Mae Marsh

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Mae Marsh
Mae Marsh 1916.jpg
Publicity photo of Marsh, 1916
Mary Warne Marsh

(1894-11-09)November 9, 1894
DiedFebruary 13, 1968(1968-02-13) (aged 73)
Resting placePacific Crest Cemetery
Redondo Beach, California
Years active19101964
Louis Lee Arms
(m. 1918)
Relatives Marguerite Marsh
Frances Marsh
Oliver T. Marsh

Mae Marsh (born Mary Warne Marsh; [1] November 9, 1894 [2] – February 13, 1968) was an American film actress whose career spanned over 50 years.


Early life

Mae Marsh was born Mary Warne Marsh in Madrid, New Mexico Territory, on November 9, 1894. [3] She was one of seven children of Mae T. (née Warne) and Stephen Charles Marsh. By 1900, the Marsh family had moved to El Paso, Texas, where Mary's father worked as a bartender. [4] Mae's father died in 1901, and the following year, her mother married William Hall, a native of Virginia. The family later moved to California, where Mae attended Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Hollywood as well as public school. [1]

A frequently told story of Marsh's childhood is "Her father, a railroad auditor, died when she was four. Her family moved to San Francisco, California, where her stepfather was killed in the great earthquake of 1906. Her great-aunt then took Mae and [her older sister] Marguerite to Los Angeles, hoping her show business background would open doors for jobs at various movie studios needing extras." [3] :113 However, her father, S. Charles Marsh, was a bartender, not a railroad auditor, and he was alive at least as late as June 1900, when Marsh was nearly six. [2] Her stepfather, oil-field inspector William Hall, could not have been killed in the 1906 earthquake, as he was alive, listed in the 1910 census, living with her mother and sisters. [5]

Marsh worked as a salesgirl and loitered around the Hollywood sets and locations while her older sister worked on a film, observing the progress of her sister's performance. She first started as an extra in various movies, and played her first substantial role in the film Ramona (1910) at the age of 15.

“I tagged my way into motion pictures,” Marsh recalled in The Silent Picture. “I used to follow my sister Marguerite to the old Biograph studio and then, one great day, Mr. Griffith noticed me, put me in a picture and I had my chance. I love my work and though new and very wonderful interests have entered my life, I still love it and couldn't think of giving it up.” [3] :114

Career rise

Marsh worked with D. W. Griffith in small roles at Biograph when they were filming in California and in New York. Her big break came when Mary Pickford, resident star of the Biograph lot and a married woman at that time, refused to play the bare-legged, grass-skirted role of Lily-White in Man's Genesis . Griffith announced that if Pickford would not play that part in Man's Genesis, she would not play the coveted title role in his next film, The Sands of Dee . The other actresses stood behind Pickford, each refusing in turn to play the part, citing the same objection.

Years later, Marsh recalled in an interview in The Silent Picture: “...and he called rehearsal, and we were all there and he said, ‘Well now, Miss Marsh, you can rehearse this.’ And Mary Pickford said ‘What!’ and Mr. Griffith said ‘Yes, Mary Pickford, if you don't do what I tell you I want you to do, I'm going to have someone else do The Sands of Dee. Mary Pickford didn't play Man's Genesis so Mae can play The Sands of Dee.’ Of course, I was thrilled, and she was very much hurt. And I thought, ‘Well it's all right with me. That is something.’ I was, you know, just a lamebrain.” [3] :117

Working with Mack Sennett and D. W. Griffith, she was a prolific actress, sometimes appearing in eight movies per year and often paired with fellow Sennett protégé Robert Harron in romantic roles. [6]

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Marsh in The Birth of a Nation (1915) Mae Marsh 1915.jpg
Marsh in The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Marsh, in the memoir Screen Acting (1921) recalled her performance as “ Little Sister” in the “cellar scene” in which Union cavalry invade the Cameron family plantation in The Birth of a Nation, an example of her “counter-dramatic” acting: [7]

It was a matter of some moment of how [my character] the Little Sister would be affected. I can hear your average director: “Roll your eyes” he would say, “Cry! Drop to your knees in terror!” In other words, it would be the same old stuff...

