly regarded King’s Counsel and later a Judge. At a young age she earned a reputation for her prose –  and she won a prize for a patriotic poem in 1916. The first stanza reads:

Oh, soldiers of Australia, Who went to give your all
Right gallantly you did obey, the Mother Country’s call !
When Britain’s bugle-call rang out across Australia’s plains.
You left our peaceful wattle land to fight where cruel war reigns.

Brought up in a family that encouraged the arts, she first performed on stage at University, where she was studying literature, and then won a breakthrough role as Jill in Oscar Asche‘s Melbourne production of “The Skin Game”by John Galsworthy, in 1924.


The Skin Game

Prince and the Pauper 1930

Left: The Melbourne Argus, 26 April 1924 advertises Mary in “The Skin Game” via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
Right: The Telegraph (Brisbane), 22 April 1930 praises her on her performance in “The Prince and the Pauper”, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

She spent the next ten years on stage in Australia and New Zealand – earning consistently positive reviews and becoming so popular she was never out of work. Amongst her notable stage work were roles for the Leon Gordon company. This company travelled Australia performing several of his plays, including “White Cargo”, where Mary took the role of the sultry mixed race character, Tondelayo.

Of playing Tondeleyo, she remarked; “The part is, to say the least, unconventional, and different from anything I have ever played … the idea of browning myself all over and wearing the scanty attire of the coloured vamp, was hard to get accustomed to. Moreover, my mother, when I mentioned the matter to her, was most disapproving …” In the minds of many Australians, acting was still a questionable profession, and for some, only a few steps removed from prostitution.

The Age Feb 1930Tondelayo

Left; The Age, Melbourne, announces the first run of “White Cargo” in Australia. 1 Feb, 1930, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
Right; Mary Macgregor on stage at a Melbourne theatre as Tondelayo. Table Talk, 13 Feb, 1930. National Library of Australia, via Trove

Macgregor departed for England on the SS Mongolia in February 1933,  and soon after found work on stage in a season of “Cynara”and a part in John Gielgud‘s tour of “Hamlet.” Now approaching thirty, she was an experienced actress – witty, good-looking, good-humoured and extremely confident.

She went on to California in June, 1935 where she joined John Wood, another Australian stage actor she knew well from Australian performances together in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” and with whom she had already spent time in England. Wood had just starred as Flavius in the RKO film “The Last Days of Pompeii.” Mary’s account of her voyage to the US, the only passenger on board the Norwegian freighter Heranger, as it endured a heavy crossing of the Atlantic, became a story she often recounted. In February 1936, her engagement to Wood was publicly announced.

Macgregor then appeared in a small role in the film “Wife Vs Secretary” – a romantic john woodcomedy starring Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Australian-born May Robson. Macgregor’s part was as the maid, Ellen. She then returned in some haste to Brisbane to see her ailing father. But Wood returned to London, where he was to act in a number of films, including two with Mary Maguire. Macgregor was coy when questioned about the engagement, and it was soon dropped as a topic for newspaper publicity pieces. They did not marry.

 
Above: John Wood about the time he was in Hollywood. The photo appears to have been used by Herbert de Leon, a London agent, soon after Wood’s return to London.  He was extremely handsome and was supposedly made offers of marriage by love-stuck viewers of “The Last Days of Pompeii”. Author’s collection.

Sounding every bit the English maid, Brisbane born Mary Macgregor as Ellen, in MGM’s “Wife Vs Secretary” (1936), her only Hollywood outing. The MGM film is widely available for purchase and held by Turner Classic Movies.

At home in Brisbane, Macgregor was treated as film-making royalty and the story of her six months in Hollywood was endlessly spun out in newspapers. In April, the Brisbane Sunday Mail reassured readers about her time in Hollywood – The Brisbane actress met many celebrities there. Macgregor was much more blasé – “Once you know two or three people in Hollywood’s film world, it is no time before you have met nearly all the others.” When the film was released in Australia in July, she was employed to appear at some screenings to introduce the film and discuss “Hollywood and noted stars.”

The Brisbane Courier Mail’s review of the film was typically effusive and very much in a Wife v secretarycelebratory style;  “In the strong glare of the stars in…Wife versus Secretary, which started a season at Cremorne Theatre yesterday, patrons might fail to recognise the talented actress who plays the role of a maid. She is Mary Macgregor, of Brisbane, who has achieved no small name as a stage actress, and whose feet are now planted on the ladder of success at the top of which glitters screen stardom.”

Above: “Wife vs Secretary” opens at the Cremorne Theatre. Mary’s role was uncredited. The Courier Mail, 23 July 1936. National Library of Australia, Trove

When Macgregor joined radio station 2GB’s BSA Players (Broadcasting Service Association Players, later the Macquarie Players) in 1937, The Australian Women’s Weekly explained that she had decided to stay in Australia – Hollywood would have to wait for this star. And in the same vein, on John Wood’s return in late 1939, he also returned to radio and the stage with great fanfare. When the play, “The Quiet Wedding” opened at the Minerva Theatre in Sydney, he was heralded in the press as “Australia’s great film and stage star, John Wood, fresh from triumphs overseas.” A few more stage roles followed, including a season of Dorothy Sayers’ “Busman’s Honeymoon” which included a rather joyful re-teaming with John Wood. But in November 1940, Wood joined the Australian Army,  being captured 14 months later at the end of the Malayan Campaign. The story of his efforts with the Australian Concert party in Changi are well documented.

By 1942 Mary had turned to war work, and she appeared less and less on radio. In February 1944 she married John Chirnside, one of the sons of John Percy Chirnside , and the couple moved to the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Her acting career came to an end. Mary died barely ten years later in February 1954, aged only 50. Chirnside died the following year, leaving a significant estate. The couple did not have children.

Following repatriation, John Wood left Australia in 1948, joining the great exodus of Australian actors moving to England at the time. He performed on the West End for a few years, but then retired to Spain with his wife, actress Phil Buchanan. He also died young – in 1965.

Unfortunately, the group of performers who knew Mary well have also passed on – Lloyd Lamble, Peter Finch, Allan Cuthbertson, Lou Vernon – only Lamble left an as yet unpublished memoir. It’s a great pity Mary did not leave her own memoirs for us – we know that she was a great raconteur and her memoirs of the Australian stage would have been entertaining.

MMacgregor

From Table Talk 30 Jan, 1930 Via National Library of Australia – Trove

Note:
The IMDB credits her with some roles on TV in the late 1970s. Obviously this is a different person with a similar name.


Nick Murphy
September 2018

Further Reading

Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

National Library of Australia – Trove – Digitised Newspaper Collection

  • The Australasian (Melb) Sat 19 Aug 1916
  • The Argus (Melb), 26 April 1924
  • Table Talk 30 Jan, 1930
  • The Age, (Melb), 1 Feb, 1930
  • Table Talk, 13 Feb, 1930
  • The Telegraph (Brisbane), 22 April 1930
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), Thu 27 Feb 1936
  • The Courier Mail (Brisbane), 23 July 1936
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sat 20 Mar 1937

British Library Newspaper Archive

  • Daily Mirror, Dec 12, 1961 

Mary Maguire – An Epilogue

Mary, Phil and Betty (Phil’s niece), in a family moment, some time in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Norm Archibald.

One of Mary Maguire’s classmates, who lived in Collingwood with a bed-ridden mother and unemployed step-father, remembered her vividly. Jo Mostyn (nee Gardiner) was one of the Academy of Mary Immaculate girls invited to a birthday party for Peggy (she never called her Mary), a very grand affair, held in 1931 at the Maguire’s Hotel Metropole. Memories of the day; dressing up in her one and only best dress – and the highlight – a Sennitt’s ice cream cake that arrived late on a hot summer’s day, to Mick’s great annoyance, remained with Jo all her life. In contrast, Jo’s own birthday, a few weeks earlier, couldn’t be celebrated at all. Jo was a charity case at the school, and her sick mother and unemployed step-father, broken-down jockey Jimmy Gardiner, were reliant for an income on his door to door sales of hand-made rag-rugs, that they made at home at night. To the end of her life, Jo remembered Peggy Maguire’s friendly nature and endless good humour, her deep black hair and flashing brown eyes. She recalled that Peggy looked like a movie star, even when she was at school. It says much about Peggy that Jo’s impoverished situation made no difference to her being a friend. Jo took a perverse delight in the knowledge that at least she was better at “adding up” than Peggy.

Jo Mostyn 19351      Maguires Fitz

School friends at the Academy of Mary Immaculate.
Left: Jo Gardiner in 1935. Author’s collection

Right: Peggy Maguire in school uniform, (seated front right) with family members c1932. Courtesy Norm Archibald

Maguire enrolment

A school enrolment from another era! Peggy Maguire’s (spelled McGuire) enrolment record at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in 1923. Her pet name was good enough apparently, plus father’s name and his hotel in Bourke Street! How different to the 21st Century. Courtesy Academy of Mary Immaculate.

A few years before she died, Mary Maguire did finally make contact with a few lost school friends, including Jo Mostyn. Jo had last seen news of Mary when she married Bobbie Gordon-Canning. She had imagined Mary was still living in great style in some English castle, or a stately home somewhere, but she also worried that the invalid-chair she saw in photos meant Mary had a serious illness. It was a relief to hear from her, through the good graces of one of the nuns, who had somehow made contact. The letter came out of the blue, and Jo read it and reread it, perhaps searching for some understanding of why Mary was now in the US, whether she had children and was she still in films.

The letter, which no longer exists, was apparently only a page or so long. Written in Mary’s distinctive hand, it apparently painted a fairly superficial picture of Mary’s life in California – the sunny weather, the good food and the interesting things happening around her. She mentioned her regular church attendance and one or two friends she often saw. She mentioned Phil with some pride, touching on his success as an Engineer and his recent death; but of her career in films, her Hollywood friends and her time in England, she said nothing. As always, she ended with a promise to return to the Australia she still missed, “soon.” “I would love to ride on the Melbourne tram to the beach again” she wrote.

