|Born||Mary Imogene Robertson
December 18, 1902
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||October 31, 1948
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Barbiturate overdose|
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Other names||Imogene Robertson
|Spouse(s)||Wallace T. McCreary (m. 1931; div. 1932)|
Mary Nolan (December 18, 1902 – October 31, 1948) was an American film actress. Nolan began her career as a Ziegfeld girl in the 1920s performing under the stage name Imogene "Bubbles" Wilson. She was fired from the Ziegfeld Follies in 1924 for her involvement in a tumultuous and highly publicized affair with comedian Frank Tinney. She left the United States shortly thereafter and began making films in Germany. She appeared in seventeen German films from 1925 to 1927 with a new stage name, "Imogene Robertson".
She returned to the United States in 1927 and, in an attempt to distance herself from her old life, adopted yet another stage name, "Mary Nolan". She was signed to Universal Pictures in 1928 where she found some success in films. By the 1930s, her acting career began to decline due to her drug abuse and reputation for being temperamental. After being bought out of contract with Universal, she was unable to secure film work with any major studios. Nolan spent the remainder of her acting career appearing in roles in low-budget films for independent studios. She made her final film appearance in 1933.
After her film career ended, Nolan appeared in vaudeville and performed in nightclubs and roadhouses around the United States. Her later years were plagued by drug problems and frequent hospitalizations. She returned to Hollywood in 1939 and spent her remaining years living in obscurity before dying of a barbiturate overdose in 1948.
Nolan was born Mary Imogene Robertson in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1902 (some sources state 1905). She was one of five children born to Africanus and Viola Robertson. Her mother died of cancer at the age of 46. Unable to care for five young children, Africanus Robertson placed Mary in a foster home. She eventually went to live in Catholic orphanage in Missouri where she earned the nickname "Bubbles".
In June 1912, she left the orphanage and traveled to New York City to be near her oldest sister, Mabel. She was later discovered by magazine illustrator Arthur William Brown and began working as an artists' model.
While working as a model, Nolan was discovered by Florenz Ziegfeld who hired her as a dancer in his Ziegfeld Follies. As a showgirl in New York, she performed under the name "Imogene "Bubbles" Wilson" (the first of four stage names she used during her career). Her impact as a dancer was so profound that columnist Mark Hellinger said of her in 1922, "Only two people in America would bring every reporter in New York to the docks to see them off. One is the President. The other is Imogene "Bubbles" Wilson."
While working as a Follies girl, Nolan began a tumultuous and highly publicized affair with blackface comedian and actor Frank Tinney. Tinney, who was married to former singer and dancer Edna Davenport with whom he had a young son, drank heavily and reportedly physically abused Nolan regularly. On May 24, 1924, Tinney and Nolan got into a physical altercation in her apartment after he awoke to find her alone with a male reporter. After the altercation, Nolan attempted suicide. On May 28, she appeared before New York City Magistrate Thomas McAndrews to report the assault that happened four days earlier. Nolan maintained that Tinney beat her and "chastised" her maid, Carrie Sneed. Nolan had bruises on her head and body while Sneed, who came along with her as a witness, was also bandaged. Tinney was arrested at his Long Island home the following day. In June 1924, the case went before a grand jury. Based on the evidence, the jury refused to indict Tinney on assault charges. Afterwards, Tinney claimed the whole ordeal was a publicity stunt concocted by Nolan.
After the grand jury hearing, Tinney decided to leave New York to perform in vaudeville in England. In early August 1924, he booked a trip on the Columbus ocean liner. Two days before Tinney was set to leave, he and Nolan reconciled and were photographed together outside of a Broadway theatre. Tinney smashed the camera of the photographer who took their photo and was later sued for assault. In order to avoid reporters, Tinney decided to board the Columbus the day before his scheduled departure. While waiting to board the ship on August 5, Tinney was served with papers informing him that his wife Edna Davenport had filed for legal separation. At 8 a.m. the following morning, Nolan showed up to bid Tinney farewell. The two stayed in Tinney's cabin to avoid reporters. Nolan had to be physically escorted off the ship after ignoring the departure whistle. Nolan wept as she watched the Colombus depart and told reporters on hand that she was still in love with Tinney. She stated that Tinney was "the only thing in my life. I know it. You know it. So why should I beat around the bush?" Nolan's tearful goodbye to Tinney was covered by the media which prompted Florenz Ziegfeld to fire Nolan later that day. Ziegfeld said that he fired Nolan because she had promised to end her relationship with Tinney. He added, "She broke her promise and I discharged her on account of the notoriety and also to prevent a possible disruption of the morale of my cast."