Mr. Griffith, when he came to the cellar scene, asked me if there had been a time in my life when I had been filled with terror:

“Yes.” I said.

“What did you do?” he inquired.

“I laughed,” I answered.

He saw the point immediately. “Good” he said, “let’s try it.”

It was the hysterical laugh of the little girl in the cellar…that was far more effective than rolling the eyes or weeping would have been.” [8]

Intolerance (1916)

Marsh in Intolerance (1916) Intolerance, 1916, la ragazza (Mae Walsh) al processo.jpg
Marsh in Intolerance (1916)

D. W. Griffith's cinematic handling of the courtroom episode in Intolerance, in particular his use of close-ups for “dramatic intensity,” are widely recognized. [9] According to film historian Paul O’Dell, “Mae Marsh gave to Intolerance one of her most memorable” portrayals, [10] identifying her role as the “Dear One” as integral to the film's success:

Much more mention should be made of the performance of Mae Marsh, which in this scene reaches one of its many peaks. Sir Alexander Korda included her performance as one of the most outstanding pieces of acting in the silent film era, and June Berry rated her playing of the Dear One as only second to Falconetti’s Joan of Arc (1928). [11]

Mae Marsh, in her 1923 memoir Screen Acting, comments on her struggle to fully deliver the sequence: “The hardest dramatic work I ever did was the courtroom scene in Intolerance. We retook the scenes on four different occasions. Each time I gave to the limit of my vitality and ability. I put everything into my portrayal that was in me...” [11]

March signed a lucrative contract with Samuel Goldwyn worth $2,500 per week after Intolerance, but none of the films she made with him were particularly successful. After her marriage to Lee Arms, a publicity agent for Goldwyn, in 1918, her film output decreased to about one per year.

She starred in the 1918 film Fields of Honor. Marsh's last notable starring role was as a flapper for Griffith in The White Rose (1923) with Ivor Novello and Carol Dempster. She re-teamed with Novello for the film version of his hit stage play The Rat (1925).

In 1955, Marsh was awarded the George Eastman Award, [12] given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Sound films

Marsh returned from retirement to appear in sound films and played a role in Henry King’s remake of Over the Hill (1931). She gravitated toward character roles, and worked in this manner for the next several decades. Marsh appeared in numerous popular films, such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932) and Little Man, What Now? (1934). She was co-starred with Henry B. Walthall again in Bachelor of Arts (1934). She also became a favorite of director John Ford, appearing in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), 3 Godfathers (1948), and The Searchers (1956).

Marsh has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1600 Vine Street.

Personal life and death

Marsh married Louis Lee Arms, Samuel Goldwyn's publicity agent, in Manhattan on September 21, 1918, . [13] The couple, who had four children, remained together for 50 years, until 1968, when Mae died from a heart attack at Hermosa Beach, California. [14] [15] Louis died at the age of 101 on June 11, 1989. [16] They are buried together in Section 5 at Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach, California. [15]



