Mary Thurman — From a Beacher to a Feature (1921) 🇺🇸

Mary Thurman — From a Beacher to a Feature (1921) |

January 27, 2024

This should be called “The Evolution of Mary,” but that sounds like a treatise, and Mary isn’t the subject any one would pick for a treatise. You could write a treatise on “Our Maritime Trade in the Future” or “Bean Growing in Far-off Brazil” but you could’nt rate Mary Thurman with such stodgy things. It couldn’t be done, even though she has evolved.

by Malcolm H. Oettinger

Our story opens four years ago. The scene is the Sennett [Mack Sennett] squab farm, situated on Alessandro Street then as now, although perhaps a trifle less pretentious then. ‘We were watching Charlie Murray [Charles Murray] lead a quartet of decorative beach beauts through a little informal bacchanale. And as if in a Greek drama, on chorus duty, we all murmured, “Some chick!” We did not say, “Some chicks!” you will notice. Our gaze concentrated, focused intently on the bell wren of the flock — Mary Thurman. And we all agreed that she would go far, and soar high.

Our propheteering was rewarded when we visited Bill Hart’s [William S. Hart] reel ranch a year later. It was, to be exact, a year and a half later, in the summer of 1919. And who was eased in Bill’s checkered arms as the camera ground out the final footage? Whose vivid red lips met Bill’s as the deft Mr. August cranked the final close-up? Whose, indeed, but Mary Thurman’s. This was advancing, we all agreed. She had left the pies and high dives for the Western epics of the silversheet. She had forsaken Ford Sterling’s heroics for Bill Hart’s bashful wooing. We all smiled as we watched the scene, and some one voiced the sentiments of all when he said: “Lucky Bill!”

But the evolution process continues, fortissimo. For after all, the Hart job was not the pinnacle. It is all very well to be a Westerner’s sweetheart for film purposes, but a minimum of genuine acting ability is required: beauty counts. The leading woman opposite Bill Hart or Bill Farnum [William Farnum] or Harry Carey or Tom Mix need only look sweet and kiss with finesse: little else is essential. So you see there were higher steps remaining for Mary to climb.

The time is the present: the scene Dwan’s Hollywood studios, brand-new. And Alan Dwan [Allen Dwan] is talking:

“Yes, in The Broken Doll Miss Thurman’s name will be featured. I liked her work so well in The Sin of Martha Queed that I think she deserves this advance. She should be a real star within the year.”

When I met Mary Thurman, we took a quick run to Marcel’s, which is the place than which there is none than whicher to tea and dance in L. A. of a quiet afternoon. She looked almost exactly the same as she had looked at the Sennett chuckle foundry. Her red hair was just as tangled, and her lips just as laughing, and her eyes just as sparkling.

“‘S funny, you know,” she told me as we sped along Sunset Boulevard in the warm afternoon sun, “but when I felt that I had to do some regular dramatic stuff, they did their best to queer the notion.”

“Who are ‘they?’ I asked.

“Well, it was over at Lasky’s. I told Mr. Sennett that I wanted a shot at the Sarah Bernhardt, so he laughed and sent me up to Vine Street. Lasky’s and Sennett’s were in the same league then, you know. Now they’re friendly enemies. Anyway, Mr. De Mille [Cecil B. DeMille] looked me over at the Lasky offices, and studied me from every angle for about an hour and a half. It drove me wild. ‘Don’t I get a chance?’ I asked him. He grinned ironically. ‘Sure, bright-eyes.’ He cast me in a picture that made me play a fat, boob girl. You know boob boys are bad enough, but they can get a little sympathy. Well, there’s no hope for a boob girl. I went through with it though, and then left. And Mr. Dwan decided to take a chance with the beach redhead, for which I am duly thankful. It’s been wonderful under his guidance.”

When Mary talks, she chatters. Her manner is characterized by the much-used word “pep.” But that’s the word. Mary Thurman is an auburn-topped symphony with jazz interpolations; she is a living symbol for the exclamation point; she is that which causes the college man to gasp, “Oh, boy!” and the married man to murmur, “Oh, lady, lady!” You meet her at three o’clock, and at five you feel as though you have known her for ages — nor is it because the time drags. And Mary has the most complete vocabulary of up-to-date slang that this recorder has heard since some one last read him a George Ade highball.

“You can’t get me to chirp about art!” said Mary, laughing. “I’m no artist. But I’m wild about my work. The picture we’re wrapping up now hasn’t been christened yet, but it sure has a wallop. It packs a twenty-four— carat punch. I have a part that starts out weak but winds up with a cocktail kick. Why not breeze over to see some of the rushes to-night, at the Hollywood?”

A previous appointment prevented. I was sorry.

“Jim Kirkwood [James Kirkwood] is a great boy,’“ she remarked. “I’ve been lucky in leading men, I think. Charlie Murray and Bill Hart and Norm Kerry [Norman Kerry] and Jim Kirkwood — a good line-up, what? I’ll say so!”

You see stardom’s approaching gleams hasn’t upstaged the young lady a little bit. She’s still the beautiful redhead of the Sennett days. She has made the grade, on high, from beacher to feature. And if Alan Dwan is as good a prophet as we are, you will see Mary Thurman’s name blazing atop your favorite theater before many months.

“And you know what my ambition is?” asked Mary, as we were parting. “Well, lend me thine ear. This is the ambish; to invite Cecil B. DeMille to a preview of my first star picture!”

Mary Thurman — From a Beacher to a Feature (1921)

Mary Thurman is an auburn-topped symphony with jazz interpolations. She is a living symbol for the exclamation point.

A few people considered that Mary Thurman went pretty far in the days when she was a Sennett bathing girl, but her friends prophesied that soon she would go far, and soar high.

Mary Thurman — From a Beacher to a Feature | Pauline Starke — Fine Feathers and Ambition | 1921 |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, August 1921