Los Angeles Times, Saturday January 4, 2003
Mary Brian, a romantic leading lady
whose memorable career began in the era of silent and early sound films,
died of natural causes Monday at a retirement home in Del Mar. She was
Brian, a longtime resident of Studio City, appeared in more than 70
films from 1924 to 1947. She co-starred with such leading men of the era
as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and James Cagney, and at different times
during the 1930s was engaged to Grant and Dick Powell.
She played Wendy in the first screen version -- a silent -- of "Peter
Pan," released by Paramount in 1924. She also portrayed Molly Wood
opposite Cooper in "The Virginian," the first major western film with
sound, produced in 1929.
In Hollywood, the petite actress with dark brown curls ringing her face
was known as "that nice, sweet Mary Brian," in part because of her solid
"As a leading lady, she was reliable, competent -- someone you knew
would never give you any trouble on the set," said Anthony Slide, a film
historian and longtime friend, who called Brian one of the greatest
ingenues of the silent and early sound era. "She was very natural in
life and on screen."
She was born Louise Dantzler in Corsicana, Texas, in 1906. Raised by her
mother, she moved with her family in the early 1920s to Long Beach,
where she entered a beauty contest.
She did not win the contest, but caught the attention of Paramount,
which was looking for children to cast in director Herbert Brenon's
movie of "Peter Pan," based on the J. M. Barrie classic about the boy who
never wanted to grow up.
She was 18 when she was cast as Wendy, but Paramount executives trimmed
two years from her age because they thought 18 sounded too old to play
the girl who befriends Peter. After that, Slide recalled, she did not
bother to correct it, preferring to tell inquisitive reporters that her
age was "negotiable."
Paramount gave her the stage name Mary Brian and kept her under contract
from 1924 to 1932. She was featured in more than 40 films for the
studio, playing juvenile leads and co-starring roles in such films as
"Beau Geste" and "Brown of Harvard."
She co-starred with Fredric March
and Ina Claire in director George Cukor's 1930 classic "The Royal Family
of Broadway," and with Adolph Menjou and Pat O'Brien in the first film
version of "The Front Page," directed by Lewis Milestone and released in
In a recent interview with film historian Leonard Maltin, Brian recalled
how she and her fellow actors reacted to the advent of sound in
Buddy Rogers and Dick Arlen "and our whole little gang, we were all
terrified because we kept saying, 'Your voice doesn't sound like your
voice.' And they were going to make tests of us.... Luckily, it turned
out all right. But we were terrified."
Some studios, such as MGM, began to give actors elocution lessons. But
Paramount "never did," she told Maltin. "They just put us in there, and
you sank or swam."
During World War II, Brian made three tours of Europe and the Pacific to
help entertain U.S. troops. She had a harrowing stint near the front
lines at the Battle of the Bulge and toured the Enola Gay after it
dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Seeing firsthand the cruelties of battle sapped her enthusiasm for
making movies. Brian acted only occasionally after the war, ending her
film career with "Dragnet" in 1947, the year she married film editor
During the 1950s, she worked briefly in television, appearing in the CBS
sitcom "Meet Corliss Archer." But she focused on supporting Tomasini's
career. Tomasini, who was known as Alfred Hitchcock's favorite editor,
died in 1964.
After her husband's death, Brian devoted herself to painting portraits,
which decorated the walls of her Studio City home. Her subjects included
many of her Hollywood friends, such as Hitchcock, comedian Red Skelton
and gossip columnist Louella Parsons.
OBITUARIES: SAN DIEGO: Mary
Brian, 96, actress
Saturday, January 4, 2003
Actress Mary Brian, who bridged the silent and
early talkie eras with appearances in 82 motion pictures, including the
lead opposite Gary Cooper in "The Virginian" in 1929, has died. She was
Ms. Brian died Monday of heart failure at a San Diego
County nursing home, family friend and spokesman Anthony Slide said
Her career spanned a quarter-century, from the
classic silent version of "Peter Pan" in 1924 to the 1947 low-budget
movie "Dragnet." She starred opposite such Hollywood stars as Mr.
Cooper, Lew Ayres, James Cagney, Cary Grant, William Haines, Warner
Oland and Dick Powell. She also played W.C. Fields' daughter in several
films, including "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1935).
OBITUARY: The Dallas Morning
News - The New York Times
by Wolfgang Saxon
Actress who shifted from silent movies to talkies
Mary Brian, a film star and ingenue who bridged the
silent and early sound eras, died on Monday in Del Mar, Calif. She
was 96 and lived in Studio City, Calif.
Between Peter Pan in 1924 and Dragnet
in 1947 Ms. Brian appeared in 82 films. Petite, with blue-gray
eyes and dark-brown curls, she was one of Hollywood's romantic leading
ladies from the mid-1920s through the late '30s.
While she did not rank with superstars like Clara Bow
or Mary Pickford, she was a bankable contract player and a gratifying
attraction at the box office. Her leading men were the likes of
Gary Cooper, Lew Ayres, james Cagney, Cary Grand, William Haines,
Wiarner Oland and Dick Powell.
Among her films still shown at film festivals and on
television is one of the earliest western talkies, The Virginian,
from 1929, with Mr. Cooper as the title character and Walter Huston as
Ms. Brian was born Louise Byrdie Dantzler in
Corsicana, Texas. After the family's move to Long Beach Calif.,
she entered a beauty contest - and though she did not win a prize,
Paramount invited her to audition for Peter Pan.
The director, Herbert Brenon, cast her as Wendy.
The studio gave her a new name, Mary Brian, and pared her age to 16,
deeming 18 too grown up for the part. (After that, Ms. Brian kept her
real age to herself, calling it "negotiable.")
She remained under contract to Paramount until 1932,
appearing in more than 40 of its productions.
Easily navigating the change-over to sound, she
appeared in two 1931 evergreens, George Cukor's Royal Family of
Broadway and Lewis Milestone's Front Page.
Ms. Brian said she gained a new perspective on ife
during World War II when she entertained troops. She spent
Christmas 1944 with the soldiers fighting the Battle of the Buldge.
In 1947 Ms. Brian married George Tomasini, a
Hollywood film editor; he died in 1964.
She is survived by her godson, Stuart Erwin Jr., of
Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.