Friday, October 5, 2018

What happened to Mary

‘Today I had to save some one from committing suicide by jumping from the top of the Woolworth Building, forty-third floor (in “Dolly of the Dailies” No. 6). It makes one very squeamish to go up in those flying elevators; my heart turned several flip-flops.’ This is from a diary kept by Mary Fuller, born 130 years ago today, and published at the time by a celebrity film magazine. Although she was a contemporary of Mary Pickford, and as famous for a few years, Mary Fuller is barely remembered today. She disappeared, almost overnight, before she was 30, and almost nothing is known about the rest of her life. Intriguingly, though, the diary entries, from the height of her fame, reveal that she must have visited London at some point, for she fondly remembers the Cheshire Cheese [a London pub on Fleet Street]!

Mary Fuller was born in Washington D.C. on 5 October 1888 to a prosperous lawyer and his wife. She was brought up with two sisters on a farm, but her father died in 1902. As a child she is said to have been interested in music, writing and art, and she liked to act in local amateur productions. In 1905, The Washington Post noted her work with The Thespians, a well-regarded amateur company of players, and by the age of 18 she was working as a stage actress. In 1907, she was performing with a troupe on tour when, during a short stopover in New York City, the company broke up. She was soon taken on by the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn, where she acted in one-reel films. In 1910, she was hired by Edison Film Company (controlled by Thomas Edison), and appeared in the first ever film adaptation of Frankenstein, as well as the first ever serial, What Happened to Mary?.

Fuller starred in many melodramas, and by 1914 she was as famous as (the now much better remembered) Mary Pickford. She also wrote screenplays, seeing at least eight of them turned into films. That same year, she moved to work for Carl Laemmle’s Universal Studios which had begun focussing is operation on the west coast, in the Hollywood area. She made more than 50 films for Universal before moving to Famous Players Fiction Studios (established in Hollywood in 1915, later to become Paramount), but only made one film there. In 1918, Mary Fuller simply disappeared, vanished more or less without trace, prompting many a journalist to use the headline: What Happened to Mary?. Some online bios mention her having made a lot of money on stock market investments, others that she suffered a broken heart and mental breakdown. A journalist found her in 1924, living in Washington D.C., with her mother, and reported that she had tired of the hard work involved in making pictures, and was living comfortably off the money she had invested.

Nothing more is known of Fuller’s life thereafter, except that she seems to have suffered chronically from further mental illness, and was confined to a hospital for decades. She died in Washington D.C. in 1973, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, IMDB, and in several posts on Gene Zonarich’s blog about the early film industry - 11 East 14th Street (Mary Fuller I, Mary Fuller II, The Two Marys).

During the mid-1910s, Mary Fuller was a huge celebrity, and thus regularly featured in the film magazines, such as Photoplay and Motion Picture Magazine, many of which can be readily accessed at Internet Archive. Indeed, Photoplay was so interested in her private life that it managed to get hold of one of her diaries - but refused to acknowledge how - and serialised several pages of extracts over two issues. Here is the magazine introducing the diary extracts: ‘It was a small green volume of limp leather, gilt-edged. On the front was a dancing elf and a spray of jasmine. It looked as if it might contain poems of spring spirit. And it did. How it came into our possession is not for publication. In self-defense, however, let it be stated that it was not stolen, and that the extracts made therefrom can do the great Edison leading woman no harm. In fact, those who read the following excerpts cannot fail to think more highly of the person who thus unconsciously unfolded the inner workings of her mind, because they reveal a mind of unusual intelligence and an insight into things that would do credit to a philosopher of riper years. The following extracts are copied verbatim, all names being omitted.’

And here are several of those extracts, some taken from Motion Picture Magazine (July 1914) and some from Motion Picture Magazine (August 1914).

17 March 1914
‘I have so many photoplays written and lying in my trunk, with no chance of producing them. I wonder if I will ever have an opportunity to put on all the things I visualize in my daydreams. To pioneer with one's original ideas must be very soul-satisfying. I also wish I could fall into the habit of going to bed early.’

18 March 1914
‘Tho spring is here. I decided to hang up some New Year’s resolutions, so I jotted down six. Three of them are here; the others are too personal to set down: 1. Do the best you can, and after that dont worry. 2. Seek and accept only the best, the highest; shun all else. 3. Make keen, select judgments and stick to them.’

19 March 1914
‘Received another letter from the little girl In Boston today. She recalled the Boston trip to my mind. I remember it was on February 16th - we worked all day and all night up to 8 o’clock Tuesday morning on “A Princess of the Desert.” (I dont know what it will look like, having been taken in twenty-four consecutive hours, and how I will look in it after a session like that.) Well, after stopping work at 8 a.m. that Tuesday morning, I went home, bathed, breakfasted, packed my bag, and our party left for Boston on the Knickerbocker Limited to attend the Exhibitors’ Ball that night. We arrived late, dined, dressed and departed in taxis for the ball, which I was to lead with the president of the Exhibitors’ League. Tho I had had no sleep since Sunday night, I was as lively as a cricket, and the applauding crowd intoxicated me. All of the photoplayers were introduced singly on the stage and loudly acclaimed. Supper in an anteroom and flashlight photos for the morning papers, and then I escaped still alive and very much awake. The rest of the week we took scenes in Boston streets for a picture, and I visited all the theaters and supped at the Touraine. Our party left on Saturday, after a very delightful stay.’

