Often played supporting roles as prim, professional women, secretaries, nurses, and housekeepers, who made sarcastic quips when the leading characters fell short of her high standards.
Blondie’s Blessed Event
The Mayor of 44th Street
Who Done It?
How’s About It
Rhythm of the Islands
My Kingdom for a Cook
Higher and Higher
The Decision of Christopher Blake
The Petty Girl
I’ll See You in My Dreams
Young Man with Ideas
The Story of Will Rogers
Bloodhounds of Broadway
Half a Hero
Ma and Pa Kettle at Home
Good Morning Miss Dove
Dance with Me Henry
Don’t Go Near the Water
The Proud Rebel
It Happened to Jane
One Hundred and One Dalmatians
The Sins of Rachel Cade
Fate Is the Hunter
How to Murder Your Wife
The Spirit Is Willing
Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows
Napoleon and Samantha
Touched by Love
The Canterville Ghost
The Christmas Gift
Postcards from the Edge
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Mary Wickes was never nominated for an Academy Award
I love playing good comedy with a heart, comedy which touches the audience. ~ Mary Wickes
Mary Wickes was born Mary Isabella Wickenhauser on June 13, 1910 to Frank Wickenhauser (1880-1943) and his wife Mary Isabella (née Shannon; died 1965) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Her parents were theater buffs and took her to plays from the time that she could stay awake through a matinee. An excellent student, she skipped two grades and graduated at 16 from Beaumont High School. She was accepted into Washington University in St. Louis, where she joined the debate team and the Phi Mu sorority, and was initiated into Mortar Board in 1929. She graduated in 1930 with a double major in English literature and political science. Although she had planned a career in law, a favorite professor encouraged her to try drama, and she shifted direction.
Wickes’s first Broadway appearance was in Marc Connelly’s The Farmer Takes a Wife in 1934 with Henry Fonda. She began acting in films in the late 1930s and was a member of the Orson Welles troupe on his radio drama The Mercury Theatre on the Air; she also appeared in Welles’s film Too Much Johnson (1938).
Her first and significant film appearances was in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), reprising her stage role of Nurse Preen.
A tall (5’10”), gangling woman with a distinctive voice, Wickes would ultimately prove herself adept as a comedian. She attracted attention in Now, Voyager (1942) as the wisecracking nurse who helped Bette Davis’s character during her mother’s illness. (She had already appeared earlier that year with Davis in The Man Who Came To Dinner and joined her again six years later in June Bride). In 1942, she also had a large part in the Abbott and Costello comedy Who Done It? She continued playing supporting roles in films during the next decade, usually playing wisecracking characters. A prime example was her deadpan characterization of the harassed housekeeper in the Doris Day vehicles On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon, a character type she would repeat in the holiday classic White Christmas (1954), starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. She played similar roles in two later movies with Rosalind Russell in the 1960s: The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.
Wickes moved to the new medium of television in 1949, starring in the title role of a Westinghouse Studio One version of Mary Poppins. In the 1950s, Wickes played the warm yet jocular maid Katie in the Mickey Mouse Club serial Annette and regular roles in the sitcoms Make Room for Daddy and Dennis the Menace. She also played the part of a ballet teacher, Madame Lamond, in the I Love Lucy episode “The Ballet” (1952). Wickes also served as the live-action reference model for Cruella De Vil in Walt Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and played Mrs. Squires in the film adaptation of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (1962).
In 1953, Wickes played Martha the housekeeper to Ezio Pinza’s character in the short-lived Bonino. In 1954-55, she played Alice on The Halls of Ivy, starring Ronald Colman.
In 1956, Wickes appeared with Thelma Ritter in “The Babysitter” episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Wickes also appeared in two episodes of Zorro. In the 1961-62 season, she appeared as Maxfield opposite Gertrude Berg and Cedric Hardwicke in Mrs. G. Goes to College. For her work in the sitcom, Wickes was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress”. In 1964, she appeared on The Donna Reed Show in the episode “First Addition”.
In 1964, she appeared as Ida Goff in five episodes of the series Temple Houston, with Jeffrey Hunter as an historical figure, the frontier lawyer Temple Lea Houston, youngest son of Sam Houston.
A longtime friend of Lucille Ball, Wickes played frequent guest roles on I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy. In 1970-1971, she guest starred on The Doris Day Show (Day was another of her friends). She was also a regular on the Sid and Marty Krofft children’s television show Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and the sitcom Doc. She made numerous appearances as a celebrity panelist on the game show Match Game. By the 1980s, her appearances in television series such as Our Man Higgins, M*A*S*H, The Love Boat, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Murder, She Wrote had made her a widely recognizable character actress. She also appeared in a variety of Broadway shows, including a 1979 revival of Oklahoma! as Aunt Eller, for which she received rave reviews.
She was cast as the mother of Shirley MacLaine’s character in the film Postcards from the Edge (1990) and portrayed Marie Murkin in the television movie and series adaptations of Father Dowling Mysteries (1989–91). She played Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act (1992) and in the sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993). She appeared in the film version of Little Women (1994) before she became ill.
Wickes suffered from numerous ailments in the last years of her life including kidney failure, massive gastrointestinal bleeding, severe low blood pressure, ischemic cardiomyopathy, anemia, and breast cancer (stage unknown), which cumulatively resulted in her death from surgical complications on October 22, 1995 at age 85.
Her final film role, voicing the gargoyle Laverne in Disney’s animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released posthumously in 1996. Wickes reportedly had only one voice recording session left for the film when she died. Jane Withers came in to finish the character’s remaining six lines of dialogue. She was interred beside her parents at the Shiloh Valley Cemetery in Shiloh, Illinois.
Unmarried and without children, Wickes left a large estate and made a $2 million bequest in memory of her parents, establishing the Isabella and Frank Wickenhauser Memorial Library Fund for Television, Film and Theater Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.
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