Mary Carlisle (born Gwendolyn Witter; February 3, 1914 – August 1, 2018) was an American actress, singer, and dancer, she was best known for her roles as a wholesome ingénue in numerous 1930s musical-comedy films.
She was the standard prototype of the porcelain-pretty collegiate and starry-eyed romantic interest in a host of Depression-era films and although her name may not ring a bell to most, Mary Carlisle enjoyed a fairly solid decade in the cinematic limelight.
The petite Boston-born, blue-eyed blonde was born on February 3, 1914, and brought to Hollywood in 1918, at age 4, by her mother after her father passed away. The story goes that the 14-year-old and her mother were having lunch at the Universal commissary when she was noticed by producer Carl Laemmle Jr., who immediately gave her a screen test. Her age was a hindering factor, however, and Mary completed her high school studies before moving into the acting arena. An uncle connected to MGM helped give the young hopeful her break into the movies as a singer/dancer a few years later.
Mary started out typically as an extra and bit player in such films as Madam Satan (1930), The Great Lover (1931) and in Grand Hotel (1932) in which she played a honeymooner. The glamorous, vibrant beauty’s career was given a build-up as a “Wampas Baby Star” in 1933 and soon she began finding work in films playing stylish, well-mannered young co-eds. Although she performed as a topline actress in a number of lightweight pictures such as Night Court (1932) with Anita Page, Murder in the Private Car (1934) starring Charles Ruggles, and It’s in the Air (1935) alongside Jack Benny, she is perhaps best remembered as a breezy co-star to Bing Crosby in three of his earlier, lightweight ’30s musicals: College Humor (1933), Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938). In the last picture mentioned she is the lovely focus of his song “My Heart Is Taking Lessons”. Her participation in weightier material such as Kind Lady (1935) was often overshadowed by her even weightier co-stars, in this case Basil Rathbone and Aline MacMahon.
Disappointed with the momentum of her career and her inability to extricate herself from the picture-pretty, paragon-of-virtue stereotype, Mary traveled and lived in London for a time in the late ’30s. Following her damsel-in-distress role in the horror opus Dead Men Walk (1943) with George Zucco and Dwight Frye, Mary retired from the screen, prompted by her marriage to James Blakeley, a flying supervisor, the year before. The Beverly Hills couple had one son. Her husband, a former actor who also appeared in ’30s musicals with Crosby as a dapper second lead (e.g., in Two for Tonight (1935)), later became an important executive (producer, editor, etc.) at Twentieth Century-Fox.
In later years Mary managed an Elizabeth Arden Salon in Beverly Hills and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her husband passed away in 2007. Mary herself lived to the ripe old age of 104 on August 1, 2018.