1910 Ramona
1910Serious Sixteen
1911 Fighting Blood
1912The Siren of Impulse
1912 A Voice from the Deep On BeachUncredited
Lost film
1912 Just Like a Woman In Club
1912 One Is Business, the Other Crime
1912 The Lesser Evil The Young Woman's Companion
1912The Old Actor
1912When Kings Were the LawAt CourtUncredited
1912 A Beast at Bay The Young Woman's Friend
1912 Home Folks At Barn Dance
1912 A Temporary Truce A Murdered SettlerUncredited
1912Lena and the GeeseThe 'Adopted' Daughter
1912 The Spirit Awakened The Renegade Farmhand's SweetheartLost film
1912The School Teacher and the WaifSchoolgirl
1912An Indian SummerThe Widow's DaughterLost film
1912Man's GenesisLillywhite
1912 The Sands of Dee Mary
1912 The Inner Circle
1912The Kentucky GirlBelle Hopkins - Bob's SisterLost film
1912The ParasiteRose FletcherLost film
1912 Two Daughters of Eve
1912For the Honor of the SeventhThe Girl in TownLost film
1912 Brutality The Young Woman
1912 The New York Hat Second Gossip
1912The Indian Uprising at Santa FeJuanLost film
1913 Three Friends The Wife's FriendLost film
1913 The Telephone Girl and the Lady The Telephone Girl
1913 An Adventure in the Autumn Woods The GirlLost film
1913 The Tender Hearted Boy The Tender-Hearted Boy's SweetheartLost film
1913 Love in an Apartment Hotel Angelina Millingford, a MaidLost film
1913 Broken Ways Minor RoleUncredited
1913 A Girl’s Stratagem The Young WomanLost film
1913 Near to Earth One of Marie's FriendsLost film
1913 Fate Mother, Loving Family
1913The Perfidy of MaryMary
1913 The Little Tease The Little Tease, as an Adult
1913 The Lady and the Mouse Minor RoleUncredited
1913 The Wanderer The Other Parents' Daughter, as an Adult
1913His Mother's SonThe Daughter
1913 A Timely Interception Minor RoleUncredited
1913 The Mothering Heart Minor RoleUncredited
1913Her Mother's OathIn ChurchLost film
1913The ReformersThe DaughterLost film
1913 Two Men of the Desert Lost film
1913Primitive Man
1913For the Son of the HouseThe Young WomanLost film
1913Influence of the UnknownThe Young WomanLost film
1913 The Battle at Elderbush Gulch Sally Cameron
1914 Brute Force Lillywhite
1915The VictimMary Hastings, Frank's WifeLost film
1915Big Jim's HeartLost film

Silent features

1914 Judith of Bethulia Naomi
1914 The Great Leap; Until Death Do Us Part Mary GibbsLost film
1914 Home, Sweet Home Apple Pie Mary Smith
1914 The Escape Jennie JoyceLost film
1914 The Avenging Conscience The Maid
1914Moonshine MollyMolly BooneLost film
1915 The Birth of a Nation Flora Cameron - The Pet Sister
1915The OutcastThe Girl of the Slums
1915 The Outlaw's Revenge The American loverLost film
1915Her Shattered IdolMae Carter
1916 Hoodoo Ann Hoodoo Ann
1916A Child of the Paris StreetsJulie / the Child-Wife
1916A Child of the StreetsLost film
1916The Wild Girl of the SierrasThe Wild GirlLost film
1916The Marriage of Molly-OMolly-OLost film
1916 Intolerance The Dear One
1916The Little LiarMaggieLost film
1916 The Wharf Rat Carmen WagnerLost film
1917 Polly of the Circus Polly
1917 Sunshine Alley NellLost film
1917 The Cinderella Man Marjorie Caner
1918Field of HonorMarie MessereauLost film
1918 The Beloved Traitor Mary Garland
1918 The Face in the Dark Jane RidgewayLost film
1918 All Woman Susan SweeneyLost film
1918 The Glorious Adventure Carey WethersbeeLost film
1918Money MadElsie DeanLost film
1918 Hidden Fires Peggy Murray / Louise ParkeLost film
1918The Racing StrainLucille CameronLost film
1919The Bondage of BarbaraBarbara GreyLost film
1919 Spotlight Sadie Sadie SullivanLost film
1919The Mother and the LawThe Little Dear One
1920 The Little 'Fraid Lady Cecilia CarneLost film
1921 Nobody's Kid Mary CaryLost film
1922 Till We Meet Again Marion BatesLost film
1922 Flames of Passion Dorothy Hawke
1923 Paddy the Next Best Thing PaddyLost film
1923 The White Rose Bessie 'Teazie' Williams
1924 Daddies Ruth Atkins
1924 Arabella ArabellaLost film
1925 Tides of Passion CharityLost film
1925 The Rat Odile Etrange
1928Racing ThroughLost film


