Mary Carlisle

“As a star, I would have to apply myself more strenuously than I have ever worked in my life. There would be, first of all, the obligation on my part to equip myself for whatever role I was called upon to portray. That would mean continuous study and preparation. The business of being a star is serious, anyway, and that would consume most of my time, for I would want to perfect myself to the nth degree. I love working, so long hours and constant study wouldn’t alarm me in the least.” –Mary Carlisle

During her time in the film industry, Mary Carlisle took on many roles as an ingénue. A talented singer, dancer, and actress, she appeared in over 60 Hollywood films.

Carlisle was born Gwendolyn Witter on February 3, 1914, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Arthur and Leona Witter. Her family lived in the Back Bay area of Boston shortly after her birth, where she was educated in a nearby convent. Sadly, her father died when she was four years old. She and her mother relocated to Los Angeles to be near family—particularly near her uncle Robert Carlisle, who was working as an editor and producer.

At 14 years old, Carlisle and her mother were dining at the Universal commissary for lunch when producer Carl Laemmle Jr. noticed Carlisle and offered her a screen test. However, the test did not initiate her career, due to a welfare officer noting that she was underage. Carlisle went on to finish her high school education before studying acting and took on the stage name of Mary Carlisle in honor of her maternal grandmother, Mary Ella Carlisle.

Upon completing her education, Carlisle pursued work at MGM through her uncle. She took a one-day tap-dancing lesson in hopes of passing as a dancer and was signed to an MGM contract as a chorus girl. She carried out bit parts in Madam Satan (1930), Passion Flower (1930), and Grand Hotel (1932). She would also go on to be recognized as one of the 1932 WAMPAS Baby Stars.

Carlisle’s breakthrough performance was in College Humor (1933) with Bing Crosby. She would work with him again in Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938). Though she would appear in the A-List film Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), the bulk of her future films were B-movies.

In 1942, she married actor James Edward Blakely and would retire from films. They had one son, James, and remained married until his passing in 2007.

After leaving the film industry, Carlisle devoted her time to her family and grandchildren. She also managed the Elizabeth Arden Salon in Beverly Hills, California.

Carlisle passed on August 1, 2018, at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement community, reportedly passing at the age of 104. Both she and her husband are at rest in the Rose Garden at Westwood Memorial Park.

Today, Carlisle is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6679 Hollywood Boulevard.

In 1936, she resided at 832 Fountain Avenue in Hollywood. This is the property today:

By 1940, she was living at 805 Camden Drive in Beverly Hills. The original home has since been razed.

Her 1944 home at 504 Huntley Drive in West Hollywood still stands today.

Carlisle’s filmography continues to delight viewers to this day.


This post originally appeared in the Annette’s Classic Movie Travels column for Classic Movie Hub. View the original article here.


About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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