Sunday, April 11, 2021

Mary Brian - It's Hard to Grow Up in Hollywood

Mary Brian was one of the most beautiful actresses of the 1930s. She often played charming ingenues in college-themed romances, but it seems these roles were not her cup of tea. Evelyn Warmoll shares with us in this 1938 article from Hollywood magazine, that Mary Brian was looking for more dramatic "grown-up" roles while Hollywood while trying to keep her young and innocent: 

While most movie stars are sadly bemoaning the fact that they are growing old all too fast on the screen, Mary Brian, fresh from a season of personal appearances, is back in Hollywood to try again to gain recognition as a grown up, mature, young woman. 

Mary has been Hollywood's perpetual "little girl" for ten years. She's frankly tired of it. She wants to prove to producers and a loyal following of movie fans that she has outgrown co-eds and fairy princesses and younger sisters. She wants to play dramatic feminine leads. She wants to emote. She wants to be recognized as a dramatic actress. She is tired of playing pretty young things who flit hither and thither and seldom have a dominant scene in the story which goes on around them. 

It doesn't seem so very long ago that Paramount announced that it was starting a worldwide search for a novice to play the title role of its silent production, Peter Pan. Mary Brian, just out from Texas, was at the Los Angeles Paramount theatre — dancing in the chorus — when Albert Kaufman, brother-in-law of Adolphe Zukor, saw her, talked with her and sent her out to the Paramount lot for a test for Peter Pan. Mary trembled as she made the test for it was her first movie experience, but the next day director Herbert Brenon phoned to say that a contract awaited her — not for Peter Pan but for "Wendy." When she stepped out of the dancing lineup and became Wendy, she began a series of young girl parts which lasted throughout her six and a half years as a Paramount contract player. 

She was pretty much the successor to Mary Pickford and Mary Miles Minter as Hollywood's sweetheart. No film debutante was more sought after for party lists than Mary. "The sweetest kid in Hollywood" she was called off-screen as well as on. No college picture was quite complete without Mary Brian as the fair young co-ed who turned the heads of the gridiron heroes, and finally arrived at her big romantic scene either in the booth of some campus ice cream parlor or under the ever-present sheltering oak in front of the girls' dormitory. 

When she wasn't decorating college pictures, romantic dramas of Civil war days claimed her for doll-like crinoline girls who made exquisite pictures of Mason-Dixon beauty, but never had much opportunity to lead the parade when the dramatic scenes began. 

When the talkies came in Mary Brian began intensive training for more dramatic and dominant roles. She tucked her collection of sunbonnets and middie blouses gently but firmly in the garage trunk, pinned up the curls that once hung on the back of her neck, and tried every way she knew to "grow up" in a hurry. Other diminutive girls had been given dramatic roles — Helen Hayes, Sylvia Sydney, Elizabeth Bergner, dozens of small girls had dominated dramatic pictures. While Mary made no comparisons, she yearned for just one chance to show what she could do. But to Hollywood she was still the "young sister type." 

Finally, Walter Huston's The Virginian gave her a deviation from her usual cast assignment and The Front Page offered broader opportunities as did The Royal Family but whenever a college picture was being cast the first name on every casting director's tongue was "Mary Brian." 

As often as she could afford to, Mary shook her pretty head and announced that she had her mind set on more dramatic parts. During one of the waits between pictures, Ken Murray induced her to resume stage work and to return to her dancing (which Hollywood never thought of at all). For a year Mary alternated between Broadway, road shows and pictures that offered her at least some hope of outgrowing the "little sister" roles. 

Her personal appearances were huge successes and she found that her fans were just as eager for her to grow up as she was. When fans saw her dance in local theatres they wrote letters by the score to variolas Hollywood producers asking them to make Mary Brian a dancing screen star. 

When the co-ed and little sister offers continued unbroken Mary Brian went to London for a British picture and one day Hollywood was startled to hear that "little Mary" was the star of the 1935 Chariot's Revue and "going over like a house afire." 

After an extended London season Mary returned to Hollywood and played a "heavy" in Spendthrift merely to get away from the girlish type of role previously given her. This was followed by two independent pictures which offered more or less straight dramatic leads and other personal appearances in which she was supported by a dancing trio, Gordon, Read and King and also by Arena and Hines. 

A few months ago Mary came back to Hollywood again in search of mature roles and was fairly successful in Three Married Men and Killer at Large but the recent summer season found her at the head of the casting office lists for co-ed roles in a half dozen football pictures and she began to wonder what she could do to create a new "1938 model Mary Brian." 

"I'm afraid you just can't grow up in Hollywood," says Mary. "I enjoy playing girlish parts but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the day soon comes when I can play a dominant, dramatic part and show them that Wendy has grown up. I don't care whether I play a vamp, a society girl or a French apache; I just want a chance to assume a role that has some depth and determination." 

Mary Brian lives with her mother near Toluca Lake, a few miles north of the Hollywood studio where she began her screen career. At least once each year she is reported "this-a and that-a" about some currently popular young screen Lochinvar but isn't taking romance too seriously. After playing more than 50 girlish featured leads in as many feature films Mary seems far more anxious to play a dramatic role on the screen than take a demure walk to the altar in a real life romance.

This article was taken from a February 1938 issue of Hollywood magazine. You can view the scans of this article, as well as the entire issue, via the Internet Archive hereTo find more stories like this, check out the other posts in our series - Movie Magazine Articles. Enjoy!


  1. An interesting article on Mary Brian. I've seen some of her movies, but actually didn't remember her.

    1. She mainly did silent films and early 1930s collegiate pictures. I remember being introduced to her in "Charlie Chan in Paris". She was very beautiful....and had a long life, too!