A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... MARJORIE MAIN (February 24, 1890 – April 10, 1975)


Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? Well, don’t think too long, because the lady I’m about to introduce ain’t no lady!...unless you think of her as a lady-wrestler!

She’s Marjorie Main (February 24, 1890 – April 10, 1975), an American character actress, and one of the best known and most beloved contract players at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during its Golden Age. Born Mary Tomlinson in Acton, Indiana, Main attended Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, and adopted a stage name to avoid embarrassing her father, Samuel J. Tomlinson (married to Jennie L. McGaughey), who was a church minister. Main worked in vaudeville on the Chautauqua and Orpheum circuits, and debuted on Broadway in 1916. She remained in NYC doing plays until her first film, A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931) in which she is an uncredited walk-on. She continued working as background in films until she was cast as Mrs. Martin, mother to Barbara Stanwyck’s STELLA DALLAS (1937).

Main began playing upper class dowagers, but was ultimately typecast in abrasive, domineering, salty roles, for which her distinctive voice was well suited. She repeated her stage role in the gritty drama, DEAD END in the 1937 film version with Humphrey Bogart and the first appearance of the Dead End Kids, and was subsequently cast repeatedly as the mother of gangsters. She again transferred a strong stage performance, as a dude-ranch operator in the social comedy THE WOMEN, to film in 1939 starring heavy-hitters Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. At this time, she guest-starred on popular radio programs such as COLUMBIA PRESENTS CORWIN and THE GOLDBERGS, again because of her notorious voice.

Main was signed to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract in 1940 and stayed with the studio until the mid-1950s. She made six films with Wallace Beery in the 1940s (perhaps taking over for Marie Dressler who had paired with him a few times but died in 1934), including BARNACLE BILL (1941), JACKASS MAIL (1942), and BAD BASCOMB (1946). She played Sonora Cassidy, the chief cook, in THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) with Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury. The director, George Sidney, remarked in the commentary for the film that Miss Main was a "great lady" as well as a great actress who donated most of her paychecks over the years to the support of a school. Her waltz number with the rubberized Ray Bolger remains iconic MGM dancing at its most comic. Interestingly, although Main is remembered most fondly for her terrific comedies, she was also cast in dramatic pieces like SUSAN AND GOD (1940) and even film-noir like A WOMAN’S FACE (1941), both with Joan Crawford.

Perhaps her most recognizable role is that of Ma Kettle, which she first played in THE EGG AND I in 1947 opposite Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the part and portrayed the character in nine more Ma and Pa Kettle films.

By the end of the 1940s, she had appeared in several MGM musicals, including the blockbuster MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and SUMMER STOCK (both again with Judy Garland). She played Mrs. Wrenley in the studio's all-star film IT'S A BIG COUNTRY (1951). In 1954, Marjorie Main played her last roles for the studio: Mrs. Hittaway in THE LONG, LONG TRAILER with television mega-stars Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. In 1956, Main's performance as the widow Hudspeth in the hit film FRIENDLY PERSUASION starring  Gary Cooper was well-received, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1958, Main appeared twice as rugged frontierswoman Cassie Tanner in the episodes "The Cassie Tanner Story" and "The Sacramento Story" on NBC's Western television series, WAGON TRAIN. In the first segment, she joins the wagon train, casts her romantic interest on Ward Bond as Major Adams, and helps the train locate needed horses despite a Paiute threat.

During her life, Main was married only once, to Stanley LeFevre Krebs, who died in 1935. By her accounts, the marriage was happy, but not particularly close. Her biographer, Michelle Vogel, quotes a late interview in which the actress related: "Dr. Krebs wasn't a very practical man. I didn't figure on having to run the show, I kinda tired of it after a few years. We pretty much went our own ways but we was still in the eyes of the law, man and wife". Other sources indicate Main was, in actuality, devoted to her husband long after his death in 1935. In addition to her marriage, Vogel noted that Main and fellow film and TV star Spring Byington were reported widely as having had a long-term relationship. When asked about Byington's sexual orientation, Main acknowledged: "It's true, she didn't have much use for men."

In 1974, a year before her death, Main attended the Los Angeles premiere of the MGM documentary film THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT. It was her first public appearance since she retired from films in 1958. At the televised post-premiere party, she was greeted with cheers of enthusiasm and applause from the crowd of spectators. She died of lung cancer on April 10, 1975, at St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been admitted on April 3, at the age of 85. She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

[Want to read other fun and funny stories here on SybilSez.com? Just enter any topic that pops into your head in the "search" window on the upper right! Who knows what might come up?...and feel free to share them with your friends!]