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Mary Brian

Mary Brian (February 17, 1906 – December 30, 2002) was an American actress and movie star who made the transition from silents to talkies.

She was born Louise Byrdie Dantzler in Corsicana, Texas, the daughter of Taurrence J. Dantzler (December 1869-March 18, 1906) and Louise B. (August 12, 1876-April 3, 1973). Her brother was Taurrence J. Dantzler Jr. (August 9, 1903-April 6, 1973).

Her father died when she was one month old and the family later moved to Dallas. In the early 1920s, they moved to Long Beach, California, where she was discovered in a local beauty contest, given an audition by Paramount Pictures and cast by director Herbert Brenon as Wendy Darling in his silent movie version of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1924).

The studio, who created her stage name for the movie and said she was age 16 instead of 18, because the latter sounded too old for the role, then signed her to a long-term motion picture contract. Brian played Fancy Vanhern, daughter of Percy Marmont, in Brenon's The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), which had newcomer Louise Brooks in an uncredited debut role as a moll.

Brian was dubbed The Sweetest Girl in Pictures. On loan-out to MGM, she played a college belle, Mary Abbott, opposite William Haines and and Jack Pickford in Brown of Harvard (1926). She was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1926, along with Mary Astor, Dolores Costello, Joan Crawford, Dolores Del Rio, Janet Gaynor, and Fay Wray.

During her years at Paramount, Brian appeared in more than 40 movies as the juvenile lead, the ingenue or co-star. She worked with Brenon again in 1926 when she played Isabel in P. C. Wren's Beau Geste starring Ronald Colman. That same year she made Behind the Front and Harold Teen. In 1928, she played ingenue Alice Deane in Forgotten Faces opposite Clive Brook, her sacrificing father, with Olga Baclanova as her vixen mother and William Powell as Froggy. Like many of Brian's Paramount movies, Forgotten Faces, which was a big box-office hit, did not survive and is presumed lost for all time.

Her first talkie was Varsity (1928), which was filmed with part-sound and talking sequences, opposite Buddy Rogers. After successfully making the transition to sound, she co-starred with Gary Cooper, Walter Huston and Richard Arlen in one of the earliest Western talkies, The Virginian (1929), her first all-talkie feature. In it, she played a spirited frontier heroine, schoolmarm Molly Stark Wood, who was the love interest of the Virginian (Cooper).

Brian co-starred in several hits during the 1930s, including her role as Gwen Cavendish in George Cukor's comedy The Royal Family of Broadway (1930) with Ina Claire and Fredric March, as Peggy Grant in Lewis Milestone's comedy The Front Page (1931) with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien, and as Hope Wolfinger, W. C. Fields's daughter, in The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935).

Other movie roles include Murial Ross, aka Murial Rossi, in Shadows of Sing Sing (1933), in which she received top billing, Gloria Van Dayham in College Rhythm (1934), Yvette Lamartine in Charlie Chan in Paris (1935), Sally Barnaby in Spendthrift (1936) opposite Henry Fonda, and Doris in Navy Blues (1937), in which she received top billing.

After her contract with Paramount ended in 1932, Brian freelanced. That same year, she appeared on the vaudeville stage at New York's Palace Theatre. In 1936, she went to England and made three movies. She retired from the screen from 1937 to 1943.

Though she was engaged numerous times, Brian had only two husbands, magazine illustrator Jon Whitcomb (married May 4, 1941-divorced 1941) and film editor George Tomasini (1947-his death 1964).

She also toured in the stage comedy Mary Had a Little... in the 1940s. During World War II, she entertained servicemen in the South Pacific and in Europe. She spent Christmas of 1944 with the soldiers fighting the Battle of the Bulge.

Her last performance on the silver screen was in Dragnet (1947), a B-movie in which she played Anne Hogan opposite Henry Wilcoxon. Over the course of 22 years, Brian appeared in more than 79 movies. After retiring from the screen for good, she devoted herself to her husband's career; Tomasini worked as film editor for Hitchcock on the classics Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960).

During the 1950s, Brian made occasional TV appearances, including Meet Corliss Archer (1954) and Strike It Rich (1955). She also dedicated a lot of time to portrait painting in her retirement years.

She died of heart failure at age 96 in Del Mar, California. She is interred in the Eternal Love Section, Lot 4134, Space 2, Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery, Los Angeles, overlooking Burbank.

Mary Brian has a star for her contribution to motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1559 Vine Street in Hollywood.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

Mary Brian Facts

Birth NameLouise Byrdie Dantzler
BirthdayFebruary 17, 1908
BirthplaceCorsicana, Texas, USA
Date of deathDecember 30, 2002 (Del Mar, California, USA, age 94)
Height5' 2" (1m57)  How tall is Mary Brian compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Beauty and the Beast
Primal Fear
Beauty and the Beast: 25th Anniversary Edition
Scaredy Pants/I Was a Teenage Gary
9:00 A.M.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
Terra Nova
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