On September 20, 1924, Nolan set sail for France where she was scheduled to appear in vaudeville. She made her way to London in October where she reunited with Frank Tinney. By December 1924, Tinney had resumed drinking and began to physically abuse her again. In early 1925, Nolan finally ended the relationship. She then traveled to Germany where she would work for the next two years.
While in Germany, Nolan performed under the name "Imogene Robertson". Her first German film was Verborgene Gluten, released in 1925. Later that year, she appeared in Die Feuertänzerin for Universum Film AG. She received good reviews for her work in the film which prompted UFA to offer her a contract for $1500 a week.
Nolan worked steadily in Germany from 1925 to 1927, and continued to receive favorable reviews for her acting. While in Germany, she received offers from Hollywood producers to appear in American films but turned them down. She finally relented after Joseph M. Schenck offered her a contract with United Artists. She returned to the United States in January 1927.
Hollywood years and decline
Nolan's return to the United States was covered by the press who were still interested in the scandalous "Bubbles" Wilson. Several women's groups protested her making films in the States while Will H. Hays also expressed doubts about her embarking on a career in Hollywood. To solve the problem of audiences connecting her with her scandalous past, United Artists suggested she change her name to "Mary Nolan". She made two films while under contract with United Artists; she appeared in an uncredited bit part in Topsy and Eva (1927), and a supporting role in Sorrell and Son (1927).
In August 1927, she left United Artists and signed with Universal Pictures. Her first film for the company was Good Morning, Judge, starring Reginald Denny for which she received good reviews. In 1928, she was loaned out to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for West of Zanzibar. The film stars Lon Chaney and Lionel Barrymore, with Nolan cast as Chaney's defiled daughter Maizie. The film was a hit and Nolan received favorable reviews for her work in the film. The following year, she was loaned to M-G-M again for the romantic drama Desert Nights, and cast opposite John Gilbert. The film was another financial success for M-G-M and served to boost Nolan's career.
Shortly after signing with Universal in 1927, Nolan began a relationship with another married man, studio executive Eddie Mannix. Mannix used his clout to further Nolan's career and was responsible for her loan outs to M-G-M. Shortly after Desert Nights was released in 1929, Mannix abruptly ended the relationship. This angered Nolan who threatened to tell Mannix's wife Bernice of their affair. Mannix became enraged and beat her unconscious. Nolan hospitalized for six months and required fifteen surgeries to repair damage Mannix inflicted on her abdomen. While hospitalized, Nolan was prescribed morphine for pain. She eventually became addicted which contributed to the decline of her career.
Nolan's career and reputation took another hit when, in 1930, she was fired from the film What Men Want. Nolan got into an argument with the film's director, Ernst Laemmle, after she learned she was the only cast member who hadn't received a close up shot. Laemmle banned Nolan from the set and she was subsequently fired. After threatening to file a lawsuit against Universal, the studio bought her out of her contract in January 1931. That same year, Nolan was the subject of a drug investigation after two nurses who had cared for Nolan when she was hospitalized signed affidavits claiming that she was injecting morphine. Nolan denied the allegations and claimed the nurses were lying in an attempt to ruin her reputation and career. An investigation later cleared her of the charges. Due to her reputation for drug use and temperamental behavior, Nolan could not find work with any major studio. For the remainder of her career, she appeared in supporting roles in low-budget films. She made her final film appearances in the 1933 film File 113, for Allied Pictures Corporation.
Nolan was married once and had no children. She married stock broker Wallace T. McCreary on March 29, 1931. One week before they married, McCreary lost $3 million on bad investments. The couple used McCreary's remaining money to open a dress shop in Beverly Hills. The shop went out of business within months and Nolan filed for bankruptcy in August 1931. Nolan divorced McCreary in July 1932.
Over the course of her career, Nolan had several run-ins with police. In February 1931, she was charged with petty theft after L.H. Hillyer, a man from whom Nolan had rented a house, accused her of stealing a $200 rug from the home. The rug later turned up at the home of a doctor who claimed Nolan had given it to him in exchange for payment for medical care. In December 1931, Nolan and her then husband William T. McCreary were arrested after thirteen employees of their dress shop filed charges against them for failing to pay them wages. In March 1932, Nolan and McCreary were convicted of violating seventeen labor laws and sentenced to thirty days in jail.