1931 Over the Hill Ma Shelby
1932 Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm Aunt Jane
1932 That's My Boy Mom Scott
1933 Alice in Wonderland Sheep
1934 Little Man, What Now? Wife of Karl Goebbler
1935 Bachelor of Arts Mrs. Mary Barth
1935 Black Fury Mrs. Mary Novak
1936 Hollywood Boulevard Carlotta Blakeford
1939 Drums Along the Mohawk Pioneer WomanUncredited
1939 Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence Empire State Building TouristUncredited
1939 Swanee River Mrs. Jonathan FryUncredited
1940 The Man Who Wouldn't Talk Mrs. Stetson
1940 The Grapes of Wrath Muley's WifeUncredited
1940 Four Sons TownswomanUncredited
1940 Young People Maria Liggett
1941 Tobacco Road County Clerk's AssistantUncredited
1941 The Cowboy and the Blonde Office WorkerUncredited
1941 For Beauty's Sake Night ManagerUncredited
1941 Belle Starr Preacher's WifeUncredited
1941 Great Guns Aunt Martha
1941 Swamp Water Mrs. McCordUncredited
1941 How Green Was My Valley Miner's WifeUncredited
1941 Remember the Day TeacherUncredited
1942 Blue, White and Perfect Mrs. Bertha Toby
1942 Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake Mrs. PurdyUncredited
1942 It Happened in Flatbush Aunt Mae, Team Co-OwnerUncredited
1942 Tales of Manhattan MollyRobinson sequence
1942 Just Off Broadway Autograph SeekerUncredited
1942 The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe Mrs. PhillipsUncredited
1942 The Man in the Trunk Mrs. IngeUncredited
1942 Quiet Please, Murder Miss HartwigUncredited
1943 The Meanest Man in the World Old LadyUncredited
1943 Dixie Dugan Mrs. Sloan
1943 The Moon Is Down VillagerUncredited
1943 Tonight We Raid Calais French TownswomanUncredited
1943 The Song of Bernadette Madame Blanche - TownswomanUncredited
1943 Jane Eyre LeahUncredited
1944 The Fighting Sullivans Neighbor of Mrs. GriffinUncredited
1944 Buffalo Bill Arcade CustomerUncredited
1944 Sweet and Low-Down Apartment House TenantUncredited
1944 In the Meantime, Darling EmmaUncredited
1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Tynmore SisterUncredited
1945 State Fair Ring-Toss SpectatorUncredited
1945 The Dolly Sisters AnnieUncredited
1945 Leave Her to Heaven FisherwomanUncredited
1946 Johnny Comes Flying Home Bus PassengerUncredited
1946 Smoky Woman Watching ParadeUncredited
1946 My Darling Clementine Simpson's SisterUncredited
1947 The Late George Apley DressmakerUncredited
1947 Miracle on 34th Street Woman in Santa LineUncredited
1947 Thunder in the Valley Flower VendorUncredited
1947 Mother Wore Tights Resort GuestUncredited
1947 Daisy Kenyon Woman Leaving ApartmentUncredited
1948 Fort Apache Mrs. Gates
1948 Green Grass of Wyoming Race SpectatorUncredited
1948 Deep Waters Molly Thatcher
1948 The Snake Pit Tommy's MotherUncredited
1948 3 Godfathers Mrs. Perley Sweet
1949 A Letter to Three Wives Miss JenkinsUncredited
1949 Impact Mrs. King
1949 It Happens Every Spring Greenleaf's MaidUncredited
1949 The Fighting Kentuckian Sister Hattie
1949 Everybody Does It Higgins - the Borlands' MaidUncredited
1950 When Willie Comes Marching Home Mrs. Clara FettlesUncredited
1950 The Gunfighter Mrs. O'BrienUncredited
1950 My Blue Heaven MaidUncredited
1950 The Jackpot Mrs. Woodruff in PhotoUncredited
1951 The Model and the Marriage Broker Talkative PatientUncredited
1952 The Quiet Man Father Paul's MotherUncredited
1952 Night Without Sleep MaidUncredited
1953 The Sun Shines Bright G.A.R. Woman at the Ball
1953 Titanic Woman to Whom Norman Gave His SeatUncredited
1953 Powder River TownswomanUncredited
1953 A Blueprint for Murder Anna Swenson - Lynne's HousekeeperUncredited
1953 The Robe Jerusalem Woman Aiding DemetriusUncredited
1954 A Star Is Born Malibu Party GuestUncredited
1955 Prince of Players Witch in 'Macbeth'Uncredited
1955 The Tall Men EmigrantUncredited
1955 The Girl Rush Casino PatronUncredited
1955 Good Morning, Miss Dove Woman in BankUncredited
1955 Hell on Frisco Bay Mrs. Cobb - Steve's LandladyUncredited
1956 While the City Sleeps Mrs. Manners
1956 The Searchers Dark Cloaked Woman at Fort Guarding Deranged WomanUncredited
1956 Girls in Prison 'Grandma' Edwards
1956 Julie Hysterical Passenger
1957 The Wings of Eagles Nurse CrumleyUncredited
1958 Cry Terror! Woman in ElevatorScenes deleted
Replaced by Marjorie Bennett
1958 The Last Hurrah Mourner at WakeUncredited
1960 Sergeant Rutledge Mrs. Nellie HackettUncredited
1960 From the Terrace Sandy's GovernessUncredited
1961 Two Rode Together Hanna CleggUncredited
1963 Donovan's Reef Family Council MemberUncredited
1964 Cheyenne Autumn WomanUncredited

