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Mary Wickes

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.

Mary Wickes

Filmography

1942      

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Blondie’s Blessed Event

Private Buckaroo

The Mayor of 44th Street

Now, Voyager

Who Done It?

 

1943      

How’s About It

Rhythm of the Islands

My Kingdom for a Cook

Happy Land

Higher and Higher

 

1948      

June Bride

The Decision of Christopher Blake

 

1949      

Anna Lucasta

 

1950      

The Petty Girl

 

1951      

On Moonlight Bay

I’ll See You in My Dreams

 

1952      

Young Man with Ideas

The Story of Will Rogers

Bloodhounds of Broadway

 

1953      

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

Half a Hero

The Actress

 

1954      

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home

White Christmas

Destry

 

1955      

Good Morning Miss Dove

 

1956      

Dance with Me Henry

 

1957      

Don’t Go Near the Water

 

1958      

The Proud Rebel

 

1959      

It Happened to Jane

 

1960      

Cimarron

 

1961      

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

The Sins of Rachel Cade

 

1962      

The Music Man

 

1964      

Fate Is the Hunter

Dear Heart

 

1965      

How to Murder Your Wife

 

1966      

The Trouble with Angels

 

1967      

The Spirit Is Willing

 

1968      

Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows

 

1972      

Napoleon and Samantha

Snowball Express

 

1980      

Touched by Love

 

1985      

The Canterville Ghost

 

1986      

The Christmas Gift

 

1990      

Postcards from the Edge

 

1992      

Sister Act

 

1993      

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit

 

1994      

Little Women

 

1996      

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Awards

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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