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Friday, 21 September 2012

What A Character Blogathon: Marjorie Main

When I think of Marjorie Main I can't help but link her with Judy Garland. Others may remember her as Ma Kettle but, for me, the pictures that spring into my head when I hear her name are from Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946) and Summer Stock (1950). This seems a shame since she didn't have leading roles in these films but they cemented my view of her as an excellent character actress and someone who always enhanced a film, although you didn't always pause to notice her.

Take her role as Katie in Meet Me In St. Louis for an example. She blends almost in the background of the Smith family as the sarcastic maid who, on being asked if she's seen the cat says, "I don't know. A while back she got in the way and I kicked her down the cellar steps. I could hear her spine hit on every step." But she's also an integral part of the family unit, keeping secrets for the girls. As she says, "Miss Smith, if I have to keep lying for your daughters, I'll have to have more money."

I think one of the things that attracts me most about Marjorie Main are those facial expressions. She's an excellent comic actress because of the way she involves every feature of her face in a simple smile or frown. And those eyes! One look from her can tell you more than eight pages of dialogue.

In The Harvey Girls she plays a stalwart Harvey 'girl'. She steals her first scene simply by chewing rhythmically. Sonora Cassidy is a no-nonsense woman and this allows Main some wonderful moments. She gets to dance with Ray Bolger and club Chill Wills over the head with a frying pan for a start.

Summer Stock sees her revert to being Garland's house helper. Esme works for Jane Falbury (Garland) but, as usual, isn't shy about making her thoughts known. Two women on a farm are susceptible to snoopers, she says, so she asks Jane to get some blanks: "If any man's willing to snoop around me, I don't want to kill him, just stun him." She gets all the best one-liners in her films. Summer Stock was Garland's last MGM film and it works because she's surrounded by people she works well with - Marjorie Main is certainly one of those. 

Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about Marjorie Main is the comedic warmth she exudes. Whenever she comes on screen all you have to do is keep your eyes on her and she'll do something funny, whether she's the focus of the action or not. Very few actors make me smile simply by chewing but she's one of them. 


Citizen Screen said...

LOVE Marjorie and the three films you highlight are my favorites as well. Great point you make about always having something to "say" on her face even when she's not the focus of a scene. If she's in the shot, she is entertaining! Great post on one of my favorites. I'll add one of the funniest scenes in Meet Me in St. Louis is when they're all hurrying through dinner because Rose is expecting a call from Warren. Love how Marjorie serves the soup and takes it right back. Too much.

Fun post and a great entry to our event! Thanks for taking part.


Jackie Brady said...

Love this post. M Main is fabulous. Love her one-liners. Always the best. :)

Paula said...

Great post! You've shown why Main is one of the best character actors around. Thanks for this :)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Marjorie Main was a hoot, and a terrific choice for this blogathon. Nice post. She's somebody I suppose we feel instantly familiar with and at home with because of her craggy warmth and wry humor.

silverscreenings said...

"One look from her can tell you more than eight pages of dialogue." So true! She was never a disappointment in any role. Also, I love the photos you've selected for this post. Great job!

CharmedLassie said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments!

As for the photos for this post, I had great fun screencapping (that is, watching Main's face for quite some time while I tried to get it just right). So happy with the first of the Harvey screencaps that it's now the background on my phone. I'll take pleasure in explaining who she is when somebody inevitably asks.

Joel Williams said...

Love her in Meet Me In St. Louis. 'What a character' is right on the money here. She's terrific. Thanks for the write-up.

LĂȘ said...

She was cast more as the comic character, but stole the scene! In Meet me in St. Louis she is so funny.
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

Caftan Woman said...

I base my housekeeping routine on Ma Kettle's. She's my idol.

A really fun movie for Marjorie Main fans is "Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone" where MM and James Whitmore are amateur detectives solving a murder on a train. Who could ask for anything more?

CharmedLassie said...

Haven't come across that one yet, Caftan, but you've definitely caught my interest! I'll be looking out for it.