Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cut Up to Size

Actress Marie Dressler was born on this date in 1868. At 5"8 and nearly 200 pounds, there wasn't much demand for her to play ingenues, so she lent her considerable heft to comedy instead, becoming a Broadway star at the turn of the 20th century. 

She was in a few early movies, too. Here Dressler's wooed by a caddish and non-Tramp-like Charlie Chaplin in 1914's Tillie's Punctured Romance, based on a hit Broadway play of hers and often cited as Hollywood's first full-length comedy. More than romance is punctured in the above clip. While the film was modestly profitable, Dressler stuck mostly to the stage, which much more than the movies defined show business success at the time. Of course, that would soon change.

 Before it did, however, Dressler helped form the Chorus Equity Association in 1919, becoming its first president. On the far right is Ethel Barrymore (best known now as Drew's great-aunt, but a big star herself back then.) Unlike Dressler early in her career, Barrymore was never a chorus girl, but lent her support as a member of Actor's Equity, also on strike at the time. 

A has-been after World War I, Dressler was reduced to appearing in "old-timers revues" at  vaudeville houses, like the one above.

Things picked up for Dressler when she was cast as Marian Davies fretful mother in the 1928 silent film comedy The Patsy. The only clip I can find on YouTube emphasizes Davies, hardly the point of this post, so I've decided not to show it. By most accounts, however, it was Dressler who got the major career boost from that picture...

 ...the former Broadway star now a Hollywood star

Dressler and Polly Moran debate taking the law in their own hands, and other parts of the body as well, in the 1929 short Dangerous Females. Plus a latter-day cameo by Debbie Reynolds.

Marie Antoinette has nothing on this broad. From The Hollywood Revue of 1929.

 Dressler occasionally did drama. In fact, she won an Academy Award for appearing in one, 1930's Min and Bill, which paired her for the first time with Wallace Berry.

The two were reunited in the comedy Tugboat Annie (1933). Dressler helps her son, played by Franke Darro, with his studies, only to be interrupted by shiftless husband Beery, who at least he knows his math.

And finally, from the otherwise dramatic Dinner at Eight (1933), we're treated to this comic relief exchange between Dressler and the reigning sex symbol of the day, Jean Harlow. If you've skipped past all the other video clips, please at least watch this one. It's a classic:

That's a gravity-defying double-take if I ever saw one!

Marie Dressler's comeback lasted to the very end. She was the number one box office attraction when she died in 1934 at the age of 65.


  1. I know her name and a few old movies but very little about her. What a very interesting life.
    Love the double take. Perfect !
    Love the last photo. I think it shows her with a clever smile that seems to say I know something you don't know. Plus laughing eyes.

    cheers, parsnip

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  3. parsnip, had Dressler done nothing else in film (and she didn't do a whole lot as movie stardom came so late for her) the double-take in Dinner at Eight alone would have made me a fan of hers.

    Laughing eyes. I like that.