Jo Mostyn wrote back at Christmas time and again the following Christmas. But there was no further response from Mary. It was as though the letter Mary had written was her final effort to reach out, one last time, to old friends of the past, and a life she had long since lost.

MM c1974

Above: Mary Maguire, c 1973-4. Photo courtesy Norm Archibald.

Years later Jo would sigh as she told the author how beautiful Mary was. She would relate at some length how much everyone at the school admired Mary and her sisters. By the time she told me this, Jo was living a happy but modest life in Melbourne’s eastern suburb of Ringwood, with a husband, three grown up children and four grandchildren. Little did she know that Mary had then been dead for ten years, and her later life had not been one of film-star glamour, ease and luxury. Jo’s own childhood had been one of significant hardship and poverty in depression-era Melbourne. But in the end, she lived a life as fulfilling and rewarding as Mary’s, although she was never to know it. Jo’s fantasy that a school friend from grimy Melbourne of the 1930s had succeeded in the film world and was living in luxury and comfort, stayed with her to the end of her days.

IMG_3354 AMI2
Most of Mary Maguire’s Melbourne has been demolished. However, she would recognise this stretch of Elizabeth Street between Bourke and Collins.(left) It would have been visible from windows at the rear of the Hotel Metropole.
Her old school in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, appears almost unchanged from this angle (right). Author’s Collection.


Nick Murphy
September 2018

A list of further readings can be found at the end of Part 1.

Mary Maguire (1919-1974) The filmstar and the fascist, Part 2

Mary Maguire – the darling of Hollywood – for oh so brief a time, beams as she sqeezes the hand of the man she had just  married, Captain Robert Gordon Canning, in London on 10th August 1939.  The marriage was a disaster.
Photo from the Herald and Weekly Times Portrait collection. State Library of Victoria, Picture Collection


The 5 Second version

Ellen Theresa Maguire was born to a family of ambitious publicans in Melbourne Australia in 1919. As Mary Maguire she is famous now for all the wrong reasons – indifferent performances in disappointing films in Australia and the US, and a short-lived marriage to a much older British fascist sympathiser in 1939. She redeemed herself in several later British films but by age 23 her career was over. She retired to the US and died young.
Michael Adams’ biography of her life was published in 2019.

Profound changes occurred in Mary Maguire’s life in 1939 and these were to colour the remainder of her life.

In May 1939 she began work on “An Englishman’s Home” for Aldwych films. It was based on a well known play by Guy du Maurier. The plot concerned an invasion of Britain (the threatening power is un-named, but clearly meant to be Germany) and starred Austrian-born Paul von Hernried, another refugee to Britain from fascism. It again featured John Wood, in what was to be his last film before returning to Australia.

Englishman's home 1939

Above – A little over two years after this photo was taken on the set of “An Englishman’s Home”, Paul Henreid (left) had simplified his name and was in Hollywood, playing Victor Laszlo in “Casablanca”. John Wood (right) however, was to find himself a prisoner of war of the Japanese at about the same time. After his return to Australia in 1939, he joined the Army and was posted to Singapore. He was captured in early 1942. He spent the next three-and-a-half years working tirelessly to maintain morale through theatre performances. Source probably Aldwych films. Author’s collection.

About the time she was filming An Englishman’s Home”, Mary became engaged to Robert Gordon Canning, a wealthy and decorated British World War One veteran. It was, she later admitted, a whirlwind romance. Known to his close friends as “Bobbie”, he was a former Captain in the 10th Hussars and had earned the Military Cross for bravery in action at Arras in 1916. They were introduced to each other by Miles Mander, during a visit to England. At almost fifty-two, Bobbie was over thirty years Mary’s senior.

bobbie GC

Enlargement of Robert Gordon Canning on the wedding day, 10th August, 1939. Photo from the Herald and Weekly Times Portrait collection. State Library of Victoria, Picture Collection

What did Mary see in this man who was older than her father? At the time, Mary said, “Bobbie conforms to my idea of the ideal man … when I met Bobbie, nothing else mattered.” There was however, another dimension to Bobbie that would have made him less attractive to some, although it did not discourage the Maguires. Bobbie was an opinionated, active and influential fascist. From 1934 until mid-1938, he was a senior figure in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and was close to BUF leader, Oswald Mosley, although he split from the movement in 1938.

Follow this link  – photo of leading BUF members including Bobbie and Mosley, 1935. Source: The Friends of Oswald Mosley (F.O.M. London)

At the time of the engagement, Bobbie had little to say publicly about what had attracted him to Mary, but he was quoted as saying that she was the first actor he met who “didn’t talk shop.” He apparently also disliked “bridge and golf-playing women.” “I am neither,” Mary pointed out. The impending marriage was celebrated with a portrait of Mary by popular artist Vasco Lazzolo.

Mary was wise enough to publicly disassociate herself from Gordon Canning’s political extremism and virulent anti-Semitism. She told Australian Women’s Weekly journalist Mary St. Claire, “I was given my big chance in Hollywood, where there are many Jews. It would be both ungrateful and unkind of me to ally myself because of marriage with the Fascist Party… I have no fascist sympathies and do not intend to take part in my fiancee’s political life.” This unsophisticated comment reveals a certain lack of worldliness on Mary’s part – how she expected not to be part of his political life is hard to imagine. She maintained the argument that she was not involved in his political activities, or at least, was largely ignorant of them, all her life. Looking back on the marriage in late 1944, she said of fascism “I didn’t understand what it was all about.”

MM signature

Not surprisingly, Mary Maguire’s signature in 1938-39 still looked unsophisticated. She was only 20 at the time. She maintained a strong affection for Australia all her life, but never went home again. Author’s Collection.

Part of the answer to the riddle of Mary’s attraction to Bobbie lies in a disaster that befell her about the same time. In July 1939, towards the end of filming An Englishman’s Home”, Mary became ill again. What seemed to start as another cold ended up very seriously. It was Bobbie who suspected something sinister and encouraged Mary to visit a specialist to have a proper assessment. Maxwell Chance, a highly regarded Mayfair doctor, diagnosed her with acute pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) and immediately sent her to an exclusive nursing home to rest and “dry out.”  It was a shock, an embarrassment, and it put an end to her acting for the time being, as well as her social life. Of course, the family did not publicly report her condition as TB, but rather as fatigue from “overwork” or “lung trouble” from working in the cold.

The condition explains why she was carried to her wedding in an invalid chair and why she immediately returned to the nursing home after the event. Her treatment for TB included a revolutionary procedure designed to deflate and rest the infected lung, using oxygen introduced by a pneumothorax needle. Mary lay on her side to have the needle inserted between her ribs, a treatment that was repeated every few weeks. Antibiotic treatment for TB was still years away.

Only a few weeks after the wedding, Britain found itself at war again. Unfortunately, nothing had changed Bobbie’s anti-Semitic opinions or his admiration for aspects of the German model of National Socialism. As a former member of the BUF, he was already under close observation and MI5 had developed a significant file on him and all those he associated with.  As the tension of “the phony war” progressed, at least one of Bobbie’s old friendships was strained to breaking point. Bobbie and Miles Mander fell out quite spectacularly. In letters written to Mander in Hollywood in February 1940, Bobbie described the war as “a ramp” (a swindle), singling out “Jewish financiers” as the architects of the conflict, in the best fascist tradition. We know this because Mander, in a steaming fury, complained about him to the Home Office.

Mick on the Germans Daily Express April 23 1940

Mick continues to spin stories. This is part of an article headed “Screen Star’s father joins the BEF again”.  Mick had not served in the British or Australian Army in the First World War and he had not been a Welterweight Champion, as he suggests here. From The Daily Express, 23 April 1940. Via ukpressonline

Then, on Saturday 13 July, 1940, Bobbie was arrested and interned under the British government’s Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, Defence Regulation 18B. This law gave the Government power to imprison, without trial, individuals it thought had the potential to be fifth columnists.  Understandably, Mary, now at home, was shocked when police arrived at their London flat to arrest Bobbie (although she should have had some warning, as others like Mosley and his friend retired Admiral Barry Domvile had already been arrested). She was later to complain that the Police suspected her of being disloyal; with allegations made that she had “flashed signals to submarines lurking off (her home at) Sandwich.”

Mary and MichaelMary was well enough to escort Bobbie to the gates of Brixton prison, announcing that he had long since given up membership of “certain organisations.” A couple of weeks before he was interned, Mary had given Bobbie some good news. She was pregnant and was expecting early the following year. However, she was still continuing with her TB treatments. Her doctors feared the birth would be difficult, even hazardous.  On 3 February 1941, in the midst of the London Blitz, Mary gave birth to an eight-pound son. It was a difficult cesarean birth, aggravated by her weakness from the TB treatment and her petite size. Bobbie was briefly released from Brixton to attend to Mary and his new son.

Mary and her baby, named Michael Robert. The Sun (NSW) 5th June, 1941, Via National library of Australia Trove

It was Bina who passed on details of baby Michael’s birth, as she had after the wedding. The birth had cost Bobbie £2,000. She told journalists that the baby looked the image of Mick, who had joined the British Army. Bina then gave enthusiastic interviews to the press about the arrangements for the christening. “The baby will wear a christening robe made …from a beautiful old point lace robe which has been worn by his father’s mother, and has been in the Gordon Canning family for a hundred years.”

In various appeals to the British authorities, friends, politicians and doctors argued for Bobbie’s release, without any success. The following letter from Maxwell Chance, Mary’s doctor,  is now held in the British National Archive file on Bobbie. It also makes very clear how serious her condition was.

