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Brian in 1931
Louise Byrdie Dantzler
February 17, 1906
Corsicana, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 30, 2002 (aged 96)|
Del Mar, California, U.S.
(m. 1941; div. 1941)
(m. 1947; died 1964)
Brian was born in Corsicana, Texas, the daughter of Taurrence J. Dantzler (December 1869 – March 18, 1906) and Louise B. (August 12, 1876 – April 3, 1973). Her brother was Taurrence J. Dantzler, Jr. (August 9, 1903 – April 6, 1973).
Her father died when she was one month old and the family later moved to Dallas. In the early 1920s, they moved to Long Beach, California. She had intended becoming an illustrator but that was laid aside when at age 16 she was discovered in a local bathing beauty contest. One of the judges was famous motion picture star Esther Ralston (who was to play her mother in the upcoming Peter Pan and who became a lifelong friend).
She didn't win the $25 prize in the contest but Ralston said, "you've got to give the little girl something." So, her prize was to be interviewed by director Herbert Brenon for a role in Peter Pan. Brenon was recovering from eye surgery, and she spoke with him in a dimly lit room. "He asked me a few questions, Is that your hair? Out of the blue, he said, I would like to make a test. Even to this day, I will never know why I was that lucky. They had made tests of every ingénue in the business for Wendy. He had decided he would go with an unknown. It would seem more like a fairy tale. It wouldn't seem right if the roles were to be taken by someone they (the audience) knew or was divorced. I got the part. They put me under contract." The studio renamed her Mary Brian.
After her showing in the beauty contest, she was given an audition by Paramount Pictures and cast by director Herbert Brenon as Wendy Darling in his silent movie version of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1924). There she starred with Betty Bronson and Esther Ralston, and the three of them stayed close for the rest of their lives. Ralston described both Bronson and Brian as 'very charming people'.
The studio, who created her stage name for the movie and said she was age 16 instead of 18, because the latter sounded too old for the role, then signed her to a long-term motion picture contract. Brian played Fancy Vanhern, daughter of Percy Marmont, in Brenon's The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), which had newcomer Louise Brooks in an uncredited debut role as a moll.
Brian was dubbed "The Sweetest Girl in Pictures." On loan-out to MGM, she played a college belle, Mary Abbott, opposite William Haines and Jack Pickford in Brown of Harvard (1926). She was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1926, along with Mary Astor, Dolores Costello, Joan Crawford, Dolores del Río, Janet Gaynor, and Fay Wray.
During her years at Paramount, Brian appeared in more than 40 movies as the lead, the ingenue or co-star. She worked with Brenon again in 1926 when she played Isabel in P. C. Wren's Beau Geste starring Ronald Colman. That same year she made Behind the Front and Harold Teen. In 1928, she played ingenue Alice Deane in Forgotten Faces opposite Clive Brook, her sacrificing father, with Olga Baclanova as her vixen mother and William Powell as Froggy. Forgotten Faces is preserved in the Library of Congress.
Successful transition to 'Talkies'
Her first talkie was Varsity (1928), which was filmed with part-sound and talking sequences, opposite Buddy Rogers. After successfully making the transition to sound, she co-starred with Gary Cooper, Walter Huston and Richard Arlen in one of the earliest Western talkies, The Virginian (1929), her first all-talkie feature. In it, she played a spirited frontier heroine, schoolmarm Molly Stark Wood, who was the love interest of the Virginian (Cooper).
Brian co-starred in several hits during the 1930s, including her role as Gwen Cavendish in George Cukor’s comedy The Royal Family of Broadway (1930) with Ina Claire and Fredric March, as herself in Paramount's all-star revue Paramount on Parade (1930), as Peggy Grant in Lewis Milestone’s comedy The Front Page (1931) with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien.
After her contract with Paramount ended in 1932, Brian decided to freelance, which was unusual in a period when multi-year contracts with one studio were common.. That same year, she appeared on the vaudeville stage at New York's Palace Theatre. Also in the same year, she starred in Manhattan Tower.
Other movie roles include Murial Ross, aka Murial Rossi, in Shadows of Sing Sing (1933), in which she received top billing, Gloria Van Dayham in College Rhythm (1934), Yvette Lamartine in Charlie Chan in Paris (1935), Hope Wolfinger, W. C. Fields’s daughter, in Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935), Sally Barnaby in Spendthrift (1936) opposite Henry Fonda, and Doris in Navy Blues (1937), in which she received top billing.
When World War II hit in 1941, Brian began traveling to entertain the troops, ending up spending most of the war years traveling the world with the U.S.O., and entertaining servicemen from the South Pacific to Europe, including Italy and North Africa. Commenting on those events that had occurred over fifty years ago, she said in 1996,
I was with Charlie Ruggles in Okinawa. And I was on the island of Tinian when they dropped the atomic bomb. Colonel Paul Tibbets, who was the pilot and the officer in charge [of dropping the bomb] took Charlie and me on the plane the next day, and nobody had been allowed in that encampment. So I was on the Enola Gay.
Flying to England on a troop shoot, Mary got caught in the Battle of the Bulge and spent the Christmas of 1944 with the soldiers fighting that battle.
She appeared in only a handful of films thereafter. Her last performance on the silver screen was in Dragnet (1947), a B-movie in which she played Anne Hogan opposite Henry Wilcoxon. Over the course of 22 years, Brian had appeared in more than 79 movies.
She played in the stage comedy Mary Had a Little... in the 1951 in Melbourne, Australia, co-starring with John Hubbard.
Like many "older" actresses, during the 1950s Brian created a career for herself in television. Perhaps her most notable role was playing the title character's mother in Meet Corliss Archer in 1954. .
She also dedicated much time to portrait painting after her acting years.
