Birthday: June 13, 1910
Died At Age: 85
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Mary Isabella Wickenhauser
Born in: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Famous as: Actress
father: Frank Wickenhauser
mother: Isabella Wickenhauser
Died on: October 22, 1995
U.S. State: Missouri
education: Washington University in St. Louis
Mary Wickes was an American actress and stage artist, who had worked in more than 50 movies and acted in more than a dozen plays. Her versatility spoke through the various characters she played all through her acting career - a nurse, secretary, housekeeper, spinster, stepmother etc. A brilliant student all through her school and college, Mary decided to give theatre a try when her favourite professor advised her to do so. Even though she was a great artist, and gave her best to all the roles, she never really became a mainstream actress, and yet she was always a scene-stealer. ‘They may not ask for my autograph, as long as they sign my pay check’, she said once. Her first memorable role came in the Broadway production of ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’ in 1939. She played a nurse, and reprised her role in the movie of the same name in 1942. Her other famous movies were, ‘Now, Voyager’, ‘June Bride’, ‘Sister Act’ and ‘Little Women’. She had also worked in more than 60 television shows - few of them being, ‘Dennis the Menace’, ‘Temple Houston’, ‘Here’s Lucy’, ‘Highway to Heaven’ etc.
Childhood & Early Life
Mary Isabella Wickenhauser was born on June 13, 1910 to Frank Wickenhauser and Mary Isabella in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. She went to ‘Beaumont High School’, and always fared well at studies.
She attended ‘Washington University’ in St. Louis and graduated with double major in English as well political science in 1930.
While she was thinking to pursue law for further studies, one of her favourite professors suggested her to try theatre.
Mary’s parents were movie fanatics, and often took her to watch various plays. That might be the reason for Mary to listen to her professor’s advice about pursuing a career in acting.
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Mary debuted on Broadway with Marc Connelly’s ‘The Farmer Takes a Wife’ in 1934. She continued working on her craft while she acted in various plays like ‘Spring Dance’ (1936), ‘Open Door’ (1936) and ‘Hitch Your Wagon’ (1937) etc .
In 1938, Mary also became a part of ‘Danton’s Death’—a play produced by Orson Welles’ company called ‘Mercury Theatre’. In 1939, Mary played a hard-played nurse with a tardy mouth, ‘Miss Preen’ in ‘George S. Kaufman’s ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’, and had new opportunities opened for her career.
In 1938, Mary appeared in a short film called ‘Too Much Johnson’ in which she played ‘Mrs. Battison’ but it wasn’t until 2008 that its lost print was discovered. The movie premiered late in 2013 at ‘Pordenone Silent Film Festival’, and later made available online.
She next appeared in another short movie called ‘Keeping Fit’ in 1942. The same year, she reprised her role of ‘Miss Preen’ in the film adaptation of ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’.
In 1942, she acted in a number of Hollywood movies like ‘Blondie Blessed Event’, ‘Private Buckaroo’, ‘The Mayor of 44th Street’ and ‘Who Done It? Her movie, ‘Now, Voyager’ got her a lot of attention for playing a crazy nurse, and decided her future as a comedian.
She appeared in a number of movies in 40’s including ‘Rhythm of the Islands’ (1943), ‘Happy Land’ (1943), ‘June Bride’ (1948) and ‘Anna Lucasta’ (1949).
She played an exasperated housekeeper in ‘On Moonlight Bay’ (1951) and its sequel ‘By the Light of Silvery Moon’ (1953). Her other memorable roles in the 50s were that of a nosy housekeeper in ‘White Christmas’ (1954), a welfare worker in ‘Dance with Me, Henry’ (1956) etc.
In the 60s, she played the roles of ‘Cruella’s live action model in the animated movie, ‘101 Dalmatians’ (1961), a back-talking secretary in ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ (1965), a crazy nun in ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (1966) and its sequel ‘Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows’ (1968) etc. In the 70s, she appeared in movies named ‘Snowball Express’ (1972) and ‘Napoleon and Samantha’ (1972).
Her movies from the 80s include ‘Touched by Love’ (1980), and ‘The Christmas Gift’ (1986). She played Meryl Streep’s grandmother in ‘Postcards from the Edge’ (1990), a convent nun and choir head in ‘Sister Act’ (1992) and ‘Sister Act II: Back in the Habit’ (1993).
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Her movie ‘Sister Act’ in which she played the character of ‘Sister Mary Lazarus’ is one of the most financially successful comedy movies in Hollywood. Her last on-screen movie role came in ‘Little Women’ in 1993.
Her last movie was the Disney animation ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ which was released after her death, in 1996. She voiced a gargoyle in the movie.
In 1949, Mary debuted as ‘Marry Poppins’ in ‘Studio One’. She became the main cast member in ‘The Danny Thomas Show’ which lasted from 1953 to 1964.
She continued making appearances in shows like ‘The Alcoa Hour’ (1955), ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1956), ‘Annette’ (1958), and ‘Zorro’ (1958) until she played ‘Esther Cathcart’ in ‘Dennis the Menace’ (1959-62)—a role that became her most memorable role on TV.
Her main shows from the 60s include ‘The Gertrude Berg Show’ (1961-62), ‘Temple Houston’ (1963-64), ‘Our Man Higgins’ (1963), ‘The Lucy Show’ (1963). Her few other shows were from the 70s are ‘Hallmark Hall of Fame’ (1972), ‘Sigmund and the Sea Monsters’ (1973-75), ‘Doc’ (1976), ‘Murder, She Wrote’ (1985), ‘Father Dowling Mysteries’ (1987-91), ‘Punky Brewster’ (1987) etc.
Her last on-screen appearances happened in ‘Highway to Heaven’ in 1988. The episode’s name is ‘Country Doctor’, and she played the character of ‘Minnie’.
She also played the voice of Grandma in 1995 series ‘Life with Louie’.
Awards & Achievements
In 1962, Mary got an ‘Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress’ for her performance in ‘The Gertrude Berg Show’.
She was given an honorary ‘Doctor of Arts’ from her own college (‘Washington University’). She was posthumously inducted in ‘St. Louis Walk of Fame’ in 2004.
Personal Life & Legacy
Wickes never got married and she never had any children. She put all her money and estate in the establishment of ‘The Isabella and Frank Wickenhauser Memorial Library Fund for Television, Film and Theatre Arts’ at ‘Washington University’ in St. Louis.
During the last years of her life, Mary suffered from several ailments and health issues. She had a kidney failure, low blood pressure, anaemia, respiratory problems, an unknown stage of breast cancer, gastrointestinal bleeding etc.
While in the hospital, Mary also suffered from a broken hip due to an accidental fall.
On October 22, 1995, Wickens took her last breath. She was 85 years old.
Mary Wickens rests peacefully at the ‘Shilloh Valley Cemetery’ in Shilloh, Illinois. She was interred beside her parents.
Wickens earned her Master’s degree from ‘UCLA’ when she was in her 80s.