May McAvoy

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May McAvoy
May McAvoy Stars of the Photoplay.jpg
McAvoy in Stars of the Photoplay (1924)
Born (1899-09-08)September 8, 1899
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died April 26, 1984(1984-04-26) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
Occupation Actress
Years active 1917–1959
Spouse(s) Maurice Cleary (m. 1929; div. 1940)

May McAvoy (September 8, 1899 – April 26, 1984)[1] was an American actress who worked mainly during the silent-film era. Some of her major roles are Laura Pennington in The Enchanted Cottage, Esther in Ben-Hur, and Mary Dale in The Jazz Singer.


McAvoy appeared in her first film in 1917 entitled Hate.[2]

After appearing in more than three dozen films, McAvoy co-starred with Ramón Novarro and Francis X. Bushman in director Fred Niblo's 1925 production of Ben-Hur released by MGM. The feature-length film was one of the most lavish and spectacular productions of the silent movie era.

Although her voice was not heard in The Jazz Singer, she did speak in several other films, including the second "all-talkie" released by Warner Brothers, The Terror, which was directed by Roy Del Ruth and co-starred Conrad Nagel.

For years, a rumor circulated that McAvoy retired from the screen at the transition to sound films because of a lisp or speech impediment.[3] In truth, she married the treasurer of United Artists, who asked her not to work.[3]

Later, she returned to films and played small roles during the 1940s and 1950s, making her final film appearance in a small part of the 1959 version of Ben-Hur.

Personal life[edit]

McAvoy married banker Maurice Cleary on June 26, 1929,[4] with whom she had a son named Patrick,[1] and divorced him in 1940.[5]


On April 26, 1984, McAvoy died at the age of 84 from the after effects of a heart attack suffered the previous year.[2] She is interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.[1]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, May McAvoy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1731 Vine Street.[6]


McAvoy as Esther in Ben-Hur (1925)
With Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927)
  • Slightly Used (1927 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Lost; first of McAvoy's films with Vitaphone track of effects and music) as Cynthia Martin
  • The Jazz Singer (1927 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Extant) as Mary Dale
  • A Reno Divorce (1927 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Lost') as Carla
  • If I Were Single (1927 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) as May Howard
  • The Little Snob (1928 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Lost) as May Banks
  • Sunny California (1928, Short)
  • The Lion and the Mouse (1928 Vitaphone / WarnerBrothers) (*Extant) as Shirley Ross
  • Caught in the Fog (1928 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Extant; 35mm British Film Institute per IMDb) The Girl
  • The Terror (1928 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Extant) as Olga Redmayne
  • Stolen Kisses (1929 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Lost) as May Lambert
  • No Defense (1929 Vitaphone / Warner Brothers) (*Lost) as Ruth Harper
  • Two Girls on Broadway (1940) as Chatworth's Secretary (uncredited)
  • The New Pupil (1940, Short) as Sally's mother
  • The Phantom Raiders (1940) as Middle Telephone Operator (uncredited)
  • Dulcy (1940) as Miss Murphy - Van Dyke's Secretary (uncredited)
  • Third Finger, Left Hand (1940) as Telephone Operator (uncredited)
  • Whispers (1941, Short) as Gossip (uncredited)
  • 1-2-3 Go! (1941, Short) as Miss Jones, nurse
  • Love Crazy (1941) as Sanity Hearing Secretary (uncredited)
  • The Getaway (1941) as Duff's Secretary (uncredited)
  • Ringside Maisie (1941) as 1st Nurse (uncredited)
  • Main Street on the March! (1941, Short) as Window Shopper (uncredited)
  • Born to Sing (1942) (uncredited)
  • Mr. Blabbermouth! (1942, Short) as Wife (uncredited)
  • Assignment in Brittany (1943) as Nurse (uncredited)
  • My Tomato (1943, Short) as Gidge's Customer (uncredited)
  • Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) as Dowager (uncredited)
  • Movie Pests (1944, *short) as Woman Whose Vision Gets Blocked (uncredited)
  • Barbary Coast Gent (1944) (scenes deleted)
  • Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) as Minor Role (uncredited)
  • Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) as Well-Wisher after 'Roberta' (uncredited)
  • The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947) as Wife (uncredited)
  • The Unfinished Dance (1947) as Ronsell's Secretary (uncredited)
  • A Date with Judy (1948) as Dance Attendee (uncredited)
  • Luxury Liner (1948) as Woman (uncredited)
  • The Yellow Cab Man (1950) as Minor Role (uncredited)
  • Mystery Street (1950) as Nurse (uncredited)
  • Watch the Birdie (1950) as Minor Role (uncredited)
  • The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) as Pebbel's Secretary (uncredited)
  • Executive Suite (1954) as Grimm's Secretary (uncredited)
  • The Tender Trap (1950) as Visitor to Home Show (uncredited)
  • Ransom! (1956) as Miss May (uncredited)
  • The Wings of Eagles (1957) as Nurse (uncredited)
  • Designing Woman (1957) as Boston Wardrobe Woman (uncredited)
  • Gun Glory (1957) as Woman (uncredited)
  • Jailhouse Rock (1957) as Minor Role (uncredited)
  • Ben-Hur (1959) as Woman in Crowd (uncredited) (final film role)


  1. ^ a b c "Original Jazz Singer' Star May Mcavoy Dies At 82". Gainesville Sun. May 3, 1984. Retrieved December 30, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "May Mcavoy Dies; Jolson's Leading Lady". Schenectady Gazette. May 4, 1984. Retrieved December 30, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Lamparski, Richard (1982). Whatever Became Of ...? Eighth Series. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 190–1. ISBN 0-517-54855-0. 
  4. ^ "May Mcavoy Is Married". San Jose News. June 27, 1929. Retrieved December 30, 2011. 
  5. ^ "May McAvoy Wins Divorce and Discloses Her Poverty". Los Angeles Times. November 20, 1940. p. 9. Retrieved December 30, 2011. Once one of the highest salaried actresses in the motionpicture industry. May McAvoy disclosed yesterday in divorcing Maurice G. Cleary. former banker, that of late she was forced to seek financial aid from the Motion Picture Relief Fund. 
  6. ^ "Walk Of Fame Uses Plenty Of Celebrity Footprints". Record-Journal. August 13, 1989. Retrieved December 30, 2011. 

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