Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Marjorie Beebe

A guest post by Ian Craine -

MARJORIE BEEBE is largely forgotten today but in her time she was quite a star. Mack Sennett is on record as saying he believed she had the potential to be the greatest movie comedienne of them all. That’s praise indeed coming from the King of Comedy.

Beebe was a Missouri girl and the family moved to California when she was in her teens. She quickly became known at local cinemas and then at the studios; she was determined to become a movie star. She started out at Universal but soon moved to Fox and appeared in a number of their silent features. At first she played support to other actresses, particularly Madge Bellamy, but her talent for comedy was becoming apparent and she was given her own vehicle in 1928, The Farmer’s Daughter (Arthur Rosson, dir.). She got rave reviews for this; more than one newspaper suggested that she was the best comic actress seen for a very long time.

Mack Sennett was similarly impressed and within the year Beebe had left Fox and joined him. Her work with Sennett was different in two significant ways. Firstly with one solitary exception she stopped appearing in features. Sennett’s speciality was the two reel short and she appeared in at least forty over the next four years. Secondly and perhaps more importantly she was now in talkies. Sennett was experimenting with the new form and Marjorie Beebe was highly versatile. She was adept at old-style slapstick and a mistress of the pratfall. But she was also great with a wisecrack or a put-down.
Photo courtesy of Ian Craine

She would become Sennett’s star turn and two reelers would be written and named for her. She had her own screen persona, Marge Martin (daughter to Andy Clyde’s Pop Martin) but played any number of other roles too, usually on the sassy side…intrepid reporters, flirty wives, gangsters’ molls, club hostesses. Of particular interest are Cowcatcher’s Daughter (1931, Babe Stafford, dir.), Sennett’s nod to The Farmer’s Daughter, which is regrettably lost, with Beebe as a sassy cowgirl; and Doubling in the Quickies (1932, Babe Stafford, dir.) where she plays a Hollywood wannabe much as she had once been herself.

Mack Sennett went bankrupt in 1933 and Beebe’s career went into freefall with him. She went back to features and acted support in a few Westerns but her talents were wasted. She had always been a party girl and a drinker and Sennett had been the one man who seems to have been able to handle her. The second half of the 1930s were not a happy time for her; she had at least three unsuccessful marriages. She retired permanently in 1940 and finally began to find contentment again with her last husband well away from the spotlight.

Many thanks to Ian for his insight into ages past and a star who's light would only shine for a short time on the silver screen.

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