Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mae Murray (1889-1965)

The petite 5'2 blonde got her start dancing on Broadway with famed ballroom dancer Verne Castle in 1906.  Next step the chorus line of the Ziegfield Follies beginning in 1908 then quickly moving up to a head liner by 1915. During her Ziegfield days she was announced as The Girl With the Bee-Stung Lips, a nickname that would follow her throughout her career. While starring in the dance circuit across the United States and Paris she danced with such famous partners as Clifton Webb, Rudolph Valentino and John Gilbert.

Before Mae's film career got off the ground she married stock broker William Schwenker in 1908 but the union didn't last. She then married Olympic bob sled champion Jay O'Brien.  Her film debut soon followed with "To Have And To Hold" that same year. She became a big star at MGM after co-starring with Rudolph Valentino in "The Delicious Little Devil" and "Big Little Person" during 1919.

in court

The 1920's were a busy time for Mae, having divorced her second husband by this time she married a third time to producer Robert Leonard. She starred in several films with dance numbers created specifically for her and produced by her husband. Though it was her acting in "The Merry Widow" 1925 with co-star and silent screen icon John Gilbert that shes most known for today. At the height of her popularity she formed a production company with her director John M. Stahl. Beginning in 1925 Mae, John and her husband produced several films together at Tiffany Pictures. During this time she also wrote a weekly column for a William Randolph Hearts publication.

with John Gilbert in "The Merry Widow" 1925

When silents gave way to talkies Mae appeared in a few more movies without success and critical reviews causing the decline of her career and offers for parts. Her last film was "High Stakes" in 1931. Her third marriage to Leonard was finished by 1925 and she was married for a fourth time to "Prince" Mdivani in 1926, a Georgian  faux-nobleman and scam artist. (His brothers married silent star Pola Negri and the heiress Barbara Hutton). Mae's oceanfront mansion where she was living when she first met her "Prince" can be viewed HERE.. Unfortunately it was sold off to pay her increasing debts.

with leading man Monte Blue in "Broadway Rose" 1922

The final humiliating blow to Mae's career came when her new husband and self appointed "manager" encouraged her to leave MGM. She misguidedly walked out on her contract which infuriated her boss Louis B. Mayer. Seeing that this was a mistake and unable to get work with any other studio Mae pleaded with Mayer to get her job back but the damage was done and Mae's career was over. She had been blacklisted thanks to Mayer's pull within the industry. She starred in close to 50 films during her short career.

with fourth husband "Prince" Mdivani

Mae and Mdivani has a son together then divorced in 1933 once her money ran out. They would go back and forth throughout the years with bitter custody battles eventually ending in 1940 with Mae gaining custody of  Koran.

in "Circe, The Enchantress"

Broke and broken by 1940 Mae found regular work appearing at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe nightclub. The club presented stars of the past and Mae danced her old routines and read lines from her old films. In later years with her finances in total decline she lived in poverty and was found wandering the streets of St. Louis dazed and hungry. She was brought to the the Motion Picture House, a place for retired actors in California. Mae passed away at 75 from a heart condition and was layed to rest at Memorial Park Cemetery, North Hollywood, CA. Her grave site can be viewed HERE.

Mae's autograph from my collection

back of mailed Mae Murray postcard


Interesting Mae Murray Facts:

Rudolph Valentino was the best man at her 1926 wedding to Prince David Mdivani and actress Pola Negri was her maid of honor.

She claimed to have discovered Rudolph Valentino and for getting him a role in her film "Delicious Little Devil" 1919.  (If this is true then the world thanks you Mae. What a gift).

She was arrested for vagrancy in NYC for sleeping on a park bench.

Critics often panned her over the top emoting and flamboyant costumes during her silent screen performances.  Even during her nightclub days in later years Mae would take the stage wearing elaborate, over the top feather costumes and dramatic, harsh makeup. (Hopefully accentuating her famous "bee-stung" lips).

She co-wrote an autobiography in 1959 titled The Self-Enchanted.

Mae repeated the quote many times "Once A Star Always A Star", and a star Mae was. She died surrounded by her movie memorabilia and clippings from her film days. 

Mae's husband Prince David Mdivani and his brothers were all discovered to be frauds and not of Russian royalty as they claimed. They got the nicknames "The Marrying Mdivani's" for their talent of marrying famous actresses and heiresses who they quickly stripped of their money. After Mae had lost all of her money and had to file for bankruptcy her "Prince" moved on to marry the Sinclair Oil heiress Virginia Sinclair in 1944.

Many believe that Gloria Swanson's character Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" was based on the life of Mae due to her over the top performances, her work under Erich Von Stroheim and Cecille B. DeMille (Both featured in the film) and her delusions late in life.

with the talented Basil Rathbone

Until next time, 


  1. I love Mae Murray and thank you for all this informations and photo, and for your blog. Je ne parle pas bien l'anglais mais MERCI!

    1. Hi Fredrc!
      Mae certainly was unique and a great actress during her era. I'm glad you enjoyed this little write up on her.
      Thanks for stopping by and I do hope you'll return often and comment.