MM7

W.H.C Rollo was Bobbie’s lawyer, and also the father of Primula Rollo, the first wife of David Niven. The Committee reading this to review his detention recommended release, but it was not to be. The Home Secretary, again acting on the advice of M15, decided to keep Bobbie in detention. Source British National Archives. File KV 2-877/8

Mary was well enough by the second half of 1941 to return to work, although, as she was later to point out, it was extremely difficult to get film work with a husband in gaol on suspicion of treason. The work was a supporting role in the 70-minute “This was Paris”, made by Mary’s old studio, Warner Bros, at their Teddington studios in south–west London. The plot revolves around three or four key characters who are participants battling the activities of fifth columnists in France in 1940. Several of the players in the film, including Mary, would have been very well known to US audiences. Ben Lyon, a well known US actor, plays Butch, a perpetually drunken reporter for an Australian newspaper called “The Sidney Chronicle.” (Despite the incorrect spelling, it is clearly meant to be a newspaper in Sydney, Australia he works for). Mary plays his girlfriend with a degree of ability and confidence not seen in many of her earlier films.

Mary Maguire’s first line as Blossum Leroy in her final film “This Was Paris.” Her boyfriend, Butch, a reporter for “The Sidney Chronicle” (sic) has come home drunk, with British spy Bill Hamilton in tow. Listen to that accent! Is she meant to be Australian? It’s worth noting that by the time she was in England, her accent was noticeably refined. Audio clip from VHS copy in the author’s collection.

In wartime England, the joy of parenthood and the pleasure of working in film again was not to last for long. Over Christmas 1941 little Michael became ill. In February 1942, he succumbed to  pneumonia – an operation failed. The little boy was buried at a church at the Gordon Canning ancestral seat of Hartpury in Gloucestershire, his name listed on a monument next to adults killed in Britain’s war effort. Even Bina was unable to put a positive spin on this awful event and could find little to say. Still in prison after a year and a half, Bobbie could not console her. Mary was absolutely devastated.

With the best medical support the Maguires could find, Mary slowly regained something of her former self, although distractions were difficult to find in the very desperate days of 1942. The war was not going well for the Allies. Mary was later to say that she had very little to do during the war.

Bedtime story
A grainy photo of Mary in August 1942. From “The Courier” (Tunbridge Wells), August 7, 1942. Via The British Library Newspaper project

Finally, in the middle of 1942 she felt strong enough to take up some acting again – this time in the theatre. Sister Joan was already achieving some success on the stage in London, so it made some sense to follow in her footsteps. Mary’s play was a production of Bedtime Story”, a “light comedy in 3 acts”, touring through southern England for a month – Bradford, Hull and Tunbridge Wells. Based on the Cinderella story, it was well received by war weary audiences. Although looking thinner and wearing her black hair shorter, Mary was still a glamorous film star and the provincial English press were thrilled when she hit town. But Mary didn’t stay with the play – by the end of the year she had left and the production moved on to Glasgow. She did not return to the stage.

Mary and Patsy 1942
Any news is good news. Sydney Truth reports on the wedding of oldest Maguire daughter Patricia to Peter Aitken, youngest son of Lord Beaverbrook. Truth, Sydney, 1 November 1942. via National Library of Australia’s Trove

But there was some good news. Sometime, early in 1943, Mary met an up-and-coming US aeronautical engineer, Phillip Legarra. Four years her senior, Phil worked in England for North American Aviation on the highly successful P-51 Mustang fighter project. The Mustang was soon to become the war’s breakthrough fighter aircraft, and in its final form was undoubtedly the finest US offensive fighter of the war. At the time they met, Phil was the company’s English representative. They fell in love.

To force Bobbie’s hand and give him no choice but to agree to a divorce, Mary took the unusual step of moving in with Phil, to a comfortable flat in Kensington.  Mary said; “I am not apologising for falling in love with someone my own age. That is natural.”

Phil Legarra fro Skyline

Below: Phil Legarra: “Notes from England” Skyline Magazine, July-August 1943. North American Aviation (in-house magazine), July-August 1943. Author’s Collection.

Bobbie was amongst the internees released in August 1943. Following a post-imprisonment interview conducted at Hartpury in late August 1943, two MI5 officers wondered if Bobbie was suffering “some form of mild mental derangement.” His eccentric behaviour over the next ten years also suggests this. Bobbie blamed Jewish pressure on the Government for his internment while Barry Domvile blamed “judmas;” in his damaged mind a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy was responsible. Bobbie remained an unrepentant national socialist to his death in 1967.

Bobbie Gordon Canning can be seen here in a Movietone newsreel. This is a 1945 auction of formerly impounded German embassy items. Bobbie purchased an enormous bust of Hitler.

Bobbie and Mary divorced in 1944 – despite his determination to put his marriage “in order”. Soon after, in a courageous step, Mary decided that honesty was the best policy, and she bared all to journalists, publicly making reference to her bout of TB for the first time. Phil and Mary’s plan was to marry and return to the US, where Mary could settle down and restart her Hollywood career and Phil could return to the aviation industry. Aware that not all her relatives in Australia would approve of a divorce, she tried to pre-empt their reactions. “Apart from the shock this is going to be to my grandparents in Melbourne, and also to many other of my Australian friends, I am unashamed of what I have done … It’s distressing, but that’s the way it is. I’m sure there are lots of people who won’t forgive me, but most women would do the same in similar circumstances.”  Uncharacteristically, Mick and Bina could find nothing to say publicly about the matter. They were obviously conflicted between their Catholic faith, the embarrassment of a looming divorce and their loyalty to a daughter whose marriage they had encouraged.

Phil and Mary married in March 1945 and left for California just as soon as they could. As newspapers of the time reported, Mary hoped to get a role in “Forever Amber”, a major “Gone With the Wind” style production based on a popular novel by Kathleen Winsor. But in Hollywood, things had changed. Her great mentor and family friend Miles Mander suffered a heart attack and died suddenly after dinner at one of Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurants in February 1946, only a few months after she returned. Richard Monter, her former agent, died in 1947. Even Mary’s one-time friend, Marion Davies, had moved on, selling her huge seaside Ocean House at Santa Monica in 1945. Her hopes of returning to acting on the screen came to nothing.

Mary and Phil were also denied the joy of parenthood. The female reproductive system is particularly vulnerable to TB – the damage the disease can do to the fallopian tubes can be irreparable and successful conception extremely difficult. It may be this was the reason there were no children from their marriage. If so, it must have been a bitter blow.

Mary decided that a career as an extra was not for her. She could have followed Jocelyn Howarth’s example and continued to try – she might have taken uncredited roles or worked as an extra as old Melbourne friend Joan Winfield did, but she seems to have made a conscious decision not to. It says a great deal about her that she could walk away and leave it all behind. Mary and Phil must have been reassured though – the US aircraft industry, largely based in Southern California – employed hundreds of thousands of people at the war’s end, and the couple’s security and prosperity must have seemed assured by Phil’s connections and ability as an engineer.

Mick Maguire died suddenly in England in June 1950. A few years later, Bina returned to Australia for a holiday. It was at this time she made her “you simply HAVE to meet the right people and at the right places” statement to explain the girls’ successful marriages. She was also reported to have said “if you want marry money, you have to go where money is.”  When she died in 1963, there was another flurry of newspaper accounts. She was, said friends, a woman of “great personal charm and very clear purpose… a motivating force in the whole operation” said another friend.

Mary to Mick's funeral

Mary flew home to the US from Mick’s funeral in London.This airline manifest shows she was still travelling as an Australian in 1950. Mary was often to say she wanted to return to Australia, but never did. Her interest in flying dated to the 1930s. (This image has been modified from the original manifest) From National Archives, via Ancestry.com

The couple settled into a comfortable home in the trendy beachside suburban development at Surfridge, near the airport. The houses in this development faced westwards and had views of the Pacific Ocean, a suburb in the rolling sand dunes popular with former Hollywood stars and the modestly wealthy. Unfortunately the suburb was reclaimed in the 1960s for Los Angeles airport redevelopment. Today, this area is a ghost-suburb; footpaths and streets without houses and palm trees shading what were once verdant gardens and green back yards.

Mary died on 18 May, 1974 – aged only fifty-five. Phil had died in 1971 – alcohol played a part in both their deaths. In her last years Mary lived in a small apartment on Pasadena Avenue in Long Beach. Built in 1922, it still stands and is one of the older apartment blocks in the area. In appearance it could be straight out of Nathaniel West’s classic expose of life of the margins of Hollywood – Day of the Locust.

Two of Mary’s sisters returned to Australia in the 1970s, visiting relatives and being interviewed by state and local papers. Patsy said her strongest Australian memories were of life as a child in the Maguire hotels, and the interesting guests she met. Australian comedian and thirties film star George Wallace stayed in her mind particularly.

carmel lupe and joanMary’s sisters – Carmel, Lupe and Joan Maguire (and Patsy not shown) all achieved the “glittering marriages” their parents hoped for. Press Association Photo about 1938. Author’s collection 

Mary Maguire’s career in the mid-1930s also mirrored that of many other young starlets who sought an acting career in the golden years of Hollywood. She did not leave behind a significant body of film-work; indeed, most of her films are unremarkable second feature or B-films. She developed to become a competent actress, but over six years and a dozen films; she was regularly consigned to the one, almost identical role, the young love interest – the ingénue. This is hardly surprising in the context of the time, in an industry famous for stereotyping actresses. She was barely sixteen years old when she had her first speaking role in a film and twenty-three when she had her last.

Nick Murphy, September 2018


Mary Maguire, Epilogue – explaining the author’s distant connection to Maguire is here.


Note 1. 