20 March 1914
‘___phoned today and thanked me for the gifts. Last week was her birthday. As I wasn’t working in the morning of that particular day, I looked over my mail, and then rushed for the train. Went down to her rooms, took some spring flowers and arranged them in a vase on the table, put a new silk waist on the dresser with a note and prepared a nice birthday surprise. Then I came uptown and left the things to be discovered by her when she came home in the evening. I like doing things that will please other people.’

21 March 1914
‘Rummaging in my trunk this evening, among faded love-letters and erstwhile emblems I found two of my baby photos. What a queer pollywog I was! but as they say homely children make handsome grown-ups, there is hope for me yet.’

22 March 1914
‘I worked this Sunday morning at the studio, and then flew to my beloved Philharmonic concert. I arrived in good time, and, taking my accustomed seat in the back, I opened the lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich and proceeded to lunch. The usher looked at me doubtfully every time he passed thru the radius of mayonnaise smell, but the quick demolition of the sandwich and my cheerful abstraction disarmed him. The concert had started, and I was absorbing the beauties of Grieg, when “Raven Locks” passed down the aisle. Being in working clothes, I hid down under my hat, hoping to pass unnoticed, but how can a personality of eloquent silence hope to get by unobserved? Just as I thought I was safe, he turned directly and bowed. During the intermission he came back, and we had a nice chat. “You dont need to be dressed up to enjoy music,” he said, and I agreed with him. He is the sort of quiet, poetic personality that I like. One does not meet them often. The program was very good, tho I cannot enthuse over the new Dvorak symphony; I have heard it several times, and it hasn’t registered yet.’

23 March 1914
‘I did battle with the dressmaker and tailor today. Dressmakers have whims of their own which cannot be dislodged, just as the genus “chauffeur” always goes down the street you dont wish to go down. Sweet perversities that come from heaven to test our patience and make us stronger! The dressmaker’s art is necessary, and no lovely thing can be born save with much travail.’

24 March 1914
‘Took some “Dolly” stuff on lower Broadway and dont say “Some crowd!” A million can collect in a minute down there when the camera is produced. It takes some manoevering to steal the scenes. We lunched at the Old Chop House, which is reminiscent of the Cheshire Cheese in London. I wonder if my signature and accompanying drawing is still in the visitors’ book at the Cheese. Dear old Cheese, the service is so bad there - and the ventilation.’

25 March 1914
‘Today I had to save some one from committing suicide by jumping from the top of the Woolworth Building, forty-third floor (in “Dolly of the Dailies” No. 6). It makes one very squeamish to go up in those flying elevators; my heart turned several flip-flops. The view of New York and the channel is superb from the balcony, and I hope we filmed some of that lovely “distance” as fast of porridge, two eggs, milk, toast and jelly, I hurried down to work. My studio frowned down on me with a 9.45 a.m. look. Dear studio - a part of my warm life!’

31 March 1914
‘Owing to the wreckage in the studio, we worked at the old Biograph on Fourteenth Street today. It is a small place, but rather homelike, and one’s forces seem more concentrated - the way I prefer to work. The rooms, not having been used for some time, smelled dank and musty, and all the ghosts of former Biograph days came and leaned over my shoulder and told me interesting things as I sat in the dressing-room waiting for my cue. It was like conquering Time to go back and live with the spirits of the past. Lovely ___ was there in the springtime of youth; and ___ in his poetic beauty, as he appeared in “The Oath and the Man”; and tall ___, recalling the first time I saw him on the screen, in satin coat and buckled shoes, blessing a child at a church corner, in the snow; and ___ like a lily fair; and the keen-eyed one whom ___. So many interesting shadows, I was sorry to leave them at 11 p.m., when our work was finished and we started for home.’

4 April 1914
‘I had a delicious time today going to three theaters, dining at my Mexican restaurant on tamales and hot dishes, and driving in the limousine. Going down Fifth Avenue, a newsboy urchin jumped up on the running-board and thrust his head in the window. He treated me to an unconvincing line of begging and ended by saying, “I’ll say a prayer for you. lady, if you help me out.” I helped him out, but I dont think I have need of prayers so much that Fate should send so ill a messenger to offer them. Saw ___ in a feature picture today. He is one of the film actors that I like. It was the first time I had seen him, either on the screen or in person. I suppose I should see more pictures, but there are so many other things that claim my attention first.’

6 April 1914
‘They blew me up with a Black Hand bomb today, doing “Dolly of the Dailies” (No. 7). The charge of dynamite was very heavy. The shack was wrecked, my clothes were torn and blackened, and blood ran from a scalp wound. It was exciting. I hope my “fans” will like it.’

7 April 1914
‘We finished Frederick the Great today. In one of the platform scenes I wore the black velvet Watteau hat trimmed with lilies that I sat up making late last night. It turned out a great success. I hope they dont cut that scene out.’

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