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Mae Marsh

Mae March had a career spanning over 50 years. The most frequently told of many stories of Marsh's childhood is that her father, a railroad auditor, died when she was four. Her family moved to San Francisco where her stepfather was killed in the great earthquake of 1906. Her great-aunt then took Mae and Marguerite, her older sister, to Los Angeles, hoping her show business background would open doors for jobs at various movie studios needing extras. However, her father, S.C. Marsh, was a bartender, not a railroad auditor, and he was alive at least as late as June, 1900, when Mae Marsh was nearly six. 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.

Mae worked as a salesgirl and loitered around the 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 had first starring role in the film Ramona (1910) at the age of 15.

I tagged my way into motion pictures, Mae 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."


Mae 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 Mary 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 Mary, each refusing in turn to play the part, citing the same objection. Mae was willing and eager for an opportunity to advance in the ranks.

Working with Mack Sennett and D.W. Griffith, she was a prolific actress, sometimes appearing in eight movies a year and often paired the fellow young Sennett protegé Robert Harron in romantic roles. In The Birth of a Nation (1915) she played the innocent sister who waits for her brothers to come home from war and who, in one of the film's most racially charged scenes, leaps to her death rather than submit to the lustful advances of Gus, the so-called renegade Negro who is later killed by the Ku Klux Klan. In Intolerance (1916) she plays the wife who has her baby taken away after her husband is unjustly convicted of murder. Both films were controversial in their day and still are, particularly The Birth of a Nation, but most critics agree that Marsh was impressive in both.

She 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.

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


Marsh returned from retirement to appear in talkies 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). 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.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2008.

Mae Marsh Facts

Birth NameMary Wayne Marsh
BirthdayNovember 9, 1895
BirthplaceMadrid, New Mexico, USA
Date of deathFebruary 13, 1968 (Hermosa Beach, California, USA, age 72)
Height5' 3" (1m60)  How tall is Mae Marsh compared to you?

Selected Filmography

The Phillip Diedesheimer Story
The Birth of a Nation
Song Of Bernadette, The
The Searchers
The Tall Men
Miracle on 34th Street
The Gunfighter
While the City Sleeps
A Blueprint For Murder
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