Her birth certificate – freely available at Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages, shows her name at birth was Ellen Theresa Maguire, details confirmed on the document by her mother. The confusion around her name may relate to the use of the pet name “Peggy” during her childhood and “Mary” in later life. In addition, her first name and surname is misspelt on her 1974 US death certificate. 51 Ashworth Street appears to have been the home of the Bina’s parents.

MM birth cert

Source: Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages, Document ID 5295/1919

Further Reading:

Archives

Digital

Documentary films

  • Don’t Call Me Girlie (1985) A film by Stewart Young and Andree Wright. Director Stewart Young, Script and Research by Andree Wright. Producer Hilary Furlong. Narrator: Penne Hackworth-Jones. Ronin Films
  • A History of Australian Film 1896-1940: Film Australia
    – The Pictures that Moved 1896-1920
    (1968) Director Alan Anderson. Writer Joan Long
    – The Passionate Industry 1920-1930 (1973) Director Joan Long. Writer Joan Long
    – Now You’re Talking 1930-1940. (1979) Director Keith Gow. Script Keith Gow.

Books

  • Michael Adams (2019) Australia’s Sweetheart: The amazing story of forgotten Hollywood star Mary Maguire. Hachette Australia.
  • Olga Abrahams, (2007). 88 Nicholson Street; The Academy of Mary Immaculate 1857 – 2007, Academy of Mary Immaculate. ISBN 978 0 9589817 1 2.
  • Christopher Andrew (2009) Defend the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5. Alfred Knopf, New York. ISBN 978 0 307 26363 6
  • John Baxter, (1986) Filmstruck – Australia at the Movies. ABC Enterprises, Sydney. ISBN 9 780642 527370.
  • Kevin Brownlow (1968)The Parade’s Gone By… reprint 1976, University of California Press, Berkeley, California. ISBN 0 520 03068 0
  • Daniel Bubbeo (2002) The Women of Warner Brothers: the lives and careers of 15 leading ladies. McFarland and Company, North Carolina. ISBN 0 7864 1137 6
  • John Roy Carlson (Avedis Derounian) From Cairo to Damascus. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1951. (http://spitfirelist.com/books/cairo-to-damascus/)
  • Charlotte Chandler (2007) The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Bette Davis, A Personal Biography. Pocket Books, London. ISBN -13: 978-1-4165-2222-5
  • Elsa Chauvel, (1973). My Life with Charles Chauvel. Shakespeare Head Press.
  • Diane Collins, (1987). Hollywood Down under. Australians at the Movies: 1896 to the present day. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. ISBN 0 207 15267 5
  • Ronald L. Davis (1993) The Glamour Factory; Inside Hollywood’s Big Studio System. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas. ISBN: 0 87074 358 9
  • Ray Edmondson and Andrew Pike (1982) Australia’s Lost Films. National Library of Australia. ISBN 0 642 99251 7
  • Ken Hall, (1980) Australian film: The Inside Story. Summit Books. ISBN 0 7271 0452 7
  • Julie V. Gottlieb & Thomas P. Linehan (Eds): The Culture of Fascism; Visions of the far right in Britain. I.B.Tauris
  • Clive Hirschhorn, (1980) The Warner Brothers Story. Octopus Books, London. ISBN 0 7064 0797 0
  • Thomas P. Linehan; A Dangerous Piece of Celluloid? British Fascists and the Hollywood Movie School of Arts at Brunel University
    (http://arts.brunel.ac.uk/gate/entertext/Linehan.pdf)
  • Miles Mander (1935) To My Son, In Confidence. Faber and Faber, London
  • Janet McCalman (1998) Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965. Hyland House. South Melbourne ISBN 1 86447 048 8
  • Brian McFarlane, Anthony Slide, 2003. The Encyclopedia of British Film. Methuen Publishing Ltd, London. ISBN 0 413 779301 9
  • Robert Murphy (Ed) (2008) The British Cinema Book. Palgrave Macmillan for the BFI, London. ISBN 978 1 84457 275 5
  • David Nasaw. (2000) The Chief: The life of William Randolph Hearst. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York. ISBN 0 395 827590
  • Pamela Pfau and Kenneth S. Marx (Eds) (1977) Marion Davies, The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst. Ballantyne Books, Random House, New York. ISBN 978 0 345 32739 0
  • Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper (1998) Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Vincent Porter, (Ed) (2006). Walter C. Mycroft: The Time of My Life. The Memoirs of a British film Producer. Scarecrow Press, Maryland. ISBN 0 8108 5723 5.
  • Eric Reade (1979) History and Heartburn: The Saga of Australian Film 1896-1978, Harper and Row, Sydney. ISBN 0 06 312033X
  • Jeffery Richards: The Unknown 1930s: An alternative history of the British Cinema 1929-1939.B. Taurus
  • W. Brian Simpson, (2005) In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without trial in Wartime Britain. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-825949-2
  • John Stewart (1984) An Encyclopedia of Australian Film. Reed books, New South Wales. ISBN 0 7301 0059 6
  • John Wodehouse, The Fourth Earl of Kimberley, and Charles Roberts, (2001). The Whim of the Wheel: The Memoirs of the Earl of Kimberley. Merton Priory Press, Cardiff, England. ISBN 1 898937 45 1
  • Andree Wright, (1986). Brilliant Careers; Women in Australian Cinema. Pan Books, Sydney. ISBN 0 330 27065 6.
  • Angela Woollacott, (2001).To try her fortune in London. Australian women, Colonialism and Modernity. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 9 780195 147193

Mary Maguire (1919-1974) The filmstar and the fascist, Part 1

Two young Australians  – John Wood (Karlo) and Mary Maguire (Tanya) in Black Eyes, a film set in pre-revolutionary Russia. This ABPC film was released in England in April 1939. It is still available through networkonair, Amazon and Loving the Classics.  Screen grab from a copy in the author’s collection.

This sound clip coincides with the scene shown above.

The 5 Second version
Ellen Theresa Maguire was born to a family of ambitious publicans in Melbourne Australia in 1919. As Mary Maguire she is famous now for all the wrong reasons – indifferent performances in disappointing films in Australia and the US, and a short-lived marriage to a much older British fascist sympathiser in 1939. She redeemed herself in several later British films but by age 23 her career was over. She retired to the US and died young.
Michael Adams’ new biography of her life was published in 2019.

Mary Maguire of Melbourne always loved the movies. According to an unsourced account in her school’s history, she would sometimes skip school to see the latest releases. Born in Albert Park, a suburb of Melbourne on February 22, 1919, she was the second of five daughters parented by publicans Michael (Mick) and Mary Jane “Bina” Maguire. Mary’s acting career was to be unbelievably short. She appeared in her first film in Australia in 1933, aged 14, and in her final film in the United Kingdom in 1942 when she was just 23 years old. In all, a total of only fourteen films. She died, aged 55, completely forgotten, in Long Beach California. Yet for a little while, in 1937 and 1938, she was the talk of Hollywood.

Mick and Bina’s own upbringing is central to the story of their film star daughter, and their other daughters too. Mick was born and bred in the working class suburb of  Richmond. His very modest family home in Kent Street has long since been demolished, but similar small cottages still stand nearby. His mother and father were aspirational, but not wealthy. Like his brothers, Mick went to school at Parade College, a Catholic boys school, and excelled at sports – becoming a very young player for Richmond Football Club at the age of 16, and dabbling in amateur boxing with mixed success. In later life, Mick was to claim he was the Australian football code’s youngest ever player, and still later, that he was Welterweight boxing champion of Australia. Neither claim was true.

Mary Jane Carroll met Mick when he was playing football. Five years older than Mick, she had been born into a struggling farming family in the Wimmera region of Victoria. Her Irish mother and father gave up the herculean task of trying to make a farm pay and took up work with the Victorian Railways. In time, Bina (the origins of her nickname now being forgotten) would suggest she was also of Irish birth – perhaps she felt it preferable to admitting to her new, swell, friends in London that she had lived a childhood in the Australian bush. In the early twentieth century almost all of her extended family had become hoteliers, as did she and Mick – an assured way to make money in the difficult times between the two wars.

Mick and Bina held the licences to a series of major Melbourne hotels by the early 1920s – The Bull and Mouth, then The Hotel Melbourne and finally the Hotel Metropole, all in bustling central Bourke Street.  They were an ambitious couple, intent on making good and determined that the girls would succeed. Running a hotel was one sure way of achieving this. Mick and Bina were also great self – promoters; as a few who knew them  recalled in later life. On Bina’s passing in 1963, one old friend told The Courier Mail “she was a great contact woman and admitted quite frankly that she cultivated the ‘right’ people because that was the thing most likely to advance her daughters interests.”

Bay View today

Above: One of the many Carroll family hotels – the now de-licenced Bay View Hotel in Kensington. Run by Mary Maguire’s auntie Alice, it was also where her maternal grandparents retired to. Mary visited them here before heading off to Hollywood in 1936. Photo – author’s collection.
Below: Peggy (Mary) in about 1934. Photo – John Oxley Library Collection, State Library of Queensland.

John Oxley Library 2There is considerable confusion in contemporary accounts regarding Mary’s name at birth. It was Ellen Theresa Maguire. Her “pet name” was Peggy – used by all the family. (See Note 1 below)

She appeared in her first film in 1933. This was a small bit part in Pat Hanna’s Diggers in Blighty”, filmed in Melbourne. It was a largely pointless non-speaking role as a clerk, where she giggles at the soldier antics of Hanna, Joe Valli and George Moon. How did she get the role? It’s almost certain that the ever affable Mick Maguire used his connections to get his daughter a break doing something she loved. He arranged a similar introduction again in mid-1934, when pioneering filmmaker Charles Chauvel chose her for a role. The Maguires were now living in Queensland and running Brisbane’s premier hotel – The Bellevue. Based largely on her looks and ability to do an Irish accent of sorts – apparently her party piece – Chauvel cast Peggy as Biddy O’Shea, an Irish immigrant girl, in his panorama of Australian history “Heritage”.

