Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Name You Should Know: Mae Clarke

She's now remembered as "what's her name, the one James Cagney hit with a grapefruit," but for a couple of years in 1930 and 1931, Mae Clarke was on a real roll, with substantial parts in The Public Enemy, The Front Page and Frankenstein, as well as the lead in the 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge.

You might also remember her from another James Cagney vehicle, Lady Killer in 1933, where Cagney drags her by her hair before throwing her out of his hotel room.

Like Katie-Bar-The-Door, she was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Unlike Katie, she started her career as a dancer, signed a contract with Universal Studios and worked steadily throughout the 1930s. By 1940 her career slowed considerably although she continued to play supporting roles in movies and on television until her retirement in 1970.

You can see her talking about The Public Enemy on Turner Classic Movies Wednesday morning (October 14) at 5:30 a.m. EDT in the documentary James Cagney: Top of the World. By the way, her ex-husband Lewis Brice (Fanny's brother) enjoyed that scene so much, he would frequently buy a ticket for the Times Square theater where The Public Enemy played twenty-four hours a day, ducking in just long enough to see his ex-wife get smacked with a grapefruit. You have to wonder what that marriage was like.

For an in-depth article about the famous grapefruit scene, drop in at the blog Big Hollywood. Interesting stuff.


KC said...

I remember reading a Clarke interview from late in her life where she said, "you're not going to ask me about that damn grapefruit are you?" I can't even imagine what it would feel like to have your career upstaged by fruit. After seeing Waterloo Bridge, I wished she'd had better luck and many more roles, but I'm happy with what we've got! Great post!

Mythical Monkey said...

Thanks, KC. As I comb through the history of movies, I often wonder why some people became stars and others didn't. It's not a question of talent or looks -- sometimes it seems as trivial as who caught a producer's eye in the cafeteria one day.

It's especially a pity that Mae Clarke's version of Waterloo Bridge isn't better known. I've read that when MGM produced Vivien Leigh's 1940 version, the studio bought the rights to Clarke's version and buried it -- a common practice in those days (and not uncommon now either).

By the way, for those of you who actually scroll down to read the comments and are thus reading this one, KC runs the blog "Classic Movies," which I have linked to on the right hand side of my blog. I especially recommend her site if you're into movie history like me -- every day there are links to the day's best movie articles and photos. Great stuff.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Thanks so much for introducing me to KC’s blog, Myth. The intelligence, & skill, & work ethic, & plain old good will so evident in both of your blogs puts me to shame … but they also inspire me.

Mythical Monkey said...

Thanks, Who. Obviously I read your blog every day. I kept wanting to comment on Dylan's various versions of "Corrina, Corrina" but found every version so heartbreakingly poignant I didn't quite know how to express the thought that the one constant in the universe is loss and that the only hedge against loss is love and thus to lose love is to lose the only thing worth having. So instead Katie-Bar-The-Door and I spent a four-day weekend driving to many places and somehow not arriving at any of them -- one we couldn't find, for lack of a critical street sign (a feature of D.C. driving), the other turned out to be closed on Mondays -- but it was wonderful nevertheless.

KC said...

Aw shucks guys. Thanks for the support. Of course I love Myth's blog--and Who, your blog looks like a lot of fun. I'm going to have to give it a good read-through.

mister muleboy said...

KC -- don't be taken in by these ballihoonians -- the Mythical Monkey and Who are both villains -- real mixers. They've cost me a fortune in breach of promise cases.

As we well know, sometimes it really *is* as simple as catching someone's eye in the cafeteria. For instance, one of the most-viewed, and apparently liked, character actors of the late-1970s and early 1980s here in the US got a plumb role whilst carrying a light across a set.

Mike Farrell, noted activist but unnoteworthy actor, had done some guest-starring gigs on popular sixties shows, with no real success. He'd had a shot at "daytime drama," but it seemed his career was going nowehere.

He was doing day work as an electrician [nope, not even as Best Boy] on the set of a popular television series (apparently Farrell's father was a behind-the-scenes tradesman in the industry). A producer of M*A*S*H -- I think it was Gene Reynolds -- saw him walking, liked his look, and only later came to realize that Farrell had been beating around town for over fifteen years.

You know, I knew that story pretty much as well as I knew my daughters' biographies. But I then just went on IMDB looking to grab a quote about this story. Instead, I see a guy who bounced around forever, but had a solid string of appearances dating back to "gunner" on McHale's Navy.

Perhaps my interesting illustrative story is hogwash. You see, I wasn't there on the set that day.

Anyway, KC, I, too, would praise your site, but I don't want these two characters thinking that they've in any way persuaded me.


KC said...

Well Mister Muleboy, I'm going to have to make a point of including the word "ballihoonians" in my daily conversation. That's a good one. Do you always talk that fancy? I'm impressed! And thank you for the non-praise.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Jeez Myth. That's the no-lie freaking greatest analysis of Corrina Corrina I've ever read in my life, and I've read a couple or three.

KC, thanks so much for following my little blog -- very kind of you! But you should know that any bad thing Mr. Mule says about me is, I'm sorry to say ... true! :-)