A Tribute to Mae Murray
Mae Murray was called the “girl with the bee-stung lips.” She was a popular star of early films, yet she is largely forgotten today.
Director Erich Von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow (1925) is the film in which Mae Murray is best remembered, but it was not typical of most of her work.
A former showgirl and artists’ model, Mae Murray was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on May 10, 1889, with the name of Marie Adrienne Koenig.
Little is known about Mae’s childhood, but by her teenage years she was already in New York. She made her professional debut singing “Comin’ Through the Rye” as Vernon Castle’s partner in 1906 on Broadway in “About Town” and soon appeared in the 1908, 1909, and 1915 Ziegfeld Follies as a featured dancer.
Mae Murray’s beauty transcended the early years of screen imagery in the teens, a style that reflected the Victorian era’s girl-next door, virginal purity. Mae quickly remade her image in The Roaring Twenties style of hair designs and makeup. Her famous bee stung lips were the vogue in the 1920’s.
Mae starred in 44 films from 1916- 1931. Her early image changed from wholesome virtuous vamps as illustrated by some of the titles of her films: Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1916), The Dream Girl (1916), The Plow Girl (1916), and A Mormon Maid (1917). The titles of some of her jazz-age films were Modern Love (1918), The ABC of Love (1919), The Delicious Little Devil (1919), with a young Rudolph Valentino as her love interest and Peacock Alley (1922).
Fascination (1922) kept Mae well-suited in a parade of splendid gowns, loaded with flaming youth, bee stung lips, and Prohibition defiance. However, “The Dance of the Bulls” stirred up heated controversy and was criticized by many for the suggestive movements deployed by Mae.
Many critics today would acknowledge that Mae was not a great actress, and by the coming of sound she was reduced to working in a poverty row production of Peacock Alley (1930). Mae also appeared in two talkies in 1931, “High Stakes” and “Bachelor Apartment.”
Mae’s best performance was in The Merry Widow (1925), and it was because Erich Von Stroheim pounded out of Mae a performance of depth and sincerity.
Mae’s marriage to Prince Mdivani, a Georgian prince of dubious ancestry, ended and she lost custody of her son. She was forced into bankruptcy and barely survived the next two decades. In her later years a sort of dementia seemed to overcome her. Mae spent her last days in The Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California. Mae died on March 23, 1965. She was 75 years old.