Watch a clip with Peggy’s first scene from Heritage here (The Australian Screen – National Film and Sound Archive)

James Morrison (a rather effete Teamster who spies Biddy as she steps off the ship): Excuse me miss, may I carry your bundle?
Biddy O’Shea: You will not, I’ll carry me own bundle.
James (insisting and grabbing her bag): I’ll carry it miss!
Biddy: Give me my bundle! (Hitting him and stamping on his hat) … That’ll teach you to play tricks on an Irish girl!

Thus began Peggy Maguire’s acting career in film.

Peggy’s breakthrough role came on the heels of Heritage”. Miles Mander, a British actor and director was hired by an Australian syndicate to make a movie, based loosely, very loosely, on the 1934 novel The Flying Doctor”, by Robert Waldron. Peggy won the part of Jenny Rutherford, with Hollywood actor Charles Farrell imported for the lead. In January she announced she was now calling herself Mary – a name more suited to a sophisticated film star. Today, the rarely seen finished product looks unconvincing and old-fashioned. Even in 1936 it attracted mixed reviews – The Sydney Morning Herald’s reviewer complained about the film’s endless scenes of “local colour… what amounts to tourist propaganda.” The cameo appearance of Don Bradman delighted and annoyed reviewers in equal numbers.

Photos and posters from The Flying Doctor can be found here (The Ozmovie site)

Actress Mary Maguire with family and friends welcoming her to Brisbane Queensland 1936
The Maguire family welcome Mary home after filming The Flying Doctor; from left –  Lupe, Mary, Mick, Joan, Bina, British screen writer JOC Orton, Patsy and Carmel, April 1936 . Director Miles Mander had left hurriedly for the US a few days before, following a court case for speeding.
Photo from Queensland Newspapers  – John Oxley Library Collection, State Library of Queensland.

Whatever the reviewers said, the Maguires were immensely satisfied and the decision was made to pursue Mary’s acting career. Miles Mander had also been very encouraging – and assured them Hollywood was the place to go. Mick was to accompany Mary to the US as her personal manager, intent on bulldozing a path through any obstacles and clearly confident that he could make things happen as successfully as he had in Melbourne and Brisbane. There were discussions about the rest of the family following soon after, especially if, as expected, Mary made a go of it in Hollywood. It was all very exciting – but also very daunting. As it turned out, she was never to see Australia again.

Mary (or more correctly her father, as she was underage) signed a contract with Warner Brothers soon after arriving in the US, and over 1936-37 she appeared in four films for the company. Only one was a main feature film, Confession”, a vehicle for leading star Kay Francis. Her three other films were cinema program fillers, all produced by Brian Foy’s “B-film” unit, all running to less that 60 minutes, and all constructed around scripts that were regularly recycled and filmed quickly.

mary signs up signed off

Left:  Mary and Mick’s signatures on a contract in 1937. Mary’s handwriting remained the same throughout her life. Source Warner Brothers Archives, School of Cinematic Studies, University of Southern California.
Right: Doris Weston, Thais Dickerson and Mary Maguire, photographed in October 1936, having just had their contracts approved in Court. All three started with Warner Bros. at the same time, on wildly different salaries. Mary outlived both these women. Weston made her last film in 1939 and died in 1960. Dickerson, as Gloria Dickson, died in a house fire in 1945. Source: Syndicated Press Photo. Author’s collection.

Even in 1937, these Warner Brothers B-films; “That Man’s Here Again”, “Alcatraz Island”and Sergeant Murphy”, were underwhelming. Her roles were limited and perhaps, as a few unkind reviewers noted, she just wasn’t as good as some of the others chasing acting careers at the time. Warner Brothers out-take compilations, which include very short clips from some of these films, can be found here in  Breakdowns of 1937  (see Mary briefly at 4:05) and Breakdowns of 1938  (see 4.10). The film she made with Ronald Reagan, “Sergeant Murphy”, is perhaps the easiest of her B-films to find in specialist collections. (Not withstanding the claims made since; there is not a shred of contemporary evidence she had an affair with Reagan during the making of the film)

Despite the lack of big-picture experiences, with the public relations assistance of Mick as well as Warner Brothers, Mary’s star seemed to be on the rise and she was enjoying extraordinary publicity.  In letters home to Queensland, Bina dutifully passed on everything she said and did to the Australian press, with a helpful smattering of commentary. And at age 18, Mary was meeting all the people she had read about or watched on the screen, only a few years before. Some were extremely powerful figures – including millionaire racehorse owner Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II, newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst and his girlfriend Marion Davies, and the head of Twentieth Century Fox, Joe Schenck. Despite all this exciting socialising, her closest real friend seems to have been fellow Warner’s actress Jane Bryan, also being groomed for ingénue parts.

Picture play 1937
Above – Mary as she appeared in PicturePlay magazine in an article entitled “Ladies of Leisure”, in 1937. This is typical of articles designed to profile up and coming starlets. Source probably Warner Bros. Pictureplay Magazine, 1937, via Lantern Digital Media Project

Self-publicity was also an important part of the Hollywood experience then as it is today. Australians who tried their luck in Hollywood, including Jocelyn Howarth, Mona Barrie and Mary Maguire, tended to wheel out the same story about the start to their US careers. This was that they had been offered work during a casual visit to a studio, while they were on their way somewhere else, like New York. It was nonsense of course.

In July 1937, the whole of the Maguire family were finally reunited in Hollywood. The license on the Bellevue had been sold and Bina had packed up the girls for the voyage across the Pacific. It was timely, because Mary was recovering from a “nervous breakdown” – one of several she suffered in the US. Older sister Patsy commented, perhaps a little unhelpfully; “You know, I think she was just lonely. When we arrived on Saturday she was so jittery she could scarcely speak. Now she’s a different person… You see, we’ve always been together and although dad has been marvellous, I think Mary has really missed us.”

Motion Picture Feb July 1938 P82With Bina now on hand to join those guiding her, in late 1937 she declined a role in another B picture, Mystery House”, and was promptly laid off by Warner Brothers. Her star was at its zenith by this time, and she clearly believed she could bargain her way into better roles, even if she still had little acting experience. In early April 1938 Mary obtained a new contract with Twentieth Century Fox, doubtless through her friendship with the 62-year-old Joe Schenck, with whom she was very friendly – they had attended the 10th Annual Academy awards together. Bina unhelpfully speculated to the press in Australia that a wedding might be imminent.

Above – Joe Schenck and Mary at the Santa Anita Handicap in March 1938. Motion Picture Magazine, Feb-July 1938, page 81 via Lantern.“Joe regards me as a kid” she said of the relationship.

Following a role in Fox’s Mysterious Mr Moto”,  with Peter Lorre as the Japanese detective (the absurdity of Lorre, a Jewish émigré from fascist Europe playing a Japanese detective, who often disguises himself as a person of another ethnicity, in this case a German, could not have been lost on discerning audiences, even then) she suddenly departed for Britain. Her assignment was to appear in a Fox musical called Keep Smiling” (later changed to Smiling Along”) with Gracie Fields in the lead. Joe Schenck travelled to London in mid July, officially for work, staying at Claridge’s hotel, not far from her apartment. We know nothing of the outcome of any meeting they had, except we do know that Fox dropped Mary’s contract in September 1938 and Schenck took no further interest in her or her career. It suggests a really serious “falling out”.

After Smiling Along”, Mary, apparently now settled into British filmmaking, and with Bina’s supportive presence and a comfortable flat in Hayes Mews in Mayfair, started work for the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC). This brought Mary into contact with Walter C. Mycroft, a dynamic British film producer, running the company’s Elstree Studio, and famous for churning out mostly uninspiring film fare, through the same technique Brian Foy used – scripts recycled from previous films or adapted from stage plays, rather than expensive original screenplays. Mary’s first film – Black Eyes” was such a remake – this one of a 1935 French film. But even for the time, it was a dull story – preoccupied with notions of class and with a predictable storyline. A highlight was Sydney born actor John Wood, who played a supporting role.

MM 1938-39   MM 1939

Mary as she appeared in 1938-9. These collectable British photos were about half the size of those produced by US studios. Author’s Collection.

Mary’s second film for Mycroft and ABPC was The Outsider”. For this film, Mary received top billing with leading male player George Sanders, who played the charismatic but self-absorbed medico. Audiences today would guess he is a chiropractor, although it is never really explained. Sanders’ role is Anton Ragatzy, a slightly oily foreigner of some sort, the type that inhabited British films for decades. Mary plays Lalage Sturdee, a beautiful “crippled” musician, whom he finally cures with the aid of a device he has invented, a type of stretching machine. Here Mycroft had chosen another cheap option for the company – the script had been filmed before in 1931 and 1926. By the time this film had been made, the whole family had relocated to London.

cannesIn early 1939, Mick and Bina took a lease on Villa Esterel near Cannes in the south of France, apparently oblivious to the rising political tensions in Europe. Explaining the Cannes sojourn in an interview in 1957, Bina said they had chosen it because “you simply have to meet the right people and at the right places.” As with the move from Melbourne to Brisbane, the motivation for travelling to Cannes appears to have been to advance opportunities for the girls, in this case, to find suitable husbands for them.

In one of the few publicly released photos of the Maguires in Cannes, Lupe and Carmel laze about on the Villa’s sunny front steps, while Bina, wearing sunglasses, stands ominously and proprietorially behind her girls.

Source for newspaper photo above – The Truth, 26 November 1944. Page 18 via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Note 1. 

Her birth certificate – freely available at Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages, shows her name at birth was Ellen Theresa Maguire, details confirmed on the document by her mother. The confusion around her name may relate to the use of the pet name “Peggy” during her childhood and “Mary” in later life. In addition, her first name and surname is misspelt on her 1974 US death certificate. 51 Ashworth Street appears to have been the home of the Bina’s parents.

