The people who died, 2018: Mary Carlisle, 'Baby Starlet' who made more than 60 films in a decade

Feb. 3, 1914-Aug. 1, 2018

Dec 26, 2018 at 1:00 am

A radiant 1930s film ingénue known for her fresh face, porcelain skin, and blond hair, Mary Carlisle appeared in more than 60 films in the course of her short career — everything from Bing Crosby crooners to B-movie horror films, the last of which was the low-budget vampire thriller Dead Men Walk, released in 1943.

Born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston in 1912 or 1914 — according to The Washington Post, she would frequently say her true age was "none of your business" — she was discovered at 14 while eating lunch at Universal Studios with her mother. Studio executive Carl Laemmle Jr. saw her and demanded she be given a screen test, reportedly saying, "This girl has the most angelic face I ever saw." But it wasn't until after she completed her formal education — and bluffed her way into a chorus girl casting call at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, thanks to her uncle Robert's film connections — that she pursued a career on the big screen.

Her first part was an uncredited appearance in the Academy Award-winning 1932 drama Grand Hotel, starring Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and John Barrymore.

That same year she was named a "Baby Star" — a PR designation for budding starlets deemed to be on the cusp of a big film career — by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers, but Carlisle never found the same success as other "stars" like Clara Bow, the aforementioned Crawford, or Ginger Rogers.

Continuously typecast as a wholesome virgin or upbeat gal in everything from college sports dramas to screwball musicals, including three with Crosby in a span of five years, Carlisle eventually retired from cinema after marrying British actor James Blakeley in 1942. "I've played sweet young heroines long enough," she said.

After her acting career, Carlisle managed the Elizabeth Arden salon in Beverly Hills. She died at the age of 104 (or 106, depending on who you ask) at the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement community for actors in Woodland Hills, California.

From "The people who died, 2018."

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