The Chapel of Academy of Mary Immaculate, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy – Mary Maguire’s old school. Established in 1857, the school continues to operate on the same site and in a rare Melbourne streetscape that is almost unchanged.
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.
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! Courtesy AMI Archives
A few years before she died, in about 1972, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fiancé’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.”
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 proceedure 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 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 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 caesarean 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.
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.
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 not made clear. 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.
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 glamourous 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.
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.”
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 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 appears this was the reason there were no children from their marriage. 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 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.
Mary’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.
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 in August 1939. The marriage was a disaster.
Photo from the author’s collection. (Originally widely distributed in the UK by the “Makers of Wayfarer Tailored Clothes”)
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 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.”
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.
Mary’s name at birth was Helene Teresa Maguire. Her “pet name” was Peggy – used by all the family.
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 – TheBellevue. 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Here is Mary Maguire spinning this line to US journalist Harrison Carroll, in early 1938, in her best transatlantic accent.
“Forecasting 1938.” Audio recording, author’s collection. Recording can also be found at Library of Congress. 2 sound discs. (48 min., 51 sec.) : analog, 33 1/3 rpm, mono. ; 16 in. https://lccn.loc.gov/00584434
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.”
With 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.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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
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.
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 Ascham College, 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.
Below: A very young Jocelyn Howarth on an Allen’s lolly card. C.1933. 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. 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.”
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.
Joy’s luck changed soon after this incident and she finally secured a contract with RKO. She took the lead in two 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 played 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.
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.
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.
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 Republic’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.
In 1943’sCrime 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 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.
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 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.
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.
Above: The great Daphne Pollard, onstage in the US as “Dolly Varden” c1907.
The working life of prolific Hollywood based Director, Alf Goulding (born in January 1885), is well documented – he directed over 200 films between 1917 and 1959, and wrote and appeared in many others. It’s less commonly known that Goulding owed much to his juvenile experience with the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company, and that he was a Melbourne neighbour and long-time friend of Daphne Pollard (Trott). Like Daphne, Goulding was born in inner Melbourne. His father Frank, and mother Maggie (stage name Maggie Walsh) were both involved in local Melbourne theatre, with moderate success. Sadly, Maggie died in 1895, while their three children were still young – Alf was aged just 10. A half-sister from Maggie’s first marriage, Elsa Goulding (sometimes spelled Elsie Golding), had gained some reputation as a singer by 1893 and, determined to maintain the family tradition, Frank encouraged his oldest son Frank junior, Alf and younger sister Irene to go on stage. Inevitably all three Goulding children ended up in Pollard’s travelling troupes, where they met Daphne and Ivy Trott.
Tragically, Frank Goulding Junior died in Calcutta in January 1897, while on a Pollard tour, aged only 13. His sad death from pneumonia, far from home, appears not to have dampened Alf and his sister’s enthusiasm to work for Pollard’s. Only a few years later Alf and Irene were on tour, Irene performing in partnership with Ivy Trott to great acclaim. Alf and Irene joined the 1901 and 1903 Pollard tours of North America and obviously the experience of working in the US sparked an interest for Alf, as it did for Daphne Pollard.
But back in Melbourne, Frank Senior found the new century and the life of a widower, hard to deal with. Now a bootmaker living in Richmond, he blamed the Pollard company management for the death of Frank Junior and began to send abusive letters to the Melbourne managers, even while they engaged Alf and Irene. He complained that the money promised to him for employment of his children had never been paid. Frank had already been publicly embarrassed the year before, when details of his passionate letters to a sometime servant/petty thief were plastered about the Melbourne papers. In 1903, his stream of abusive letters saw him end up in court again, a lonely father disconnected from his two children.
In 1908, Alf left Australia again for an Asian and North American tour with another Pollard troupe, it appears to be his fourth tour. The Company could hardly claim to be “Lilliputians” now – Alf was 23 and his role was now stage management! Soon after this tour ended in early 1909, he left the company to try his luck in the US. Perhaps he was inspired by Daphne Pollard’s great success with Frank Healey’s San Francisco Opera Company after 1907.
Alf Goulding appears to have maintained a personal and professional friendship with Daphne Pollard for much of his life. Three years after moving to the US, Alf was married to Gladys Watson, with Daphne (Mrs Ellington Bunch) and her husband as witnesses. They were married in Seattle by the same official as Daphne and her husband had been, exactly three months before.
Below: Marriage certificates for Daphne Trott and Alf Goulding weddings. US national archives via Family search.org.
Goulding and Pollard then worked together on stage in Los Angeles, performing in such musical comedies as “A Knight for a Day” in 1914. It is hardly a coincidence therefore that Goulding is reputed to have been instrumental in convincing Daphne to work for Mack Sennett, and he was apparently on hand when she arrived at Sennett studios. He also directed a number of her first films – including “Run Girl Run,” “The Swim Princess” and “The Campus Carmen”.
There was perhaps a real camaraderie amongst the old Pollard players. When former Pollard alumni Teddy McNamara died of pneumonia in early February 1928, on the eve of great success, all the Hollywood based former Pollard players attended his funeral – Goulding, Daphne Pollard, Harry “Snub” Pollard and Billy Bevan. It is fashionable to suppose that all Australians who go to act in Hollywood become firm friends with each other, “a gum – leaf mafia” as they have been dubbed. At least, we are still encouraged to think, they form some sort of loose supportive association. Far from home, working in a cut-throat environment, the idea of actors finding solace in each other’s company seems to fit with the Aussie tradition of mateship. Unfortunately, there is no evidence this actually happens very often. Alf Goulding and Daphne Pollard were two who certainly did.
Alf Goulding died in Hollywood in 1972, after his long and very well documented career as a screenwriter and director. It appears that after Pollard’s second North American tour returned in 1904, his talented sister Irene Goulding left the company and returned to Melbourne – where she may have worked in sales. She married a storeman, Albert Smith in 1931, and lived most of her later life in a comfortable house in Riversdale Rd, Hawthorn, where she died aged 98, in 1987.