MM birth cert

Source: Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages, Document ID 5295/1919

Part Two is here

Epilogue is here (This explains my indirect family connection to Maguire)


Nick Murphy
August 2018

Further Reading:

Archives

Digital

Documentary films

  • Don’t Call Me Girlie (1985) A film by Stewart Young and Andree Wright. Director Stewart Young, Script and Research by Andree Wright. Producer Hilary Furlong. Narrator: Penne Hackworth-Jones. Ronin Films
  • A History of Australian Film 1896-1940: Film Australia
    – The Pictures that Moved 1896-1920
    (1968) Director Alan Anderson. Writer Joan Long
    – The Passionate Industry 1920-1930 (1973) Director Joan Long. Writer Joan Long
    – Now You’re Talking 1930-1940. (1979) Director Keith Gow. Script Keith Gow.

Books

  • Michael Adams (2019) Australia’s Sweetheart: The amazing story of forgotten Hollywood star Mary Maguire. Hachette Australia.
  • Olga Abrahams, (2007). 88 Nicholson Street; The Academy of Mary Immaculate 1857 – 2007, Academy of Mary Immaculate. ISBN 978 0 9589817 1 2.
  • Christopher Andrew (2009) Defend the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5. Alfred Knopf, New York. ISBN 978 0 307 26363 6
  • John Baxter, (1986) Filmstruck – Australia at the Movies. ABC Enterprises, Sydney. ISBN 9 780642 527370.
  • Kevin Brownlow (1968)The Parade’s Gone By… reprint 1976, University of California Press, Berkeley, California. ISBN 0 520 03068 0
  • Daniel Bubbeo (2002) The Women of Warner Brothers: the lives and careers of 15 leading ladies. McFarland and Company, North Carolina. ISBN 0 7864 1137 6
  • John Roy Carlson (Avedis Derounian) From Cairo to Damascus. Alfred Knopf, New York, 1951. (http://spitfirelist.com/books/cairo-to-damascus/)
  • Charlotte Chandler (2007) The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Bette Davis, A Personal Biography. Pocket Books, London. ISBN -13: 978-1-4165-2222-5
  • Elsa Chauvel, (1973). My Life with Charles Chauvel. Shakespeare Head Press.
  • Diane Collins, (1987). Hollywood Down under. Australians at the Movies: 1896 to the present day. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. ISBN 0 207 15267 5
  • Ronald L. Davis (1993) The Glamour Factory; Inside Hollywood’s Big Studio System. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas. ISBN: 0 87074 358 9
  • Ray Edmondson and Andrew Pike (1982) Australia’s Lost Films. National Library of Australia. ISBN 0 642 99251 7
  • Ken Hall, (1980) Australian film: The Inside Story. Summit Books. ISBN 0 7271 0452 7
  • Julie V. Gottlieb & Thomas P. Linehan (Eds): The Culture of Fascism; Visions of the far right in Britain. I.B.Tauris
  • Clive Hirschhorn, (1980) The Warner Brothers Story. Octopus Books, London. ISBN 0 7064 0797 0
  • Thomas P. Linehan; A Dangerous Piece of Celluloid? British Fascists and the Hollywood Movie School of Arts at Brunel University
    (http://arts.brunel.ac.uk/gate/entertext/Linehan.pdf)
  • Miles Mander (1935) To My Son, In Confidence. Faber and Faber, London
  • Janet McCalman (1998) Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965. Hyland House. South Melbourne ISBN 1 86447 048 8
  • Brian McFarlane, Anthony Slide, 2003. The Encyclopedia of British Film. Methuen Publishing Ltd, London. ISBN 0 413 779301 9
  • Robert Murphy (Ed) (2008) The British Cinema Book. Palgrave Macmillan for the BFI, London. ISBN 978 1 84457 275 5
  • David Nasaw. (2000) The Chief: The life of William Randolph Hearst. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York. ISBN 0 395 827590
  • Pamela Pfau and Kenneth S. Marx (Eds) (1977) Marion Davies, The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst. Ballantyne Books, Random House, New York. ISBN 978 0 345 32739 0
  • Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper (1998) Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Vincent Porter, (Ed) (2006). Walter C. Mycroft: The Time of My Life. The Memoirs of a British film Producer. Scarecrow Press, Maryland. ISBN 0 8108 5723 5.
  • Eric Reade (1979) History and Heartburn: The Saga of Australian Film 1896-1978, Harper and Row, Sydney. ISBN 0 06 312033X
  • Jeffery Richards: The Unknown 1930s: An alternative history of the British Cinema 1929-1939.B. Taurus
  • W. Brian Simpson, (2005) In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention without trial in Wartime Britain. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-825949-2
  • John Stewart (1984) An Encyclopedia of Australian Film. Reed books, New South Wales. ISBN 0 7301 0059 6
  • John Wodehouse, The Fourth Earl of Kimberley, and Charles Roberts, (2001). The Whim of the Wheel: The Memoirs of the Earl of Kimberley. Merton Priory Press, Cardiff, England. ISBN 1 898937 45 1
  • Andree Wright, (1986). Brilliant Careers; Women in Australian Cinema. Pan Books, Sydney. ISBN 0 330 27065 6.
  • Angela Woollacott, (2001).To try her fortune in London. Australian women, Colonialism and Modernity. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 9 780195 147193

Joan Winfield (1918-1978) – celebrated violinist and actor


Above – Joan Winfield in 1942. Press photo, source unknown, in the author’s collection. 

Joan Marie Therese MacGillicuddy was born in Melbourne in 1918, the second child of Dr Maurice and Nell MacGillicuddy, important figures in society and the local charitable community. Joan and her older sister Mary Mauricette (born in 1913 and called Billie by the family) had grown up with a love of performance and music. Maurice ran a well known and successful medical practice in the city and Richmond. Both girls gained fame in Melbourne as musicial prodigies – Mauricette was an accomplished pianist studying at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, while Joan, still a student at Catholic Ladies College, was a skilled violinist.

Joan as violinist 1934Mauricette farewell 1936

Joan and Mauricette as they appeared in The Advocate, the Melbourne Catholic newspaper.
Note that Joan had won the Victorian Open Violin Championship for Under 25 years, not as is often claimed, “The Australian Violin championship.” All the same, it was a remarkable achievement for a 15 year old. The Advocate 26 July, 1934 and  The Avocate, 26 March 1936 via The National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Joan also enjoyed the stage, and took a leading role in several pantomimes performed for charity. In 1930 she appeared in The Doll’s House Tea Party, with another aspiring actress, Peggy Maguire, who she would later meet again in Hollywood as Mary Maguire. Joan apparently enjoyed this so much she played the same role again in 1931.

Joan and Peggy

Peggy Maguire is in the maid’s costume, 6th from the left. Joan MacGillicuddy appears to be in the centre, 8th from left. Via  The National Library of Australia’s Trove – The Argus, 16 June, 1930

Life changed in 1936, when the family decided to travel to Britain so that Mauricette could continue her studies in music. John Meredyth Lucas (Joan’s husband after 1951) suggested the move was also because Maurice had discovered he had terminal cancer and wanted to make the most of his final years. After numerous parties and farewell concerts, the family departed Melbourne in April. In July 1937, Mauricette, now making a name for herself in London as a musician, was presented at court. Joan was studying “dramatic art,” – it was later reported to be at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The family resided for a time at the Duke Street Mansion Apartments in Grosvenor Square and then in June 1939 sailed to New York on the SS Normandie.  (Maurice’s sister lived in New York. He died there in August 1942)

Below right: Joan and another Warner Bros. starlet, Faye Emerson, in a typical wartime publicity shot. The film they appeared in together was actually Lady Gangster and the cups they were pictured with an obvious studio stunt. [Hollywood Magazine Jan-April 1942, Via Lantern]

Hollywood Jan-Dec 1942According to John Meredyth Lucas, it was in New York sometime in 1941 that Joan was spotted by a Warner Bros. scout and offered the standard contract  – the type that enabled a studio to “try out” new faces for up to seven years, but did not necessarily offer much in return. Merle Oberon described the studio system at this time as a “sausage machine,” an apt metaphor for its treatment of young stars like Joan. She was to be known professionally as Joan Winfield, a name plucked from Bette Davis‘ character in the 1941 film The Bride came C.O.D. It was claimed her spectacular swimsuit body made her a popular pin-up with allied troops, which is almost certainly another studio publicity story. After years of completely unremarkable B-films for the likes of Warner’s prolific director “Breezy” Eason, (see the rather underwhelming 50 minute Murder on the Waterfront for example), her career was confined to un-credited supporting roles, later in father-in-law Michael Curtiz‘s films. If this annoyed her or disappointed her, she never publicly said so.

Joan 1945

Above: Joan Winfield
as she appeared in The Des Moines Register (Iowa), 4 March 1945. Beauty, swimsuits and health were important features of Joan’s publicity, and for someone confined mostly to minor or un-credited roles, she enjoyed remarkable publicity. Via Newspapers.com.

This is probably because she found interests beyond acting. She became a US citizen and married Hollywood writer – director – producer John Meredyth Lucas (son of director Wilfred Lucas and Bess Meredyth) in 1951. They had met on the set of the wartime drama The Gorilla Man, in 1943. Together they raised three children and Joan increasingly worked for charitable causes, continuing to take small film parts until 1957.

east melbourne

Hotham St East Melbourne in 2020. The last MacGillicuddy home in Melbourne, the grey building on the right and now a private residence again, looks out on this streetscape that has changed little since Joan revisited it in 1960. Author’s collection

Joan returned to Australia in 1959, while John was directing and writing scripts for the TV series Whiplash, an Australian “western” starring Peter Graves. They visited the beautiful MacGillicuddy home in Hotham Street, East Melbourne. Much to her horror, it had become a scruffy boarding house. But her old school nearby, Catholic Ladies College, was still operating and some of the nuns who taught Joan were there to greet her. In his autobiography, John recalled being deeply moved by the welcome given to his wife in the school’s best parlour. Sister Bernard held Joan’s hand for the entire visit and recounted what had happened to her classmates and all of the nuns.