In November 1934, Nolan was arrested on theft charges after theatrical agent Louis Kessman accused her of stealing $2,000 from his wallet. Kessman met Nolan while she was appearing in a show at the Green Gables Tavern in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and offered her a ride home. Kessman inexplicably dropped the charges the following day.
In July 1935, Nolan made news again when she filed a lawsuit against her former lover Eddie Mannix. In her suit, Nolan claimed the two had lived together for two years and that Mannix frequently beat her and used his influence to ruin her career. She asked for $500,000 in damages. According to Mannix's biographer E.J. Fleming, Mannix was incensed that Nolan was suing him and had made details of their affair public knowledge. Howard Strickling, the head of publicity at M-G-M, denied Nolan's claims against Mannix and called the lawsuit a "frivolous publicity stunt". Strickling then began leaking stories to the press about Nolan's sexual activities and the numerous abortions she allegedly had while she was with Mannix. Nolan dropped the suit after a private detective hired by Eddie Mannix threatened to have her arrested for using and possessing morphine. Shortly after this episode, Nolan left Los Angeles for New York City.
After leaving Los Angeles, Nolan earned a living by appearing on the vaudeville circuit. She also sang in nightclubs and roadhouses throughout the United States. In March 1937, she was jailed in New York City for failing to pay a four-year-old dress bill to The Wilma Gowns, Inc. for $405.87. At the time of her arrest, she was staying at a "cheap rooming house not far from Times Square." While in jail, she was transferred to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital. Upon her release, Nolan told reporters that she was sent to Bellevue because the shock of her arrest caused her "severe nervous strain" which required hospitalization.
After her release from Bellevue, she returned to performing in clubs. In July 1937, the Actors Fund of America sent her to the Brunswick Home in Amityville, New York for psychiatric treatment. She was transferred from the Brunswick Home in October 1937 after overdosing on sedatives. She remained hospitalized for a year. Upon her release in 1939, she returned to Hollywood and changed her name to "Mary Wilson". She moved to a bungalow court which she later managed to earn money. In 1941, she sold her life story to The American Weekly, which was serialized and appeared in several issues. In Spring 1948, she was hospitalized for malnutrition and was also treated for a gall bladder disorder. In late 1948, she began working on her memoirs with the help of writer John Preston.
On October 31, 1948, Nolan was found dead in her home at the age of 45. An autopsy later determined that Nolan had died of an overdose of Seconal. Her death is listed as an "accidental or suicide". Her funeral was held on November 4 at the Utter-McKinley & Strother Hollywood chapel in Hollywood. Nolan was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
|1925||Verborgene Gluten||Ias, Jacks Wife||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1925||Wenn die Liebe nicht wär'!||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1925||Das Parfüm der Mrs. Worrington||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1925||Die Feuertänzerin||Die Feuertänzerin||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1925||Die unberührte Frau||Marcelle Vautier||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||Fünf-Uhr-Tee in der Ackerstraße||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||Unser täglich Brot||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||Eleven Who Were Loyal||Marie von Wedel||Alternative title: The Eleven Schill Officers
Credited as Imogene Robertson
|1926||Wien, wie es weint und lacht||Adele||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||Das süße Mädel||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||Die Welt will belogen sein||Ly||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||Uneasy Money||Anna||Alternative title: Adventures of a Ten Mark Note
Credited as Imogene Robertson
|1926||Die Königin des Weltbades||Micheline Bonnard||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1926||The Armored Vault||Ellen, Frau Elgin||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1927||Die Mädchen von Paris||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1927||Erinnerungen einer Nonne||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1927||Hello Caesar!||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1927||Topsy and Eva||Bit role||Uncredited|
|1927||Sorrell and Son||Molly Roland|