Though she was engaged numerous times and was linked romantically to numerous Hollywood men, including Cary Grant and silent film actor Jack Pickford, Brian had only two husbands: magazine illustrator Jon Whitcomb (for six weeks, beginning May 4, 1941) and film editor George Tomasini (from 1947 until his death in 1964). After retiring from the screen for good, she devoted herself to her husband's career; Tomasini worked as film editor for Hitchcock on the classics Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960).
She died of natural causes on December 30, 2002 at a retirement home in Del Mar, California at the age of 96. She is interred in the Eternal Love Section, Lot 4134, Space 2, Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery, Los Angeles, overlooking Burbank.
- Peter Pan (1924) as Wendy Moira Angela Darling
- The Little French Girl (1925) as Alix Vervier
- The Air Mail (1925) as Minnie Wade
- The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) as Mary Vanhern
- A Regular Fellow (1925) as Girl
- The Enchanted Hill (1926) as Hallie Purdy
- Behind the Front (1926) as Betty Bartlett-Cooper
- Paris at Midnight (1926) as Victorine Tallefer
- Brown of Harvard (1926) as Mary Abbott
- More Pay - Less Work (1926) as Betty Ricks
- Beau Geste (1926) as Isabel Rivers
- Prince of Tempters (1926) as Mary
- Battling Butler (1926)
- Stepping Along (1926) as Molly Taylor
- Her Father Said No (1927) as Charlotte Hamilton
- High Hat (1927) as Millie
- Knockout Reilly (1927) as Mary Malone
- Running Wild (1927) as Elizabeth Finch
- Man Power (1927) as Alice Stoddard
- Shanghai Bound (1927) as Sheila
- Two Flaming Youths (1927) as Mary Gilfoil
- Under the Tonto Rim (1928) as Lucy Watson
- Partners in Crime (1928) as Marie Burke, The Cigarette Girl
- Harold Teen (1928) as Lillums Lovewell
- The Big Killing (1928) as Mary Beagle - Old Man Beagle's Daughter
- Forgotten Faces (1928) as Alice Deane
- Varsity (1928) as Fay
- Someone to Love (1928) as Joan Kendricks
- Black Waters (1929) as Eunice
- The Man I Love (1929) as Celia Fields
- River of Romance (1929) as Lucy Jeffers
- The Virginian (1929) as Molly Stark Wood
- The Marriage Playground (1929) as Judith Wheater
- The Kibitzer (1930) as Josie Lazarus
- Burning Up (1930) as Ruth Morgan
- The Canary Murder Case (1929)
- Only the Brave (1930) as Barbara Calhoun
- The Light of Western Stars (1930) as Ruth Hammond
- Galas de la Paramount (1930) as Sweetheart - Episode 'Dream Girl'
- The Social Lion (1930) as Cynthia Brown
- Only Saps Work (1930) as Barbara Tanner
- The Royal Family of Broadway (1930) as Gwen Cavendish
- Captain Applejack (1931) as Poppy Faire
- The Front Page (1931) as Peggy Grant
- Gun Smoke (1931) as Sue Vancey
- The Homicide Squad (1931) as Millie
- The Runaround (1931) as Evelyn
- Hollywood Halfbacks (1931, Short)
- It's Tough to Be Famous (1932) as Janet Porter McClenahan
- Blessed Event (1932) as Gladys Price
- The Unwritten Law (1932) as Ruth Evans
- Manhattan Tower (1932) as Mary Harper
- Hard to Handle (1933) as Ruth Waters
- Girl Missing (1933) as June Dale
- The World Gone Mad (1933) as Diane Cromwell
- Song of the Eagle (1933) as Elsa Kranzmeyer
- Moonlight and Pretzels (1933) as Sally Upton
- One Year Later (1933) as Molly Collins
- Fog (1933) as Mary Fulton
- Shadows of Sing Sing (1933) as Muriel Ross aka Muriel Rossi
- Ever Since Eve (1934) as Elizabeth Vandergrift
- Private Scandal (1934) as Fran Somers
- Monte Carlo Nights (1934) as Mary Vernon
- College Rhythm (1934) as Gloria Van Dayham
- Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) as Yvette Lamartine
- Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) as Hope Wolfinger
- Once in a Million (1936) as Suzanne
- Two's Company (1936) as Julia Madison
- Spendthrift (1936) as Sally Barnaby
- The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss (1936) as Frances Clayton
- Three Married Men (1936) as Jennie Mullins
- Killer at Large (1936) as Linda Allen
- Navy Blues (1937) as Doris Kimbell
- Affairs of Cappy Ricks (1937) as Frances 'Frankie' Ricks
- Calaboose (1943) as Doris Lane
- I Escaped from the Gestapo (1943) as Helen
- Danger! Women at Work (1943) as Pert
- The Captain from Köpenick (1945) as Frau Obermueller, the Mayor's Wife
- Dragnet (1947) as Anne Hogan
- Saxon, Wolfgang (January 2, 2003). "Mary Brian, 96, an Actress in Silent Films and the Talkies". The New York Times.
- Ankerich, Michael G. (2011). The Sound of Silence: Conversations with 16 Film and Stage Personalities Who Bridged the Gap Between Silents and Talkies. McFarland. pp. 46–58. ISBN 9780786485345. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
- Library of Congress. "Performing Arts Encyclopedia". Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Monica Sullivan (2003-01-15). "Tribute: Mary Brian". Movie Magazine International.
- Igel, Rachel (1996–1997). "I'll Let The Film Pile Up For You: An Interview With Mary Tomasini". Directory of Members 1996–1997. Motion Picture Editors Guild. Archived from the original on 2013-04-16.
- "Hollywood Star Walk - Mary Brian". latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Mary Brian". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
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