Marie Dressler's smiles, tears, triumphs and even her grumpy old ways in character parts throbbed from screens throughout the world.
Self-styled an "ugly duckling," Dressler soared to the heights of fame and won a best actress Oscar in 1930. A poll of 12,000 theater owners and managers once named her a greater box-office attraction than Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Janet Gaynor or the mighty rodent, Mickey Mouse.
She began on the stage as a child, soared to stardom, tried films, went back to the stage and after World War I slumped to the depths.
A friendly turn placed her in a movie in the role of old Marthy in "Anna Christie." Lon Chaney had called her the greatest character actress in the country. That's why she got the part. She stole the picture and zoomed to success.
Dressler made her first motion picture in 1914, a Mack Sennett production of "Tillie's Punctured Romance." In the company with her were two young and unknown players, Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand, who skyrocketed to fame because of their success in that film.
The stage, however, was Dressler's first love and she returned to it. Then came the World War, during which the actress toured the country devoting herself to selling Liberty Bonds.
The postwar period found Dressler in desperate circumstances. She was no longer a young woman. She belonged to a past era. For nine years she did not work. With her savings practically vanished, films and California seemed to offer her hope.
"They don't want old women on screen," she said. "They want youth and beauty. I wouldn't have a chance."
However, she tried Hollywood. With the aid of a friend, she landed the part in "Anna Christie." Success was hers.
A long-term contract followed and she appeared in such hits as "Min and Bill," "Reducing," "Politics," Prosperity," "Emma," "Dinner at Eight," "Caught Short," "Tugboat Annie" and "The Late Christopher Bean," her last motion picture.
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