Apparently a heavy smoker all her life, Joan died after a battle with cancer, aged only fifty-nine, in June 1978.

A Doll's House Darwell and Melbourne

Above: Jane Darwell with Joan’s sister Dale Melbourne in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House c 1945. Author’s Collection.

In addition to singing, Joan’s sister Billie also took to acting, performing on stage in the United States in the mid 1940s, using the stage name Dale Melbourne. Independent producer James B Cassidy organised a tour of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House throughout North America in 1944-6 and apart from Billie in the role of Nora, it also featured well known actors Francis Lederer, Jane Darwell and Lyle Talbot (yes – the same Lyle Talbot who appeared in Plan 9 from Outer Space in 1957). Cassidy and Billie were married, until his untimely death in 1952.

Vancouver Sun 18 Nov 1944
Above: A Doll’s House advertised in the Vancouver Sun, 18 November 1944. Via Newspapers.com

In 1981 Billie married John Herklotz, a Californian businessman and philanthropist. She died in 1998 but remains well remembered at the University of California. The University’s Conference facility at the Centre for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory is named after her.

John Meredyth Lucas’s autobiography, with its entertaining accounts of making a pioneering TV series in Australia, was published shortly after his death in 2002. He is, of course, remembered for his own prolific and diverse body of work especially on television – which included writing, producing and directing Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, Harry O and The Fugitive.

Note: Lucas’ parents, US actress and writer Bess Meredyth and director Wilfred Lucas, made three films in Australia in 1920-1 with Snowy Baker and local producer E. J. Carroll, one of which, The Man from Kangaroo has survived to the 21st Century. 

Nick Murphy
Updated July 2020

Further Reading

  • John Meredyth Lucas (2004) Eighty Odd Years in Hollywood: Memoir of a Career in Film and Television. McFarland and Co.
  • Ross Carpenter Legends of Australian Ice – Site also includes photos of Joan and Mauricette.

National Library of Australia, Trove,

  • The Argus, 16 June 1930
  • The Advocate 26 July, 1934
  • The Avocate, 26 March 1936
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly 5 Aug 1944  Page 11
  • The Argus (Melbourne) 12 Jun 1946

Newspapers.com

  • The San Francisco Examiner, 15 Oct 1944
  • Vancouver Sun 18 Nov 1944
  • The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 18 Jan 1945
  • The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) 4 Mar 1945
  • The Los Angeles Times 27 August 1981

Lantern Digital Media Project

  • Hollywood Magazine, Jan-Dec 1942

Jocelyn Howarth (1911-1963) – Endless disappointments

Above: Constance Worth (Jocelyn Howarth) manages a smile while being made up during shooting of the utterly abysmal “The Wages of Sin”, her first film after the Brent divorce. Author’s collection. Photographer unknown.

filmstars010
The 5 second version.
Born Enid Joyce Howarth, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 19 August 1911,
Died Los Angeles, California USA, 18 October 1963. Also known in Australia as Joy Howarth and Jocelyn Howarth. In the US used the stage name Constance Worth.
A talented and popular actress on stage in Australia and in several Australian films. Travelled to the US in 1936 to pursue a career in film but was frustrated by underwhelming roles in B films.
(See Note 2 for the British actress Constance Worth)
Photo – A very young Jocelyn Howarth on an Allen’s lolly card. C.1933.

Enid Joyce Howarth was born in Sydney on 19 August, 1911. She was one of Australian director Ken G Hall’s “finds,” making a great impression under her stage name, Jocelyn Howarth, in The Squatter’s Daughter (1933) and The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934) before moving to Hollywood in 1936, where she was known as Constance Worth.

But her story was not a happy one. Indeed, her US film career would end up being one of frustration and continual disappointment. She spent much of her Hollywood career chasing film roles that either did not eventuate or failed to live up to expectations.

To family and friends she was known all her life as Joy. The youngest of three daughters born to wealthy Sydney importer Moffat Howarth and his wife Maryellen, her childhood was privileged but the family had its moments of unhappiness – and her parents finally divorced very publicly and acrimoniously in 1921. After leaving St Gabriel’s Church of England School, Waverley, she involved herself in amateur theatre, appearing in a production of Cynara. In 1933, Ken Hall tested her for The Squatter’s Daughter, his entertaining film of Australian pastoral life. Hall made much of her ability and composure during the film’s spectacular scenes – especially the bush fire scene. Publicity from production company Cinesound helped establish her reputation as “Australia’s bravest girl”. Cinesound ensured she appeared at screenings of the film around Australia and she certainly impressed reviewers. In late 1933, a reviewer from the Melbourne Argus wrote; She is a most winning and attractive figure, who both looks and acts her part. She will establish a reputation for her work in this film.” She certainly looked the part of the glamourous film star, but her answers to the press as she traveled Australia were well considered and also revealed a mature and thoughtful mind. In May 1934 The Silence of Dean Maitland was released with Joy in a supporting role and again, she enjoyed good reviews. According to Ken Hall, she had wanted the leading role in this film.

SQD3   SQD2

Above: Screen grabs of Jocelyn Howarth in Ken Hall’s Squatter’s Daughter 1933. She was 22 at the time. Unfortunately only a few of Ken Hall’s films are available publicly, in shortened low-quality versions from US sources, including this one. Author’s collection.

Through 1934 and 1935, Joy waited for more parts in film. She performed on stage in Ten Minute Alibi and The Wind and the Rain and in several radio plays. 5’5, Blonde, blue eyed, and widely admired for her willingness to throw herself with gusto into her roles, Joy was a talented and seemingly confident young Australian about to go places. She attracted great attention, and appears to have been briefly engaged to “Digger Comedian” Johnnie Marks. But unfortunately the problem for all of Australia’s enthusiastic young actors was that there were few feature films being made. Advertising iced tea and appearing on radio with James Raglan could not sustain her interest for long. So, in April 1936, aged 25, Joy sailed for California on the Matson liner Monterey, determined to try her luck in Hollywood.

Journalists reported Joy and a travelling companion mixing cocktails for well-wishers in their cabin on the eve of departure. Although she publicly claimed to be “loaded with introductions to people in Hollywood,” she was cautious enough to add “it seems to me going to Hollywood in search of a career is like taking a ticket in the lottery …” And so it was. Despite travelling on the Monterey with actor and director Miles Mander, and enjoying welcome dinners with the likes of expat Australian director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, by August 1936, Joy had received no film offers. In an angry despair she apparently made a half-hearted attempt to take her own life. She was saved by the timely intervention of struggling young actor friend, Tyrone Power, whom she telephoned for help. Unfortunately, Joy found herself dogged by this event for the rest of her Hollywood career, and the explanation of what had happened with the gas in her flat changed and therefore became less believable (a gas leak, a pot boiling over, a new type of stove, a heater) over time. Years later, she would publicly acknowledge how hard her early years in Hollywood had been. “I really was in an emotional state in those days… I had little faith in myself and still less money.”

Howarth1

Above: Constance Worth in her first Hollywood movie, playing the leading female role in the exotic 1937 RKO thriller China Passage. The film was possibly influenced by the success of MGM’s China Seas, made a few years before. Photo is an enlargement from an RKO film publicity photo. Author’s Collection. (The film has recently been re-released on DVD)

With Geo O'Brien in Windjammer 1937

Above: With George O’Brien in Windjammer (1937), her second RKO film. Cine-Mundial, Jan-Dec 1937. Via Lantern,Media History Digital Library

Joy’s luck changed soon after this incident and she finally secured a contract with RKO. She took the lead in two underwhelming mystery/adventure films, China Passage and Windjammer, both released in 1937. On China Passage she was to co-star with Vinton Haworth, so at the suggestion or perhaps insistence of RKO she changed her stage name to Constance Worth. In the midst of this excitement, she met another actor, a friend of Tyrone’s, and began an intense relationship. Unfortunately the object of her affection was serial Hollywood womaniser, George Brent, who already had two failed marriages and numerous relationships behind him. Under intense pressure from Brent, they married, secretly, in Mexico in May, 1937. It was a disaster and within months the entire saga was cw and brentplayed out in the press in agonising detail. After a week of marriage, Brent had become morose, withdrawn and uncommunicative, later to suggest he realised he had made a terrible mistake. Within a few days he had left Joy. Brent attempted to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that having been conducted in Mexico it wasn’t a legal marriage, but before the end of the year it ended up as a full-blown stoush in a US divorce court.

Above- Joy and George Brent, about the time of their marriage in 1937. Picture play Magazine, 1938, Media History Digital Library
 

When Joy’s mother Mary-Ellen was pressed to comment she said; “when I first met Brent I was not impressed.” But “Joy…was in love and that was all that mattered to me.” Mary-Ellen was to spend the next twenty years worrying about Joy, while Moffatt Howarth repeatedly told his daughter to come home to Sydney.

Joy’s sister Gwen Howarth visited Hollywood in 1937, to support her sister through the divorce. Her thoughtful and considered views about Hollywood appeared in The Australian Women’s Weekly, in September and October 1937. While she celebrated Australian successes, amongst them that of Mary Maguire, she didn’t balk at reporting the reality, which was often quite the opposite to the well-peddled stereotype of Hollywood success. She also told The Sydney Morning Herald of “Some of Hollywood’s Failures” in August: “Hollywood … is a city of hopes which are fulfilled for few. Its drug-stores, shops, and restaurants have as assistants and waitresses scores of beautiful girls who linger on in the hope of gaining employment in films. And most of them wait in vain.” Little did she imagine that a few years later, her sister Joy would also turn to waitressing when acting jobs dried up.

