Marie Dressler

Marie Dressler

Dressler, Marie, 1869-1934, American actress, b. Coburg, Ont., Canada. She appeared on stage and in vaudeville before making her first film, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914). Although she gained fame as a large, good-natured comedienne, she gave a strong performance as a disreputable old alcoholic in Anna Christie (1930). Her other films include Min and Bill (1931), Tugboat Annie (1932), and Dinner at Eight (1933).
Marie Dressler (November 9, 1868July 28, 1934) was an Academy Award-winning Canadian actress.


Born Leila Marie Koerber in Cobourg, Ontario to parents Alexander Rudolph Koerber (who was Austrian) and Anna Henderson. The young Dressler was able to hone her talents to make other people laugh, and began her acting career when she was fourteen. In 1892 she made her debut on Broadway. At first she hoped to make a career of singing light opera, but then gravitated to vaudeville.


During the early 1900s she became a major vaudeville star. In 1902, she met fellow Canadian Mack Sennett and helped him get a job in the theater. In addition to her stage work, Dressler recorded for Edison Records in 1909 and 1910. After Sennett became the owner of his namesake motion picture studio, he convinced Dressler to star in his highly successful 1914 film "Tillie's Punctured Romance" opposite Sennett’s newly discovered actor, Charlie Chaplin. Dressler appeared in two more "Tillie" sequels and other comedies until 1918, when she returned to vaudeville.

In 1919, during the Actors' Equity strike in New York City, the Chorus Equity Association was formed and voted Dressler its first president.

In 1927, Dressler was secretly blacklisted by the theater production companies due to her strong stance in a labor dispute. Another Canadian gave her the opportunity to return to motion pictures - MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer, who called her "the most adored person ever to set foot in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio."

In 1929, Marie Dressler found herself once again out of work, so she joined Edward Everett Horton's theater troupe in L.A.. Soon after this, however, Dressler once again found herself in demand due to the arrival of talkies and the need for stage-trained performers. She proceeded to leave Horton flat, much to his indignation.

After several supporting roles in unsuccessful talkies, Frances Marion, an MGM screenwriter and personal friend of Irving Thalberg, came to Dressler's rescue. Dressler had shown great kindness to Marion during the filming of "Tillie Wakes Up" in 1917, and in return, Marion used her influence with Thalberg to get Dressler a number of supporting roles, including the queen in "Breakfast at Sunrise" and a snappy maid in "Chasing Rainbows." She was then established as a funny supporting woman. Marion persuaded Thalberg to give Dressler the role of Marthy, the old harridan who welcomes Greta Garbo home after the search for her father, in the 1930 film "Anna Christie." Both Garbo and the critics were impressed by Dressler's acting ability, and so was MGM, who quickly signed Dressler to a $500-per-week contract.

A robust, full-bodied woman of very plain features, Dressler’s ensuing comedy films were very popular with the movie-going public and an equally lucrative investment for MGM. Although past sixty years of age, she quickly became Hollywood’s number one box-office attraction, and stayed on top until her death. In addition to her comedic genius and her natural elegance, she demonstrated her considerable talents by taking on serious roles. For her starring portrayal in "Min and Bill," co-starring Wallace Beery, she won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Actress. Dressler was nominated again for Best Actress for her 1932 starring role in "Emma." With that film, Dressler demonstrated her profound generosity to other performers. Dressler personally insisted that her studio bosses cast a friend of hers, a largely unknown young actor named Richard Cromwell, in the lead opposite her. This break helped launch his career.

Dressler followed these successes with more hits in 1933, including the comedy "Dinner at Eight," in which she played an poor, aging former stage actress, and was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine for the August 7, 1933 issue. However, her career came to an abrupt end when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. MGM head Louis B. Mayer learned of Dressler's illness from her doctor and asked that she not be told. To keep her home, he ordered her not to travel on her vacation because he wanted to put her in a new film. Dressler was furious but complied.

Dressler appeared in more than 40 films but only achieved superstardom near the end of her life. Always seeing herself as physically unattractive, she wrote an autobiography, "The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling."


Marie Dressler died in Santa Barbara, California and is interred in a crypt in the Great Mausoleum in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1731 Vine Street. Each year the Marie Dressler Film Festival is held in her home town of Cobourg, Ontario.

In the late 1990s, two biographies of Dressler were published. One was entitled: Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star by Ontario resident and writer Betty Lee. The other was by Matthew Kennedy, and is the more comprehensive source except that only Lee had access to the diary of an intimate friend of Dressler's.

Canada Post Corporation, as part of its Canada in Hollywood Series, issued a stamp on June 30, 2008 to honour Marie Dressler.

Filmography and awards

Year Film Role Other notes
1910 Actors' Fund Field Day Herself
1914 Tillie's Punctured Romance Tillie Banks, Country Girl with Mabel Normand and Charles Chaplin
1915 Tillie's Tomato Surprise Tillie Banks
1917 Fired comedy short written and directed by Dressler
The Scrub Lady
Tillie Wakes Up Tillie Tinkelpaw
1918 The Red Cross Nurse
The Agonies of Agnes
1927 Breakfast at Sunrise Queen
The Joy Girl Mrs. Heath
The Callahans and the Murphys Mrs. Callahan
1928 The Patsy Ma Harrington with Marion Davies
Bringing Up Father Annie Moore
1929 Voice of Hollywood Herself uncredited
The Vagabond Lover Mrs. Ethel Bertha Whitehall
Dangerous Females
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 Herself with Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Marion Davies,
John Gilbert, Buster Keaton, Norma Shearer, Stan Laurel, and Oliver Hardy
The Divine Lady Mrs. Hart
1930 The Voice of Hollywood No. 14 Herself uncredited
Screen Snapshots Series 9, No. 14 Herself, at Premiere
Min and Bill Min Divot, Innkeeper Academy Award for Best Actress
The March of Time Herself, Old Timer Sequence
Anna Christie Marthy Owens with Greta Garbo
Let Us Be Gay Mrs. 'Bouccy' Bouccicault
Caught Short Marie Jones
One Romantic Night Princess Beatrice with Lillian Gish
The Girl Said No Hettie Brown
Chasing Rainbows Bonnie
1931 Jackie Cooper's Birthday Party Herself
Politics Hattie Burns
Reducing Marie Truffle
1932 Prosperity Maggie Warren
Emma Emma Thatcher Smith Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
1933 Going Hollywood Herself, Premiere Clip uncredited
Dinner at Eight Carlotta Vance with John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, and Billie Burke
Tugboat Annie Annie Brennan with Wallace Beery, Robert Young, and Maureen O'Sullivan
Christopher Bean Abby

See also


External links


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