Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mae Marsh

I just realized that today is a special date.  This is the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight, and also the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. 

The famous D.W. Griffith (1875 - 1948) film, The Birth of a Nation, was released in 1915, which is the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.  We will not go into the controversy surrounding the film, because this is a blog about Bit Actors.

Mae Marsh (1894 - 1968) started working in films in 1910.  She was one of the leads in TBoaN, along with Lillian Gish (1893 - 1993).  Marsh went on to appear in about 200 films, up until a few years before her death.

In 1912 her big break came when Griffith cast her in The Sands of Dee, a movie that Mary Pickford (1892 - 1979) was supposed to get.  This led to The Birth of a Nation, and then a starring role in Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages in 1916.  Those two are arguably the most famous silent films made in America. 

After Intolerance, Mae left Griffith and started working for Samuel Goldwyn (1879 - 1974).  Her career faltered after that.  She made quite a few more silents, but none were the big hits she had with Griffith. 

With the advent of talkies, Mae went back to work as a character actress, which made her a very famous Bit Actress.  She was approaching 40 years old by then, so starring roles would go to younger actresses.

Her list of sound films is impressive, but she is uncredited in many of them.

1932 -   Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
1933 -   Alice in Wonderland
1939 -   Drums Along the Mohawk
1940 -   The Grapes of Wrath
1941 -   Tobacco Road
1941 -   Great Guns (Had to get Laurel and Hardy in there!)
1941 -   How Green was my Valley
1943 -   The Song of Bernadette

Plus, State Fair, Miracle on 34th Street, Fort Apache, The Fighting Kentuckian, The Gunfighter, The Quiet Man, The Robe, A Star is Born, The Searchers...Holy Cow! what a list.

Her last two films, both uncredited roles, were Donovan's Reef (1963) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).  She worked with John Wayne in eight films, but she only did a few TV westerns around 1960. 

Mae Marsh was a star.  And I am glad we have her in so many great films, if only in Bit Parts.


  1. John Ford always seemed to find a part for Mae. Her biggest later life role for him was in "3 Godfathers" as lawman Ward Bond's wife.

    I spotted Mae as an elderly lady enjoying Christmas Carols sung on "The Frank Sinatra Show" by Frank and guest Bing Crosby. (The disc with this special starts of my Christmas viewing season.)

  2. Bit Part,
    I'm glad you did a write up on Mae. It really is a shame she couldn't carry a movie and get 'lead actress' status like many actresses with less talent.
    Her autograph is one I don't yet have but I'm still trying. : )

  3. Yes, Caftan, John Ford had Mae in 18 of his movies.

    And, Page, keep loking for that autograph. If anyone can find it, you will.

    It must have been a let down for Marsh to go from being a star in two of the biggest movies made in America (Birth and Intolerance), to playing Bit Parts in so many other films. I hope she was OK financially.

  4. Diffinatley not a let down, my Nana, Mae Marsh loved her life and family and never really cared about the lime light or fame. She was a wonderful grandmother and we all miss her and her sence of humor.
    Paul White, grandson

    1. Thanks for writing, Paul. The insight of relatives can bring clarity to our collective knowledge. To many actors and actresses, it is just a job. I hope they realize how much pleasure they bring to the audience. Mae certainly did.


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