Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Born Today November 9: Marie Dressler


Born Leila Marie Koerber in Cobourg, Ontario to a musical family, her father was both a church organist and a music teacher, she started acting at the age of five in church plays.  The family eventually relocated to the United States, where young Leila continued to seek out roles in local theatrical productions.  She left home at the age of 14 to seek out acting jobs professionally, and found work with the Nevada Stock Company, where she lied about her age, telling them that she was 18.  Her parents had become disapproving of her choice of career and her father began to object to the use of the Koerber last name; so she changed it to Dressler (there are conflicting accounts as to how she came by the name).  Dressler stayed with the company for three years, after which she joined the Robert Grau Opera Company.  She eventually ended up in Philadelphia, where she then joined the Starr Opera Company, though she later quit and returned home to her parents living in Saginaw, Michigan.  She joined the church choir, and while yet another opera company, Bennett and Moulton, came to town, she gained their attention and was asked to join them--she stayed with them a further 3 years. In 1891 she quit and moved to Chicago.  She starred in a couple of productions there, after which she moved to New York City.  She made her Broadway debut in 1892. She was persuaded to accept comedic roles by Maurice Barrymore.  It was at this time that her long association with that large acting family began.  By 1900, she had started her own touring theater group, which saw them working up and down the northeastern city circuit.  In 1907, she moved to London with fellow actor Jim Walton. While there, they sunk an enormous amount of money into what became a huge theatrical flop; destitute, they returned to New York and declared bankruptcy.  She returned to Broadway for a time and wound up doing vaudeville in the summer at Atlantic City.  She also began to record for Edison Records in 1909 and 1910.  At this tim, she began rehearsals for a new play Tillie's Nightmare.  The play was a success, and toured extensively, ending up staged on Broadway.  During the first World War, Dressler was very active in selling Liberty Bonds and entertaining American Expeditionary Forces.  As she owned the rights to the play of Tillie's Nightmare, any production of it of any sort, had to gain her approval first.  Having made the acquaintance of Mack Sennett in 1902, she was the obvious choice to star in a filmed production of the play which famously became known as Tillie's Punctured Romance in 1914, in which she acted opposite Charlie Chaplin (the film also featured Mabel Normand and Chester Conklin, amongst others). The film made history as being the very first full feature length motion picture comedy (the film would also be remade in 1928 with W.C. Fields).  She starred in two more "Tillie" films before moving on to other comedic shorts through 1918; all the while, continuing to star on Broadway and in vaudeville.  She then quit acting in motion picture altogether until 1927, when she reentered the business in the comedic drama The Callahans and the Murphys (sadly a lost film).  Her first sound speaking role came in the comedy short Dangerous Females in 1929.  She continued to act both on the stage and in front of the camera until a little less than a year before her death.  In late in 1933, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She succumbed to the illness on July 28 in 1934 at the age of 65.  She is interred in the crypt in Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Ca. Her interment plaque records the year of her birth as 1871, though she was 3 years older in actual age.

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