|1928||Good Morning, Judge||Julia Harrington||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1928||The Foreign Legion||Sylvia Omney||Credited as Imogene Robertson|
|1928||West of Zanzibar||Maizie|
|1929||Silks and Saddles||Sybil Morrissey|
|1929||Desert Nights||Lady Diana Stonehill||Alternative title: Thirst|
|1929||Charming Sinners||Anne-Marie Whitley|
|1929||Shanghai Lady||Cassie Cook|
|1930||Young Desire||Helen Herbert|
|1931||Enemies of the Law||Florence Vinton|
|1931||X Marks the Spot||Vivian Parker|
|1931||The Big Shot||Fay Turner|
|1932||Docks of San Francisco||Belle|
|1932||The Midnight Patrol||Miss Willing|
|1932||Broadway Gossip No. 3||Movie Star||Short film|
|1933||File 113||Mlle. Adoree|
- ""Hard-Luck Girl" Dies". Spokane Daily Chronicle. November 1, 1948. p. 19. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 273)
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 254)
- ""Bubbles" Wilson of Movie Fame Dead". The Lewiston Daily Sun. November 1, 1948. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- "Frank Tinney, Comedian, Held As Tragedian". The Miami News. May 29, 1924. p. 1. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- "Comedian Is Exonerated". The Montreal Gazette. June 28, 1924. p. 10. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- (Ankerich 2010, pp. 257–258)
- Getty, Frank E. (August 6, 1924). "Battling Comedian Being Sued By His Wife and Photographer". The Southeast Missourian. p. 3. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
- "Imogene's Love For Tinney Costs Her Job In Ziegfeld". Rochester Journal and the Post Express. August 6, 1924. p. 4. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- Getty, Frank (August 5, 1924). "Frank Tinney In Limelight". Times Daily. p. 1. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 258)
- "Imogene Wilson Dropped From Follies After Tinney Sailed". Boston Daily Globe. August 6, 1924. p. 28A.
- "Tinney Sued, Sails; Follies Drops Girl; Comedian's Wife Charges Desertion -- Ziegfeld Dismisses Imogene Wilson.". The New York Times. August 6, 1924.
- (Ankerich 2010, pp. 259)
- (Ankerich 2010, pp. 260)
- (Fleming 2004, p. 84)
- (Ankerich 2010, pp. 260, 262)
- (Ankerich 2010, pp. 266–267)
- "Mary Nolan 'Freed' As a Drug Addict". The Milwaukee Sentinel. August 2, 1930. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- "Mary Nolan Weds New York Broker". Daily Boston Globe. March 29, 1931. pp. A–29.
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 268)
- "Mary Nolan Wants Divorce". The Los Angeles Times. July 17, 1932. p. 3.
- "Mary Asked For Rug". The Toledo News-Bee. February 17, 1931. p. 5. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- "Mary Nolan Sued By 13 Employees". The Newburgh News. December 11, 1931. p. 27. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- "Mary Nolan Sentenced To 30 Days in Jail". The Palm Beach Post. March 12, 1932. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- "Hunt Actress In Purse Theft". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. November 5, 1934. p. 1. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 267)
- "Former Follies Beauty Sues Movie Director for $500,000". Gettysburg Times. July 10, 1935. p. 2. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
- (Fleming 2004, pp. 84–85)
- "Ex-Star Jailed After Judgement". The Telegraph-Herald. May 5, 1937. p. 7. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- "Mary Nolan Is Released; Seized for Debt, Actress Plans to Go to Work in Cabaret". The New York Times. May 6, 1937.
- "Mary Nolan Patient In Brunswick Home". Reading Eagle. June 4, 1967. p. 24. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- "Mary Nolan III of Poisoning". The New York Times. October 19, 1937.
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 271)
- "Bubbles Wilson, Ex-Follies Star, Taken By Death". Ellensburg Daily Record. November 1, 1948. p. 7. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- (Ankerich 2010, p. 272)
- "Mary Nolan's Funeral to Be Held Tomorrow". The Los Angeles Times. p. 8.
- (Ellenberger 2001, p. 142)
- "Sheik's Piano". Reading Eagle. July 2, 1950. p. 15. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- Ankerich, Michael G. (2010). Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. BearManor. ISBN 1-59393-605-2.
- Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-40983-5
- Fleming, E.J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-45495-4
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mary Nolan.|
- Mary Nolan at the Internet Movie Database
- "Portrait Of The Actress Imogene Robertson By Thomas Staedeli". Retrieved September 16, 2005.
- "Films Of The Golden Age Article on Mary Nolan (preview)". Retrieved September 16, 2005.
- Mary Nolan at Find a Grave
- Mary Nolan at Virtual History