Thursday, August 14, 2008


Marie Dressler was born on November 9, 1868 and died on July 28, 1934 at the age of 65.

Born as Leila Marie Loerber in Cobourg, Ontario to parents Alexander Rudolph Kerber (who was Austrian), and Anna Henderson. The young Dressler was able to hone her talents to make other people laugh, and began her acting career when she was just 14. In 1892 she made her stage debut on Broadway. At first, she had hoped to make her career singing light opera, but then gravitated towards vaudeville.

During the 1900's she became a major star in vaudeville. In 1902 she met fellow Canadian Mack Sennett and helped him get a job in the theater. In addition to her stage work Dressler recorded for Edison Records in 1909 and 1910. After Sennett became owner of his namesake motion picture studio, he convinced Dressler to star in his highly successful 1914 "Tillie's Punctured Romance", opposite Sennetts newly discovered actor Charlie Chaplin. Dressler appeared in two more "Tillie" sequels and other comedies until 1918 when she returned to vaudeville.

In 1919, during the Actors Equity Strike in New York City, the Chorus Equity Association was formed and voted Dressler as its first President.

In 1927 Dressler was secretly blacklisted by the theater production companies due to her strong stance in a labor dispute. Another Canadian gave her the opportunity to return to motion pictures. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, who called her "the most adored person ever to set foot in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio".

In 1929 Marie found herself once again out of work, so she joined Edward Everett Horton's theater troupe in Los Angeles. So after this however, Dressler once again found herself in demand due to the arrival of talkies and the need for stage trained performers. She proceeded to leave Horton flat much to his indignation.

After several supporting roles in unsuccessful talkies, Francis Marion, an MGM screenwriter and personal friend of Irving Thalberg, came to Maries rescue. Dressler had shown great kindness to Marion during the filming of "Tillie Wakes Up" in 1917 and in return, Marion used her influence with Thalberg to get Dressler a number of supporting roles, including the queen in "Breakfast at Sunrise" and a snappy maid in "Chasing Rainbows". She was then established as a funny supporting woman. Marion persuaded Thalberg to give Dressler the role of Marthy, the old harridan who welcomes Greta Garbo home after her search for her father in the 1931 film "Anna Christie". Both Garbo and the critics were impressed by Dressler's acting ability, and so was MGM who quickly signed her to a $500 a week contract.

A robust full-bodied woman of very plain features, Dresslers ensuing comedy films were very popular with the movie going public and equally lucrative investment for MGM.

Although past sixty years of age, she quickly became Hollywood's number one box-office attraction, and stayed on top till her death. In addition to her comedic genius and her natural elegance, she demonstrated her considerable talents by taking on serious roles. For her starring portrayal in "Mim and Bill", co-starring Wallace Beery, she won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Actress. Dresslere was nominated again for best actress in her 1932 starring roll in "Emma". With that film, Dressler personally insisted that her studio bosses cast a friend of hers, a largely unknown young actor named Richard Cromwell in the lead opposite her. The break helped launch his career.

Dressler followed these successes with more hits in 1933 including the comedy "Dinner at Eight" in which she played a poor, aging former state actress, and was featured on the cover of the August 7, 1933 cover of TIME magazine. However, her career was cut short when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. MGM head Louise B. Mayer learned of her illness from her doctor and asked that she not be told. To keep her home, he ordered her not to travel on her vacation because he wanted to put her in a new film. Dressler was furious, but complied.

Dressler appeared in more than 40 films but only achieved stardom near the end of her life. ALways seeing herself as physically unattractive, she wrote an autobiography "The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling".

Marie Dressler is buried in Santa Barbara, California, and is interred in a crypt in the Great Mausleum in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cementary, Glendale.

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