So, one fine morning, I logged into my laptop, only to find Marie Dressler’s doodle right on my screen and I was mesmerized. Google celebrates the 152nd birthday of Marie Dressler– a true legend who has now been forgotten!
And if you’re one of those scratching their heads, wondering who she was and what she had done to deserve such an honor, you’ve come to the right place!
Marie Dressler is considered one of the greatest comedians of her time and one of Hollywood’s most admired star in history. At one time, she was the highest-paid celebrity in the film industry, earning more than Mickey Mouse or Greta Garbo.
In 1930, she won the coveted Oscar for Best Actress at the age of 60!. She was known for her signature style of harsh slapstick humor, which often challenged certain stereotypes and made her one of the most unconventional stars in Hollywood.
In 1933, Dressler was the first woman to grace the cover of Time magazine.
image credit: Experience cobourg
While these titles reflect her extraordinary success in the movie world, they were only achieved far later in Dressler’s career. A glimpse at her early life, stage career, and her transition to silent and talking pictures will reflect how a teenage Dressler had a dream of being on stage how she dared to follow those dreams and continued to persevere through thick and thin.
Dressler’s life story is worth discussing, not only for her successes but also for the utmost dedication she had to become successful in the entertainment business, and also for her unwavering determination to fulfill her dreams, despite having to face some failures and personal hardships.
She started young at the age of fourteen
Born in Ontario in 1986, she described herself as an ‘ugly duckling’ who despised her coldhearted father and hit the road when she was only 14. She began with theatrical parodies and comic opera, portraying roles like Katisha in The Mikado, and also got an opportunity to work with Lillian Russell, a renowned beauty of that era, who soon became her friend.
Dressler used to sell hot dogs
Known as “the greatest low comedienne of the world,” Marie Dressler always had skirmishes with managers and producers. She once let go of the theatre to sell hot dogs (YES!) on Coney Island but her willingness and determination pulled her back to the workaday world; she had been the ultimate salt of the earth kind of person who continued to give herself a few chances, despite all the odds.
Dressler may have been a lesbian
Dressler had been in several marriages, but they work out well. Mathew Kennedy, the author of Dressler’s biography, theorized that she was probably a lesbian. He wrote that she expressed a romantic connection to Claire Du Brey, a former actress, later in life. While she had few romantic/sexual encounters with both men and women, she had been least bothered with her relationships. She once stated, “Life is full of compensations.”
She had an unconventional beauty
image credit: You Must Remember This
When she hit her forties, Dressler made her first movie, Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914). In this movie, Dressler is featured as a massive, scary lady, not like the Divine of John Waters’ later disaster epics, and her self-assertive personality stood her out against the gracefulness of Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin.
Dressler was suicidal, at one point…
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During World War I, Dressler was involved in bond-selling activities and was influential in establishing an Actor’s Equity that ended up in blacklisting her partially. During the same period, she suffered from several critical illnesses that further slowed her down. As soon as she entered her fifties, Dressler hit back again with professional and personal humiliation for a long period.
At the same time, her signature style of humor no longer remained entertaining and was considered old-fashioned. She once had a performance where Dressler struggled and couldn’t get a laugh from audiences. At the end of her performance, a man said to Frances Marion, her screenwriter friend, sitting in the audience, “Pitiful, isn’t it?” When will those old-timers learn to quit?” Her fame was long-gone and her money diminishing, all these situations drove Dressler to a point where she was all set to go ahead with suicide.
A note from a director saved her life!
image credit: Silent Room
In a peculiar turn of events, director Allan Dwan noticed Dressler having dinner in a hotel and he then sent her a note offering a movie role he was working on; she later described that the note came to her when she was planning to jumping out of the window, going up to her room.
After portraying a small role in The Joy Girl (1927), Dwan’s movie, Dressler started to realize that there’s still some light and hope ahead. Her friend Frances Marion motivated Dressler to come to Hollywood for work. She first starred in small roles and eventually hit the jackpot in The Patsy (1928) as gorgon’s mother, Marion Davies. At that point, everyone knew that Dressler guaranteed her unexpected career comeback.
She rose to her career heights during the Great Depression
image credit: Britannica
When the world was struggling with the Great Depression, an old vaudeville trouper Marie Dressler found the greatest achievement of her struggling career. She signed many comedy movies such as Tugboat Annie (1933) and Min and Bill (1931), which turned out to be an ‘escape’ for people suffering from depression. She was the most beloved person for all the right reasons and at the time!
Dressler died of cancer
Dressler had cancer when she was busy with her hit movie, Dinner at Eight (1933), George Cukor’s comedy-drama revolved around monetary depression in high society. Later on Saturday, July 28, 1934, Dressler died of cancer in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 65.
It’s saddening that she couldn’t relish her unexpected run of luck just a bit longer.
The journey of Dressler’s career is considered as the most inspiring and influential display of the business tale.