Mae Clarke

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Mae Clarke
Mae Clarke in Lady Killer trailer.JPG
In Lady Killer (1933)
Violet Mary Klotz

(1910-08-16)August 16, 1910
DiedApril 29, 1992(1992-04-29) (aged 81)
OccupationActress, singer
Years active1929–1970
Spouse(s)Lew Brice (m. 1928; div. 1930)
Stevens Bancroft (m. 1937-div. 1940)
Herbert Langdon (m. 1946-div. ?)

Mae Clarke (born Violet Mary Klotz; August 16, 1910 – April 29, 1992) was an American actress. She is widely remembered for playing Henry Frankenstein's bride Elizabeth, who is chased by Boris Karloff in Frankenstein, and for being on the receiving end of James Cagney's halved grapefruit in The Public Enemy.[1] Both films were released in 1931.

Early life[edit]

Mae Clarke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[2] Her father was a theater organist. She studied dancing as a child and began on stage in vaudeville and also worked in night clubs.[3]


Mae Clarke started her professional career as a dancer in New York City, sharing a room with Barbara Stanwyck.[4] She subsequently starred in many films for Universal Studios, including the original screen version of The Front Page (1931) and the first sound version of Frankenstein (1931) with Boris Karloff. Clarke played the role of Henry Frankenstein's fiancée, Elizabeth, who is attacked by the Monster (Karloff), on her wedding day.

Clarke in Tod Browning's Fast Workers (1933)

The Public Enemy, released that same year, contained one of cinema's most famous (and frequently parodied) scenes, in which James Cagney pushes a half grapefruit into Clarke's face, then goes out to pick up Jean Harlow.[5] The film was so popular that it ran 24 hours a day at a theater in Times Square upon its initial release; Clarke's ex-husband had the grapefruit scene timed and would frequently buy a ticket, enter the theater to again enjoy that sequence, then immediately leave the theater.[6]

Clarke appeared as Myra Deauville in the 1931 pre-Code version of Waterloo Bridge. In the film she portrays a young American woman who is forced by circumstance into a life of prostitution in World War I London; both the film and Clarke's performance were well received by the critics.[1]

Clarke also appeared in the modest pre-code Universal film Night World (1932), with Lew Ayres, Boris Karloff, Hedda Hopper, and George Raft. In 1933 she was the female lead in John Gilbert's last film as a contracted MGM star, Fast Workers.

Clarke remained a leading lady up to and including 1937, but in increasingly low budget and lower status films. She slipped into supporting roles from 1940, although she had a few last leading roles in the late 1940s, notably as the heroine in the Republic serial King of the Rocket Men (1949).

In 1933, Clarke and actor Phillips Holmes were in a single-car accident that left her with a broken jaw and facial scarring.[7]

In the 1950s and 1960s, Clarke played uncredited bit parts in several notable films, including Singin' in the Rain, The Great Caruso, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.[1] Her last screen appearance was in the 1970 film Watermelon Man.[1]

Clarke with fellow actor John Beradino in the daytime drama General Hospital (1963)

On television, Clarke appeared in many episodic series, including General Hospital, Perry Mason and Batman. Clarke retired in 1970 and taught drama.[1]

Personal life and death[edit]

Clarke was married and divorced three times: to Fanny Brice's brother Lew Brice,[8] Stevens Bancroft,[9] and Herbert Langdon.[10][11] All of the unions were childless.[12]

Clarke died from cancer on April 29, 1992, at age 81, in Woodland Hills, California.[7] She is buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.[7]

Selected filmography[edit]


Short subjects[edit]

  • Screen Snapshots (1932, Documentary short) - Herself
  • Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 7 (1937, Documentary short) - Herself



  1. ^ a b c d e Folkart, Burt A.; Stassel, Stephanie (1992-04-30). "Mae Clarke, Famed for Grapefruit Scene, Dies". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-01-02.
  2. ^ Mae Clarke at AllMovie
  3. ^ Halliwell 1987, p. 130.
  4. ^ Madsen 1994, pp. 16–17, 20.
  5. ^ Clarke 1996, p. back cover.
  6. ^ Cagney 1981, p. 211.
  7. ^ a b c Mank, Gregory William (2005-05-17). Women in Horror Films, 1930s. McFarland. ISBN 9780786423347.
  8. ^ Goldman 1992, pp. 136-7, 144.
  9. ^ "Mae Clarke Wins Divorce". New York Herald Tribune. 1940-01-06. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  10. ^ Clarke 1996, p. 221.
  11. ^ "Obituary". Variety. 1992-05-02. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  12. ^ Mank, Gregory William (2014). The Very Witching Time of Night: Dark Alleys of Classic Horror Cinema. McFarland. p. 371. ISBN 9780786449552.


  • Cagney, James. Cagney by Cagney. New York: Doubleday, 1981. ISBN 978-0385520263.
  • Clarke, Mae. Featured Player: An Oral Autobiography of Mae Clarke; Edited With An Introduction by James Curtis. Santa Barbara: Santa Teresa Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0810830448.
  • Goldman, Herbert G. Fanny Brice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-19-535901-5.
  • Halliwell, Leslie. Halliwell's Filmgoers Companion (Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies). New York: Collins Reference, 1997. ISBN 978-0062734785.
  • Madsen, Axel. Stanwyck: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. ISBN 0-06-017997-X.

External links[edit]