(born Nov. 9, 1868, Cobourg, Ont., Can.—died July 28, 1934, Santa Barbara, Calif., U.S.) Canadian-U.S. actress. She began her acting career as a vaudeville comedian and made her film debut in Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), in which Charlie Chaplin also appeared. After a period of obscurity, she experienced a career revival with the coming of sound films. In the 1930s she was known for her portrayals of self-sufficient, humorous old women (often costarring with Wallace Beery) in films such as Min and Bill (1931, Academy Award) and Tugboat Annie (1933).
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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."
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.
|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|
|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|
|1931||Jackie Cooper's Birthday Party||Herself|
|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|