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  1. 1 2 Sicherman, Barbara; Green, Carol Hurd (1980). Notable American Women: The Modern Period : a Biographical Dictionary . Harvard University Press. pp.  457–458. ISBN   9780674627338 . Retrieved September 8, 2018. Mae Marsh.
  2. 1 2 U.S. Census records for 1900, El Paso, Texas, Sheet No. 6
  3. 1 2 3 4 Menefee, David W. (2004). The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 113–125. ISBN   9780275982591 . Retrieved September 8, 2018.
  4. "Twelfth Census of the United States: Population Schedule, 1900", image of original enumeration page showing Mae Marsh (daughter) and other children in household of S[tephen] C[harles] Marsh and his wife "May", El Paso, Texas, June 1, 1900. Census page retrieved via FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2023.
  5. U.S. Census records for 1910, Los Angeles, California, Sheet No. 4A
  6. O’Dell, 1970 p. 49: O’Dell refers to an unpublished manuscript title Mae Marsh and Robert Harron by Harold Dunham. See Bibliography, p. 157, note no. 4
  7. O’Dell, 1970 p. 16-17: Marsh “conveys beautifully the drama and tension of the situation through what might be called counter-dramatic terms...”
  8. O’Dell, 1970 p. 16-17: Minor changes to punctuation for clarity, italics added for same. Quoted here, ellipsis in O’Dell And p. 157: Bibliography: footnote no. 1, Mae Marsh in Screen Acting, Photo Star Publishing Co., 1921
  9. O’Dell, 1970 p. 72: “...the extreme close-up shots...are much quoted and illustrated as examples of Griffith's use of this technique...”
  10. O’Dell, 1970 p. 8
  11. 1 2 O’Dell, 1970 p. 73-74
  12. "Eastman House award recipients · George Eastman House Rochester". Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  13. "New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1938", marriage license and certificate of Louis Lee Arms and Mary Warne Marsh, September 21, 1918, Manhattan, New York City. Retrieved via FamilySearch, March 30, 2023.
  14. "Death of Mae Marsh", obituary, Los Angeles Times , February 18, 1968, p. F5. Retrieved via ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Ann Arbor, Michigan); subscription access through The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, March 30, 2023.
  15. 1 2 "Mae Marsh" (1894–1968), memorial, 5849996, Pacific Crest Cemetery, Redondo Beach, Los Angeles County, California. Accessed via Find a Grave (Lehi, Utah), online database, March 30, 2023.
  16. "California Death Index, 1940-1997," database, Louis Lee Arms, 11 June 1989; California Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento. Retrieved via FamilySearch, March 30, 2023.