Mary Carlisle Tribute - 11/15
The model of a bright-eyed, blonde ingénue of the Depression era, Mary Carlisle was chosen alongside Ginger Rogers, Toshia Mori, Gloria Stuart and 12 other women as a "WAMPAS Baby Star" by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers in 1932. Although she would appear in more than 60 movies and serve as Bing Crosby's leading lady in three films, Carlisle is not as well-remembered today as some of her contemporaries.
Born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston, Carlisle (1914-2018) relocated to Los Angeles with her mother when she was four after the death of her father. An uncle, Robert Carlisle, was a producer and film editor at MGM. It was through him that Dorothy was cast in her first film at age 9, a silent film starring Jackie Coogan called Long Live the King (1923), for which she received no credit.
In her early teens, her "angelic looks" struck Universal studio executive Carl Laemmle Jr., who wanted to sign her to the studio after a screen test. But being underage, Carlisle was required to finish her education first. After completing it, MGM signed Carlisle to a one-year contract, leading a series of supporting roles in such movies as the crime thriller Night Court (1932) and appearances in films like the star-studded Grand Hotel. Her breakthrough came when she was cast opposite Crosby in Paramount's College Humor (TCM premiere, 1933). They made an appealing pair, and she would work with him in two more breezy little musicals, Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938).
TCM's tribute includes such Carlisle films as MGM's Murder in the Private Car (1934), a mystery-romance with Charles Ruggles; MGM's Kind Lady (1935), a drama starring Aline MacMahon and Basil Rathbone; and RKO's Kentucky Kernels (1934), a comedy directed by George Stevens and starring the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey.
In her later career, Carlisle alternated supporting roles at major studios such as Paramount and RKO with leads in movies from smaller production companies. Her final film part before retiring was a starring role in Dead Men Walk (1943), a horror film from Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
In 1942, Carlisle married British-born actor James Edward Blakeley, who later became an executive producer at 20th Century-Fox. The couple had a son together and remained married until her husband's death in 2007. In her later years, Carlisle managed an Elizabeth Arden Salon in Beverly Hills. She died this past August at the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement community in Los Angeles at 104 years old.
by Roger Fristoe