This month our blog series is “They Call Me Wilson,” and we will be looking at actors with the last name of Wilson. Today we begin our series with Marie Wilson, a familiar face in television in the 1950s.
Marie was born Katherine Elizabeth Wilson in August of 1916 in California. Her nickname in high school was “Maybelle.” After her father died, the family moved to Hollywood. She graduated from high school in 1933, and by 1934, she had received her first movie credit. One source mentioned that her parents divorced when she was only seven months old and her father, Wally Wilson, passed away when she was five. She received an $11,000 trust which helped her take time to pursue a career in acting. Her stepfather, Frank White, raised her.
Her first role was as a passenger in Down to Their Last Yacht, but she would go on to appear in more than fifty films. The plot of this movie was that a family loses everything in the Depression except their yacht. Several men who feel bad for their daughter decide to host a Monte Carlo night. The group rigs the roulette wheel so that the house is the winner although she knows nothing about it.
From 1947 to 1953 she also accepted a role on radio as the scatterbrained Irma on My Friend Irma. The show was very popular with well-written scripts and accomplished acting.
During this time, she also starred in a couple of films about Irma in My Friend Irma and My Friend Irma Goes West. A duo by the name of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis starred in the movie version of My Friend Irma.
Not content with Irma occupying space in two big medias, My Friend Irma aired on television from 1952-1954. Irma was a secretary living with roommate and friend Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis) in a run-down apartment owned by Mrs. O’Reilly (Gloria Gordon). Neighbor Professor Kropotkin (Sig Arno) got involved in the girls’ lives as well as Jane’s boyfriend, millionaire Richard Rhinelander III (Brooks West) whose mother was played by the amazing Margaret Dumont. After Jane moves to Panama at the end of season one, Kay Foster (Mary Shipp) became Irma’s new roommate. Her boyfriend was Joe Vance (Hal March). The new neighbor was Mr. Corday (John Carradine), an actor and just for some new plots, Irma’s seven-year-old nephew Bobby (Richard Eyer) moves into the apartment.
During her time on radio, she married actor Allan Nixon. Apparently, he struggled because he was a bit player while her career flourished. He was arrested numerous times for drunk and disorderly conduct, and they divorced in 1950. Another big disappointment occurred in 1950 when she lost the role of Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday to Judy Holliday.
The following year she married Robert Fallon, another fellow actor, and they remained together until her death in 1972.
Marie’s appearances on television waned in the sixties. She appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960 and on Comedy Spot in 1962. Comedy Spot had a different premise. As a summer replacement for Red Skelton, it featured unsold pilots for comedy series and reruns from comedic anthology shows.
In 1963 she would appear on two episodes of Burke’s Law and in one episode of Empire.
In 1970 she returned to a weekly animation series on Where’s Huddles? She had the role of football wife Penny McCoy. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only ten episodes. This show was about the lives of football families on and off the field and featured a lot of talent including Paul Lynde, Jean Vander Pyl, Allan Reed, and Mel Blanc.
Her last appearance was on Love American Style as Margaret Cooperman in 1972 in “Love and the Girlish Groom.”
Wilson was recognized for each of her Irma media hits with a Walk of Fame star for radio at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard, for television at 6765 Hollywood Boulevard, and for movies at 6601 Hollywood Boulevard.
Not many actresses can claim their leg is a famous sculpture but Wilson’s left leg was used to cast a 35-foot sculpture located outside the Theme Hosiery plant in Los Angeles. The leg was wearing nylons to promote them to the public in 1949.
Marie had a long and successful career but was typecast early in life and unable to shake that image. It may have contributed her loss of the part in Born Yesterday which might have changed her career dramatically. Discussing her life in entertainment, Wilson said “Show business has been very good to me and I’m not complaining, but some day I just wish someone would offer me a different kind of role. My closest friends admit that whenever they tell someone they know me, they have to convince them that I’m really not dumb. To tell you the truth, I think people are disappointed that I’m not.”
As we’ve seen so often in this blog, it’s hard not to be grateful for a lucrative career in entertainment, but it’s tough to be locked into one type of role and never given a chance to show your depths as an actor. Thanks for being our friend, Marie.