Gwen also wrote a scathing account of the way the press reported events relating to her sister in Hollywood: “I was rather amused to read in a recent paper here… ‘Miss Worth had been seen out dining alone and she would be leaving for Europe next month.’ She has not dined out alone since she has been here, and will not be leaving for Europe next month. But that is Hollywood. What they don’t know, they invent.”

Of course, there is an irony in Gwen’s “letters from Hollywood.” Despite her efforts to report to Australian readers with a high degree of reflection and honesty, the papers that carried her occasional accounts were the same ones that reported the nonsense and fed the impossible fantasy.

JH in Hollywood c 1937

Above: Looking her movie-star best in 1937 while advising fans on makeup. Hollywood Magazine, Jan-Dec 1937, Fawcett Publications. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

The Brent affair of 1937 undermined Joy’s public standing as a serious actress and RKO offered her no further roles. She was too closely associated with a messy public divorce to warrant more effort by the studio. In a 1945 interview, she acknowledged that not only had Brent’s rejection hurt her deeply, it had also hurt her career. Joy’s next film was also a starring role, but in a minor studio exploitation flick – The Wages of Sin, a story of a young woman lured into prostitution. Producer Willis Kent was notorious for his sensationalist films made outside the Hollywood production code. The young Australian was desperate for work after the Brent divorce and apparently felt she had no other option. Perhaps she convinced herself that there was something worthwhile about the film. There wasn’t, but she made a great effort with the useless script, her Sydney accent sounding incongruous alongside the broad US accents of her co-stars.

In this short audio clip, hard working Marjorie (Constance Worth) scolds her oafish family for not giving young Tommy milk, and her father for not working. “The Wages of Sin” is now in the public domain. From a VHS copy in the author’s collection.

Wages of Sin 1936

Above: Screengrabs from The Wages of Sin. Left; the family meal scene referred to. Right; One of the film’s scenes that attempt to titillate – Marjorie has a conversation with Tony (who is in another room) whilst in the shower. 

The scandalous film had only limited release in the US, usually opening and closing in towns before local authorities could act, and was never released in Australia.

Not surprisingly, when Joy returned home to Australia in June 1939 she let slip her true opinions about working in the Hollywood studio system. It gave an actress “no scope” she said, and added that she “far preferred the stage.” However, after seeing family and friends, modelling the spring collection for Anthony Hordens and appearing in a play at the Minerva Theatre (under her real name), Joy gritted her teeth and returned to a career in Hollywood B pictures.

Back in Hollywood as Constance Worth again, she worked tirelessly to re-establish herself as an actress. She freelanced, taking a mixture of uncredited, minor and supporting roles while apparently also waitressing. In 1943 she landed a leading role in CW & John BealRepublic’s fifteen part serial G-Men Versus the Black Dragon. Playing British agent Vivian Marsh, she lurches from one hair-raising scenario to the next, tied to buzz-saws and fiendish torture machines by wicked Japanese spies, regularly saved “just in time” by US agent Rex Bennett, played by Rod Cameron. Her character has some spark however, and she handles a Thompson machine gun with ease. Unfortunately, while Director William Witney admired Joy as an actress, he also remarked on the reputation the thirty-two year old Australian had developed for copious drinking. Joy’s smoky, throaty voice, extraordinary arched eyebrows and striking looks consigned her to more and more supporting roles. There was now steady work, but this was often as “the girl your mother warned you about”; the voluptuous nurse, the bar room vamp, the treacherous female spy.

Above: Joy (Constance Worth) and John Beal on the set of Let’s Have Fun in 1943. Hollywood Jan-Dec 1942 via Lantern, Media History Digital Library.

In 1943’s Crime Doctor, the first of a long running series of crime films, she plays a nurse who is in the ward just before the hero, Ordway, awakes (He has amnesia and doesn’t recall, no matter how hard he tries, that he was a gangster). Joy’s lines, as Nurse Betty, include this banter with another nurse as they fuss about Ordway. Here was Constance Worth – well and truly typecast.

“Nurse Betty: From where I sit he promises to be good looking
Nurse 2: I wonder if he’s married…
Nurse Betty: If he appeals to me, he’s married!
Nurse 2 (laughing): Well you can’t do anything with an unconscious guy!
Nurse Betty: You should know some of the men I’ve been out with!”

And later when Nurse Betty asks a doctor whether there is any news as to the patient’s identity:

“Doctor: Apparently no one misses him
Nurse Betty: (aloud, but almost to herself) I would, if he were mine!”

In 1946, Joy was in the news again in connection with another court case, but this time she was named as co-respondent. The wife of Bill Pierce, a Hollywood scriptwriter, had found her husband in Joy’s flat. Joy was apparently semi-naked when private detectives burst in, but Joy insisted there was nothing illicit in their relationship. They were just friends. She claimed Pierce had too much to drink “and decided to spend the night on the apartment couch, while she used the bedroom.” However, a year after the Pierce divorce, Bill and Joy were living together. She kept on working and in total, had appeared in 35 Hollywood films in the thirteen years between 1937 and 1949. Unfortunately, the increasingly meaningless roles in underwhelming films became the norm for her.

Her final film was in the B-western film, Western Renegades, in 1949. With light entertainment offered by the plump and ever good-humoured Johnny Mack Brown, lots of western stereotypes and “comedy relief” provided by aging ventriloquist Max Terhune and his dummy Elmer, the audience for this film was clearly the emerging post-war generation of young American boys, about to be exposed to the onslaught of TV westerns. Taking another minor supporting role and looking thinner than ever, Joy played a flashy “actress” hired to impersonate a missing mother, Ann Gordon. In her final scene, she is strangled or bashed-up, it’s not clear which, at the foot of the stairs of the Gordonville hotel by the angry daughter of the real Ann Gordon.

Australasian Cover August 25, 1945   cw 1940s005

Older but in classic film star makeup and pose –  left; the cover of Australasian, 25 August, 1945. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.  At right; in Klondike Kate (1943). Author’s Collection. Source unmarked but probably a public relations photo by Columbia Pictures.

According to her extended family, it was reported in the late 1940s that she was pregnant. If this was true, she did not carry the child to full term successfully as there were no children from Bill and Joy’s relationship. There were also no more film roles after 1949, despite several reports that she was about to re-boot her career. Joy Howarth died at age 52,  on 18th October 1963, of complications arising from cirrhosis of the liver. Bill was by her side. It was a thoroughly dismal end to what had started out as a brilliant career for a genuinely capable actress. With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem Joy’s greatest pleasure came from performing on screen and stage at home, where to Australians, she was always a star.

Cw signature
Joy Howarth  was never completely happy with her stage name. She complained on one occasion that it brought her bad luck. Her signature here, for a 1940s fan, looks like it was scribbled under sufferance. Author’s collection.

Note 1
Her DOB is regularly incorrectly cited as 1913.

Note 2
Howarth is regularly confused with British stage actress Constance Wadsworth (born 1892) who used the stage surname Worth and made several films in England between 1919 and 1922. Wadsworth was the second wife of actor Dan Rolyat (Herbert Taylor) (1872-1927).


Nick Murphy, May 2018

References

  • Special Thanks
    To Marguerite Gillezeau, Archivist at Ascham School.

Film Clips

Text 

  • Ina Bertrand (1989) Cinema in Australia. A Documentary History. New South Wales University Press.
  • Ken G. Hall (1977) Directed by Ken G. Hall, autobiography of an Australian film maker. Lansdowne Press.
  • Charles Higham & Roy Moseley (1990) Cary Grant. The Lonely heart. Avon Books
  • Scott O’Brien (2014) George Brent: Ireland’s Gift to Hollywood and Its Leading Ladies. Bear Manor Media
  • Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford Uni Press/AFI
  • Eric Schaeffer (1999) “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!” A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Duke University Press.
  • Amber Sloan (1998) Jocelyn Howarth. Bonza RMIT film resource, via National Library of Australia.
  • William Witney (1996) In a Door, into a Fight, Out a Door, into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door. McFarland & Co.
  • Andree Wright (1987) Brilliant Careers: Women in Australian Cinema. MacMillan

National Library of Australia, Trove

  • Truth (Sydney), Sun 25 Sept 1921, P.7
  • The Argus (Melbourne) Mon 23 Oct 1933 Page 5
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, Thurs 2 April 1936, Page 20
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, Thurs 14 Jan 1937, Page 21
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Feb 20, 1937. Sup P1
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, April 3, 1937, Page 41
  • The Adelaide Mail, May 29, 1937, Page 9
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, July 24, 1937, Page 3
  • The Adelaide Mail, August 14, 1937, Page 9
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Aug 28. 1937, Page 4
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 18, 1937, Page 4
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 11, 1937, Page 3
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Oct 16, 1937, Page 4
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Dec 11, 1937, Page 26
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Nov 30, 1940, Page 20
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Dec 12, 1942, Page 12
  • The Australasian (Melbourne) Sat 25 Aug 1945 Page 1
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, October 9 1952, Page 5
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, November 5, 1961, Page 27
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, April 17, 1962, Page 36
  • The Herald (Melbourne) October 20, 1962

Lantern Media History Digital Library

Newspapers.com

  • The Los Angeles Times Aug 5, 1936, P A2
  • The Milwaukee Journal Aug 4 1936, P18
  • Prescott Evening Courier, Aug 11,1936, P5
  • The Evening Independent Dec 7, 1936, P14
  • The Los Angeles Times, Dec 24, 1937, P11
  • The Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1945, P13

Papers Past

  • The Evening Post, June 12, 1939. P14

This site has been selected for archiving and preservation in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive