The short, brilliant career of Margot Rhys (1914-1996)

Above: Margot Rhys featured in The Telegraph (Sydney), 1 May 1934, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

The Five Second Version.
Margot Rhys was born in Melbourne Australia in 1914. She showed a passion for performing from an early age, and was exposed to two significant influences while still young – visiting German actor-director Theo Shall in 1933, and pioneer Australian film director Charles Chauvel in 1933-1935, for whom she appeared in several films. She once assured a journalist that the only ambition she had ever known was to “be on the stage.”[1]Table Talk, 21 September 1933, P20, via National Library of Australia’s, Trove For a short time she received great publicity in Australia as an up and coming actor – the equal of her contemporary Mary Maguire, and with an expectation she too, would try her luck overseas. But in 1936 she married and moved to a Western district property – disappearing from the stage and screen completely. She died in Adelaide in 1996.
Katie Rhys-Jones in 1931[2]Table Talk 25 June 1931, P25, via Trove

Born Kathleen Margot Rhys-Jones,[3]Victorian Births Deaths and Marriages, Birth Certificate 1632/1914 (Katie to the family), in South Yarra, Melbourne, in 1914 to Philip, variously described as a manager or engineer and Nellie nee Hussey. Katie Rhys-Jones attended St Catherine’s Girl’s School in Toorak, Melbourne, at the same time as Janet Johnson and Gwen Munro, who also went on to acting careers. While still aged in her teens, Katie gained some publicity for appearing in charity fundraising performances. The photograph at left shows 17 year old Katie while performing in the play Prunella, for Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Hospital.

In Late 1931,[4]Table Talk, 29 Oct 1931, P38, Social, via National Library of Australia’s Trove after completing school, she moved to Sydney to attend Miss Jean Cheriton’s Doone finishing school – thus becoming a contemporary of Margaret Vyner.[5]The Daily Telegraph (Syd), 25 Feb 1932, P10, PARTY FOR Margaret FAIRFAX. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove At Doone, languages, dance, music, elocution and performance arts were all part of the curriculum, alongside tennis and fencing, in what Cheriton liked to characterise as a “leisurely” learning environment, for young women who were ready to take their places in society.

Doone finishing school, apparently Australia’s only such school, about the time Katie attended. Left, an advertisement for the school[6]The Home, 1 October 1930, P10. via National Library of Australia’s Trove Right, a photo from the State Library of New South Wales, Sam Hood collection, showing students in1933.[7]Online Digital Collection, Sam Hood Collection, State Library of New South Wales.

For much of 1933, Katie modelled, performed in radio dramas and on stage with the Sydney Repertory Company. But her big breakthrough came in August 1933, when she gained a role in a play with visiting German actor-director Theo Shall, when she also adopted the stage name Margot Rhys.[8]The Age, 4 Aug 1933, P9, THEO SHALL IN NEW PLAY. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Margot Rhys (Kathleen Rhys-Jones) , photographed by Athol Shmith, at the height of her fame in 1935.[9]Table Talk, May 30, 1935, cover, Via National Library of Australia

Theo Shall,[10]1896-1955, real name William Guldner, according to the German National Library had arrived in Australia in July 1932 at the invitation of JC Williamsons, the theatre company so dominant in Australia it was commonly known as “the firm.” He spent almost two years (August 1932 – June 1934) bringing “continental” theatre to Australian cities, with mixed success.[11]The Australasian 1 Oct 1932, P7. The Play Is Not The Thing. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove See Note 1 below regarding the Theo Shall tour.

Margot Rhys appearing in the play Fair Exchange with Theo Shall in Melbourne in late 1933. Maria Von Wyl (real name Von Wymental) was Shall’s wife.[12]The Argus (Melb) 12 August 1933., P28. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

A translated version of Fair Exchange [13]by Viennese writer Bruno Frank found an audience and some enthusiastic supporters when it opened in Melbourne in late August 1933. But not everyone liked it. Several newspaper reviewers found fault with the acting and felt it a poor choice of play. And Table Talk, usually so enthusiastic for new productions, thought 19 year old supporting actress Margot Rhys was too inexperienced.[14]Table Talk, 24 August 1933, P14, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Shall followed this with the farce Baby Mine, with Margot Rhys again in a supporting role.

Theo Shall and Marie Von Wyl in Sydney in late 1932[15]The Sun (Sydney) 4 Dec 1932, P31, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

We are fortunate in that Katie, as up and coming actor Margot Rhys, left some public thoughts about the experience of working with Theo Shall. In September 1933 she commented: “He arouses and brings something out of you that has been lying dormant and of which you were scarcely aware. By his methods he awakens you to realisation of your possibilities. It is his thoroughness, and his patience, which so impresses you, and which is so wonderful.”[16]Table Talk, 21 Sep 1933, P20, The Stage and the Paint Brush It may well have been wonderful, but not long after this she left Shall’s company. In early March 1934, Margot was announced as taking the leading role of pioneer woman Jane Judd, in Charles Chauvel’s upcoming film Heritage. With her was 16 year old Peggy (later Mary) Maguire, another “find” of Chauvel’s.[17]Chauvel could also lay claim to having discovered Errol Flynn

Margot Rhys, photographed when her role in Heritage was announced.[18]Truth (Sydney) 18 Mar, 1934, P23. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Charles Chauvel deserves his reputation as an Australian filmmaking pioneer, however most modern viewers will find Heritage heavy weather. Paul Byrnes at the NFSA suggests “even in 1935, Chauvel’s tendency to preach and berate, rather than dramatise, made the film seem like a tiresome lecture. It was not a success.[19]Australian Screen, National Film and Sound Archive website. Heritage, Curator’s notes. Paul Byrnes In their account of the film, Film historians Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper report that shooting commenced in April 1934 and took almost six months – an extraordinary length of time for an Australian film of the era. However, with its themes of pioneer struggles and nation building, the film struck a chord with political leaders, and won first prize of £2,500 in the Commonwealth Government’s Film competition.[20]Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper (1980) Australian film 1900-1977, P224-226. Oxford University Press/AFI And clearly Chauvel was happy with Margot as an actor, as he cast her again in his next film, Uncivilised.

Franklyn Bennett and Margot Rhys as a pioneer couple in Heritage (1935). Screengrab from a copy in the author’s collection.

Filming of Uncivilised began in late 1935, with English actor Dennis Hoey brought out to play a leading role opposite Margaret.[21]The Age, 10 Oct 1935, P7, AMUSEMENTS. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Mary Maguire had signed up to appear in National Production’s The Flying Doctor, so despite suggestions she would work for Chauvel again, she was not available.

Margot and Mary Maguire – rising stars popular enough to be advertising. At left – for makeup. [22]in The Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 24 Jan, 1936, P1. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove At right – Margot Rhys announced as Vacuum Oil’s Miss Ethyl.[23]The Daily Examiner, Nov 14, 1935, P14, via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Sadly, Uncivilised has aged even less successfully than Heritage. Paul Byrnes aptly describes it as an Australian version of a Hollywood Tarzan movie. This writer’s view is that Chauvel seems to have wheeled out almost every imaginable jungle film stereotype – including Mara, the white ruler of an indigenous tribe (Hoey); a shifty “half cast” in the best traditions of Tondelayo from White Cargo; drug smuggling; fabulous rubies; and a wicked Afghan. The best that can be said of it, is that it is “of its time.” Margot Rhys is competent in the leading role of Beatrice Lynn, an author, who goes, inexplicably, on her own, in search of Mara.

Screengrabs of Margot Rhys as Beatrice in Uncivilised (1936). The skinny-dipping scene at right was cut for the export edition. Clearly a stand-in was used in some shots – such as this one. Author’s collection.

The film was completed by April 1936, and Hoey went home, after making the usual complements about the wonderful experience of filming-making in Australia, that seem to have become a established tradition for visiting actors even in the mid 1930s.[24]Also see for example, visiting British director Miles Mander, who felt that “the average Australian is 25% better developed than the Englishman”, or his screenwriter JOC Orton, who said … Continue reading The film gained some further fame when Australia’s chief censor banned it for export.[25]This meant it could be shown in Australia uncut, but not exported! See The Courier-Mail (Bris) 22 Sep, 1936, P13, BAN ON AUSTRALIAN FILM. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove The cuts required were scenes of Margot Rhys skinny-dipping and a scene from the final fight, where an Indigenous man is strangled.

A grainy photo of Margot’s 21st birthday on the set of Uncivilised. Charles Chauvel is in the centre of this posed shot, toasting Margot at left. [26]See the original here – Telegraph (Bris), Monday 30 March 1936, P6. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

In early April, as the film wrapped, another announcement was made. Margot Rhys, now aged 21, would soon marry Dalzell Mein, a grazier. Charles Chauvel said he hoped she would not retire as an actor, but she did. The couple honeymooned in Hawaii, and then returned to run “Toolang,” a large property near Coleraine, in Victoria’s western district.[27]Several newspapers implied the trip to Hawaii might be the start of a US film career Three years later she was more than happy to describe herself “as a complete country bumpkin and proud of it.[28]The Sun (Syd) 21 Jun 1939, P13, via National Library of Australia’s Trove Of course, she was never a country bumpkin and her occasional return visits to Melbourne were still noted with interest in society pages of newspapers.

A very happy Dal Mein and Katie on their wedding day in 1936, from the society page of Table Talk.[29]Table Talk, May 26, 1936, PIV. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

If Katie Mein ever regretted giving up her career, she never said so. A number of her contemporaries kept working after marriage – Mary Maguire and Margaret Vyner for example. But we cannot assume that the experience of working with Shall and Chauvel was such a thoroughly enjoyable one, it was preferable to life on the land. Perhaps it wasn’t.

Katie Mein died of cancer in Adelaide in June 1996. She was survived by a daughter.[30]SA Geneology – Kathleen Mary (Katie) MEIN (Newspaper Death Notices) 21 Jun 1996 To this writer’s knowledge, she was never interviewed or asked to record her experiences of her three years performing and being continually in the public eye.

Charles Chauvel died in 1959. Arguably his best film was Jedda (1955), also his last, which showed that, twenty years later, he had moved on from his 1930s vision of Indigenous Australians as stock characters in films. The colour film[31]Australia’s first colour film, and made with considerable difficulty concerned a love story between an Indigenous man and woman, and was a fitting finale to his long career.[32]You can read more about Jedda here


Note 1 – The Theo Shall tour of 1932-1934

Theo Shall arrived in Australia with considerable fanfare – he had appeared on stage and screen in Germany, Britain, and had been in a US film with Greta Garbo. Despite his reputation, it was a somewhat tumultuous two years, with several plays cancelled and rescheduled and inconsistent reviews of his work. Shall’s Australian sojourn is worth an entire study of its own, but there are few references to him beyond contemporary newspapers. Writing in 1965 when some Australians could still recall meeting Shall, Eric Porter described him as “handsome but hysterical…” Porter also suggested that Shall was very difficult to work with – his “backstage tantrums outmatched Oscar Asche’s…[33]Eric Porter(1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. P218, Rigby Some evidence supporting this claim exists. In early 1933 Shall’s wife Maria Von Wyl took great umbridge and refused to perform because she was billed beside (rather than above) a young Australian actor called Coral Browne.[34]The Herald 19 Jan 1933, P1. ACTRESS WILL NOT PLAY. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Left: Maria Von Wyl in Australia in 1933.[35]Table Talk, 24 August 1933, P20. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Right: Theo Shall in the film Olympia, in 1930.[36]Picture Play Magazine, July-Dec 1930, P582. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

Shall departed Australia in something of a hurry in June 1934, cancelling a scheduled performance in Adelaide.[37]The Advertiser 25 May 1934, P14, Production Of “Love’s The Best Doctor” Cancelled. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove He went back to Britain to make films, and then eventually went on to Germany. He is famous today for the wrong reason – for roles in Nazi propaganda films, such as Titanic (1943). He died in East Berlin in 1955. Maria Von Wyl’s later fate remains unknown.

Nick Murphy
March 2022


Further reading

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Table Talk, 21 September 1933, P20, via National Library of Australia’s, Trove
2 Table Talk 25 June 1931, P25, via Trove
3 Victorian Births Deaths and Marriages, Birth Certificate 1632/1914
4 Table Talk, 29 Oct 1931, P38, Social, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
5 The Daily Telegraph (Syd), 25 Feb 1932, P10, PARTY FOR Margaret FAIRFAX. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
6 The Home, 1 October 1930, P10. via National Library of Australia’s Trove
7 Online Digital Collection, Sam Hood Collection, State Library of New South Wales.
8 The Age, 4 Aug 1933, P9, THEO SHALL IN NEW PLAY. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
9 Table Talk, May 30, 1935, cover, Via National Library of Australia
10 1896-1955, real name William Guldner, according to the German National Library
11 The Australasian 1 Oct 1932, P7. The Play Is Not The Thing. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
12 The Argus (Melb) 12 August 1933., P28. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
13 by Viennese writer Bruno Frank
14 Table Talk, 24 August 1933, P14, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
15 The Sun (Sydney) 4 Dec 1932, P31, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
16 Table Talk, 21 Sep 1933, P20, The Stage and the Paint Brush
17 Chauvel could also lay claim to having discovered Errol Flynn
18 Truth (Sydney) 18 Mar, 1934, P23. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
19 Australian Screen, National Film and Sound Archive website. Heritage, Curator’s notes. Paul Byrnes
20 Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper (1980) Australian film 1900-1977, P224-226. Oxford University Press/AFI
21 The Age, 10 Oct 1935, P7, AMUSEMENTS. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
22 in The Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 24 Jan, 1936, P1. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
23 The Daily Examiner, Nov 14, 1935, P14, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
24 Also see for example, visiting British director Miles Mander, who felt that “the average Australian is 25% better developed than the Englishman”, or his screenwriter JOC Orton, who said that “the most beautiful girls in the world are to be found in Australia
25 This meant it could be shown in Australia uncut, but not exported! See The Courier-Mail (Bris) 22 Sep, 1936, P13, BAN ON AUSTRALIAN FILM. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
26 See the original here – Telegraph (Bris), Monday 30 March 1936, P6. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
27 Several newspapers implied the trip to Hawaii might be the start of a US film career
28 The Sun (Syd) 21 Jun 1939, P13, via National Library of Australia’s Trove
29 Table Talk, May 26, 1936, PIV. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
30 SA Geneology – Kathleen Mary (Katie) MEIN (Newspaper Death Notices) 21 Jun 1996
31 Australia’s first colour film, and made with considerable difficulty
32 You can read more about Jedda here
33 Eric Porter(1965) Stars of Australian Stage and Screen. P218, Rigby
34 The Herald 19 Jan 1933, P1. ACTRESS WILL NOT PLAY. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
35 Table Talk, 24 August 1933, P20. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
36 Picture Play Magazine, July-Dec 1930, P582. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library
37 The Advertiser 25 May 1934, P14, Production Of “Love’s The Best Doctor” Cancelled. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

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:

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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