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Marjorie Main

Best known as a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player and for her role as Ma Kettle in a series of ten Ma and Pa Kettle movies.

Marjorie Main

Filmography

1929      

Harry Fox and His Six American Beauties

 

1931      

A House Divided

 

1932      

Broken Lullaby

Hot Saturday

 

1933      

New Deal Rhythm

Close Relations

 

1934      

Art Trouble

Crime Without Passion

Music in the Air

 

1935      

Naughty Marietta

 

1937      

Love in a Bungalow

Stella Dallas

Dead End

The Man Who Cried Wolf

The Wrong Road

Boy of the Streets

The Shadow

 

1938      

City Girl

Penitentiary

King of the Newsboys

Test Pilot

Three Comrades

Romance of the Limberlost

Prison Farm

Little Tough Guy

Under the Big Top

Too Hot to Handle

Girls’ School

There Goes My Heart

 

1939      

Lucky Night

They Shall Have Music

The Angels Wash Their Faces

The Women

Another Thin Man

Two Thoroughbreds

 

1940      

I Take This Woman

Women Without Names

Dark Command

Turnabout

Susan and God

The Captain Is a Lady

Wyoming

 

1941      

The Wild Man of Borneo

The Trial of Mary Dugan

Barnacle Bill

A Woman’s Face

The Shepherd of the Hills

Honky Tonk

 

1942      

The Bugle Sounds

We Were Dancing

The Affairs of Martha

Jackass Mail

Tish

Tennessee Johnson

 

1943      

Heaven Can Wait

Johnny Come Lately

 

1944      

Rationing

Meet Me in St. Louis

Gentle Annie

 

1945      

Murder, He Says

 

1946      

The Harvey Girls

Bad Bascomb

Undercurrent

The Show-Off

 

1947      

The Egg and I

The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap

 

1948      

Feudin’, Fussin’ and A-Fightin”

 

1949      

Ma and Pa Kettle

Big Jack

 

1950      

Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town

Summer Stock

Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone

 

1951      

Mr. Imperium

Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm

The Law and the Lady

It’s a Big Country

A Letter from a Soldier

 

1952      

The Belle of New York

Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair

 

1953      

Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation

Fast Company

 

1954      

The Long, Long Trailer

Rose Marie

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home

Ricochet Romance

 

1955      

Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki

 

1956      

The Kettles in the Ozarks

Friendly Persuasion

 

1957      

The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm

Awards

Marjorie Main was nominated for one Best Actress in a Supporting Role Academy Award for The Egg and I (1947).

Most of the time I played mothers. That’s acting! ~ Marjorie Main

Marjorie Main was born Mary Tomlinson on February 24, 1890 in Acton, Indiana at her grandfather’s (Dr. Samuel McGaughey). Main attended Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, and adopted a stage name to avoid embarrassing her father, Samuel J. Tomlinson, who was a church minister.

Main worked in vaudeville on the Chautauqua and Orpheum circuits, and debuted on Broadway in 1916. Her first film was A House Divided in 1931.

Main began playing upper class dowagers, but was ultimately typecast in abrasive, domineering, salty roles, for which her distinctive voice was well suited. She repeated her stage role in Dead End in the 1937 film version and was subsequently cast repeatedly as the mother of gangsters. She again transferred a strong stage performance, as a dude-ranch operator in The Women, to film in 1939. At this time, she guest-starred on radio programs such as Columbia Presents Corwin and The Goldbergs.

Main was signed to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract in 1940 and stayed with the studio until the mid-1950s. She made six films with Wallace Beery in the 1940s, including Barnacle Bill (1941), Jackass Mail (1942), and Bad Bascomb (1946). She played Sonora Cassidy, the chief cook, in The Harvey Girls (1946). The director, George Sidney, remarked in the commentary for the film that Miss Main was a “great lady” as well as a great actress who donated most of her paychecks over the years to the support of a school.

Perhaps her most famous role is that of Ma Kettle, which she first played in The Egg and I in 1947 opposite Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the part and portrayed the character in nine more Ma and Pa Kettle films.

By the early 1950s, she had appeared in several MGM musicals, including, Meet Me in St. Louis and The Belle of New York. She played Mrs. Wrenley in the studio’s all-star film It’s a Big Country (1951). In 1954, Marjorie Main played her last roles for the studio: Mrs. Hittaway in The Long, Long Trailer and Jane Dunstock in Rose Marie. In 1956, Main’s performance as the widow Hudspeth in the hit film Friendly Persuasion was well-received, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1958, Main appeared twice as rugged frontierswoman Cassie Tanner in the episodes “The Cassie Tanner Story” and “The Sacramento Story” on NBC’s Western television series, Wagon Train. In the first segment, she joins the wagon train, casts her romantic interest on Ward Bond as Major Adams, and helps the train locate needed horses despite a Paiute threat.

Main married Stanley LeFevre Krebs, who died in 1935. By her accounts, the marriage was happy, but not particularly close. Her biographer, Michelle Vogel, quotes a late interview in which the actress related: “Dr. Krebs wasn’t a very practical man. I didn’t figure on having to run the show, I kinda tired of it after a few years. We pretty much went our own ways but we was still in the eyes of the law, man and wife”. Other sources indicate Main was, in actuality, devoted to her husband long after his death in 1935.

In 1974, a year before her death, Main attended the Los Angeles premiere of the MGM documentary film That’s Entertainment. It was her first public appearance since she retired from films in 1958. At the televised post-premiere party, she was greeted with cheers of enthusiasm and applause from the crowd of spectators. She died of lung cancer on April 10, 1975, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been admitted on April 3, at the age of 85. She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

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Marjorie Main
Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s “Ma Kettle”

Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s “Ma Kettle”

$29.95

She was a slum mother, witty housekeeper, nosy neighbor, meddling maid, town gossip, and most memorably, Ma Kettle. Marjorie Main is best remembered for her portrayal of the farm mother of 15 children and wife of shiftless Pa Kettle. The characters were introduced in the 1945 film The Egg and I, and...

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