Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mary Brian. "The Sweetest Girl in Pictures."

Mary Brian (February 17, 1906 – December 30, 2002). Was working toward becoming an illustrator until at age 16 when she was discovered in a bathing beauty contest. One of the judges was famous actress Esther Ralston. She didn't win the contest but Ralston said, "you've got to give the little girl something." So, her prize was to be interviewed by director Herbert Brenon, who gave her the part as Wendy Darling, in his silent movie version of, Peter Pan (1924). There she starred with Betty Bronson and Esther Ralston, and the three of them became friends for the rest of their lives.

Brian played Fancy Vanhern in, The Street of Forgotten Men (1925). The story about a man named, Easy-Money Charley, the best fake crippled beggar in New York, loses his beloved dog and adopts a dying prostitute's daughter. But his fellow beggars mock him and he disowns the child in order to bring her up secretly in the suburbs.

Brian was dubbed "The Sweetest Girl in Pictures." On loan-out to MGM, she played , Mary Abbott, opposite William Haines and Jack Pickford in the film, Brown of Harvard (1926). A silent film starring William Haines. The film is the best known of the three Brown of Harvard films, having been John Wayne's screen debut. Uncredited, Wayne played a "Yale Football Player". Grady Sutton and Robert Livingston, both of whom went on to have successful careers, also appear uncredited. The 1918 film included future Boston Redskins coach William "Lone Star" Dietz.

During her years at Paramount, Brian performed in more than 40 movies. She worked with Brenon again in 1926 when she played Isabel in, P. C. Wren's Beau Geste. That same year she made, Behind the Front and Harold Teen. In 1928, she played Alice Deane in, Forgotten Faces. Like many of Brian's Paramount movies, Forgotten Faces, is presumed lost for all time.

Her first talkie was Varsity (1928), which was filmed with part-sound and talking sequences. After successfully making the transition to sound, she co-starred with Gary Cooper, Walter Huston and Richard Arlen in one of the earliest Western talkies, The Virginian (1929), her first all-talkie feature. In it, she played a schoolmarm Molly Stark Wood, who was the love interest of the Virginian (Cooper).

Brian co-starred in several films during the 1930s, including: The Royal Family of Broadway (1930), Paramount on Parade (1930), The Front Page (1931). Shadows of Sing Sing (1933), College Rhythm (1934), Paris (1935), Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935), Spendthrift (1936), Navy Blues (1937).

In 1936, she went to England and made three movies, including: The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss in which she starred opposite Cary Grant, to whom she became engaged to. The film is about, Ernest Bliss a bored rich socialite. He makes a bet with a doctor, Sir James Aldroyd, that he can live a year without relying on any of his inheritance. He loses the bet when uses some of the money to marry Frances Clayton, to save her from an unhappy marriage.

Her final film of the 1930s was, Affairs of Cappy Ricks. The film begins with, Cappy Ricks, an old sea captain, returning home from a long voyage to find that his daughter is going to marry a man that he can't stand and his mother has made plans to merge his business with that of a rival company. He quickly comes up with his own plan to save his family and his business.

Her last performance on the silver screen was in, Dragnet (1947), a B-movie in which she played Anne Hogan opposite Henry Wilcoxon. The film is about, Inspector Geoffrey James of Scotland Yard who travels to New York to investigate an international band of jewel thieves after the body of a diplomatic courier is found on the beach with smuggled jewels. James is assisted by a beautiful flight attendant.

Over 22 years, Brian had appeared in more than 79 movies.


  1. Mary Brian was also in my favorite James Cagney comedy, "Hard To Handle" (1933). She and Ruth Donnelly, playing her mother, are a hoot (they regularly wear identical clothing) and work wonderfully with Cagney.

  2. This is a very interesting article about an actress of whom I was not aware. She was a darling girl, especially in the top picture. She did an amazing number of movies! I'm sure I have probably seen "Hard to Handle" with Cagney -- now I'll be watching for Mary.
    Dawn, have a very Merry Christmas!

  3. VP81955, Thank you for the movie recommendation, "Hard To Handle"(1933). Sounds like a movie I would like.

    Becky, Mary Brian, is also a "new to me" actress. I have only seen her in a couple of movies: Varsity (1928)and The Virginian (1929). Merry Christmas to you too. :)


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