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By 1937, Ann Sothern had made more than two dozen films in four years, and still hadn't gotten beyond B-pictures, first at Columbia, then at RKO. So she walked out on her RKO contract, to wait for the role that would get her where she wanted to go. Finally, she was cast in Trade Winds (1938), in what would later become known as "the Ann Sothern part" - as a sassy, manipulative secretary.
Meanwhile, at MGM producer J. Walter Ruben was looking for a Jean Harlow type - blonde, sexy, somewhat vulgar, definitely sassy. He had a script that had been intended for Harlow, which had been shelved after the actress's untimely death in 1937. Ruben saw Trade Winds, and decided Ann Sothern would be perfect for the lead in Maisie (1939).
Maisie Ravier is a small-time showgirl, a "honky-tonk chorine with a heart of spun sugar," in the words of film historians James Robert Parish and Ronald L. Bowers, "traveling to every part of the globe as conceived by the set decorators." In this - the first of what would ultimately become a 10-film series over a period of eight years - Maisie travels to Ian Hunter's ranch, straightens out his marital problems, has a romance of her own with Robert Young, and solves a murder. It's a modest little programmer, just 72 minutes long. But as Sothern would later say, "Maisie and I were just together - I just understood her." The public did, too - she was one of them. Maisie, and Ann Sothern, were a huge hit. MGM immediately signed Sothern to a 10-year contract. The series was so popular that mail addressed to "Maisie, U.S.A." reached Sothern at MGM. The Maisie films may have been B-pictures, but Ann Sothern was queen of the B's.
The series made Sothern - and also stifled her. MGM chief Louis B. Mayer was happy to cast her in an occasional prestige film, like Panama Hattie (1942) and Cry Havoc (1943), but he made it clear that Maisie was the studio's bread and butter, and Sothern's priority. "Your pictures pay for our mistakes," Mayer told her. "And you'll just keep making Maisies as long as you do that."
Ultimately, Maisie did not take Ann Sothern where she wanted to go. Sothern herself would admit she was "a Hollywood princess, not a Hollywood queen." But the series made her known and loved the world over.
Director: Edwin L. Marin
Producer: J. Walter Ruben
Screenplay: Mary C. McCall, Jr., based on the novel Dark Dame, by Wilson Collison
Editor: Fredrick Y. Smith
Cinematography: Leonard Smith
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Malcolm Brown
Costume Design: Dolly Tree, Valles
Cast: Ann Sothern (Maisie Ravier), Robert Young (Slim Martin), Ruth Hussey (Sybil Ames), Ian Hunter (Clifford Ames), Cliff Edwards (Shorty).
BW-75m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri