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Mary Beth Hughes Profile

Mary Beth Hughes
Mary Beth Hughes
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(Mary Elizabeth Hughes)
13 November 19 born in Alton, Illinois, the only child of parents who separate during her infancy. Her mother, Mary Frances (Lucas) Hughes, is from a St. Louis family of some prominence (an uncle, Roy Frank Britton, had been an Attorney General of Missouri). Her maternal grandmother, Flora M. Lucas, and two aunts were stage actresses (under the names of Flora Fosdick, Flora Conrad, and Alicinda Madison). Her grandmother sees in her beautiful grandchild a possibility of the family attaining the fame and fortune that she and her two daughters did not achieve. She beguiles the child with glamorizations of stage life and fills her after-school hours with vocal and ballet lessons.
23 her parents divorce
Early 30s the Depression obliges her mother to take a clerical position with the federal government in Washington, D.C.
30-31 her participation in a school play is brought to the attention of Clifford Brooks, who, in addition to being connected with Washington’s National Theatre, has a repertory company of his own. Spurred by both Mrs. Hughes and Grandmother Lucas, he admits Mary Beth to his repertory company and gives her the title role in a production of Alice in Wonderland, which tours throughout the U.S. He subsequently gives her good parts in his productions of Daddy Long Legs and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A family acquaintance, Adolf Bolm of the St. Louis Municipal Opera, gives her work as a dancer.
Summer 34 tours with Brooks’ company in England. A Gaumont-British Studios talent scout is taken with her beauty and poise and offers her a film contract—until he learns that she has to return to Washington, D.C. in the autumn to continue her high school education at Holy Cross Academy.
June 37 graduates from high school and returns to Clifford Brooks’ repertory company and plays a variety of roles until the summer of 1938
Summer 38 Grandmother Lucas, who is living in Los Angeles, urges Mrs. Hughes to bring Mary Beth to Hollywood. She does so, and six months of unsuccessful attempts to obtain movie work follow.
38 December nearly broke, she and her mother are about to return to Washington when she answers an advertisement for chorus girls for the theatre Earl Carroll will soon open on Sunset Boulevard. Carroll tells her that she is overweight and needs showgirl experience. Some years later she will tell a New York Daily News interviewer that as Carroll dismissed the girls he rejected, he warned them not to fall for offers of movie work "by men in front of the theatre waiting for you to come out. It’s a Hollywood come-on." When she emerges from the theatre, a man who says his name is Wally Ross approaches her and asks, "How’d you like to be in the movies?" She does not reply, but when she gets home she tells her mother about it, and grandmother Lucas ferrets out the fact that Ross actually is an actors’ agent. She and her mother go to see Ross, about whom she will later say, "Whatever success I’ve had, he’s responsible for."
12 December 38 Ross introduces her to Johnny Hyde of the William Morris Agency, a power in Hollywood. Hyde secures for her a $100-a-week stock contract at MGM, where she is immediately cast in Broadway Serenade.
Early 39 is groomed by MGM. She obtains bit parts in some films and studies with a drama coach. The studio insists she diet and take off weight. While a contract player at MGM, she has studio-arranged dates with actors Lew Ayres, Franchot Tone, Mickey Rooney, and Jimmy Stewart.
39 gets her first screen credit for a one-line part as Ruth Hussey’s secretary in MGM’s The Women. In the film she expresses a line of condolence to lead player Norma Shearer. Trade periodicals note that Shearer, a major star, took Hughes under her wing and introduced her to some of the MGM brass. This resulted in a key role in a Lana Turner film. Later Hughes will say, "When they put me in two pictures with Lana Turner, I thought my career had started. My parts were nice ones—in the scripts. But when the pictures hit the screen, I wasn’t there, or just barely. At the preview of one of them I happened to blink and missed myself altogether."
13 December 39 20th Century-Fox borrows her from MGM to replace the demure Jean Rogers in Free, Blonde and 21
January 40 20th Century-Fox offers her a seven-year contract that begins at $200.00 a week, and she accepts as quickly as she can. The contract contains a peculiar clause, which is primarily a publicity gimmick. For the first three years, Fox will waive semi-annual option rights if she promises not to marry for that period of time.
40 initially she continues to play the "publicity game" at Fox by accepting studio-arranged dates with Milton Berle and George Montgomery. She tires of this and decides to hook-up with someone of her own choosing.
40 Producer Edward Small would like to borrow her for the part of Jean Harlow in the bio-pic that he'd like to film, but he cannot come to a financial agreement with the Harlow estate
40 films The Great Profile with John Barrymore; it will be one of her favorite films due to sentimental reasons. Her grandmother had played with Ethel Barrymore, and now it is her turn to play opposite a Barrymore.
40 her date for the premiere of The Great Profile is the object of her first serious romance, socialite and up-and-coming Universal leading man Robert Stack, whom she met the night before. Fox isn’t all that pleased since Stack is from a rival studio.
August 40 meets Edward Ernest Steinel, who acts under the name of Ted "Michael" North, when he is cast in Chad Hanna. She is replaced by the older and better-known Paramount star Dorothy Lamour.
December 40 Silver Screen reports that she and Stack have dated every night since meeting. She is quoted as saying that it won’t culminate into marriage. She also says, "Hollywood men are scarred to death of marriage; I’m not. In about three years from now, after I’ve put my name up in the highest neons, I’ll be glad to relinquish my place and just be someone’s wife."
41 originally is set to star in Dance Hall and A Yank in the R.A.F., but Fox inexplicably replaces her with Carole Landis and Betty Grable, respectively
Summer 41 becomes better acquainted with actor Ted "Michael" North during the filming of Charlie Chan in Rio. A few months later, her romance with Stack fizzles.
42 helps in the inauguration of the Hollywood Canteen and in the organization of USO shows. At year-end she films her most memorable role, that of Rose Mapen in The Ox-Bow Incident, and is borrowed by MGM to star in a "Victory" war-morale short.
43 20th Century-Fox does not pick up the option on her contract. Ted "Michael" North is also a casualty of Fox’s player purge. Shortly thereafter, she initiates nightclub work as a solo headliner and signs a three-picture deal with Universal. She states that she turned down the Angela Lansbury role in MGM's Gaslight in favor of an East Coast personal appearance tour.
12 December 43 marries Ted "Michael" North; he is three years her senior
44 begins a seven-year association, via non-exclusive pact, with Paramount Pictures
Late 45 North is discharged from the Navy
3 October 46 files for divorce against North after several months of marriage-problem rumors, which are fueled by Mary Frances Hughes and "dutifully" reported by Hedda Hopper, who states that the marriage failed "due to post-war adjustment" issues. Actually, she had expected him to get a job either as an actor or as an architect after his military service. In a 1944 publicity blurb for Men on Her Mind, North stated that he "wanted to build and sell houses after the war." In actuality, she spends most of 1945-46 doing personal appearance work back East, while North accompanies her.
Early 47 her son Donald James Steinel is born. He will later teach scuba diving and sell high-end underwater equipment.
October 47 the divorce is finalized. She testifies that North only contributed $15.00 toward his son’s support at birth. She renews her Hollywood career after an absence from the screen of two years.
January 48 meets singer David Street; he is two years her senior.
28 April 48 marries David Street. Shortly thereafter, things begin to pick up professionally. After 3 years of using her natural red hair on screen, she colors it blonde, the look preferred by the public and film producers alike. She signs a multi-film deal with producer Robert Lippert.
Autumn 49 teams with Street in a nightclub act, which will play intermittently throughout the U.S. until 1954
50 makes the first of two pictures for Warner Brothers and induces Lippert Pictures, Inc., to cast her husband opposite her in the film Holiday Rhythm
Autumn 50 enters television and begins appearing on popular shows such as "Broadway Open House," "The Abbott and Costello Show," "Racket Squad," "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," "Make Room for Daddy," and detective mysteries "Martin Kane" and "Ellery Queen"
51-53 appears as a semi-regular straight-woman for Milton Berle on "Texaco Star Theater"
52-53 she and Street are regulars on television's "Arthur Murray's Dance Party"
Late 53 signs a multi-picture pact with Allied Artists
53-54 is television's first celebrity forecaster, "The Weather Miss," for Los Angeles station KTLA
54 has her own lingerie/women’s accessories business on Hollywood Boulevard
August/September 54 she and Street headline the Pan Pacific "Glamourama" exposition
November 54 separates from known womanizer and twice previously wed Street on Thanksgiving Day, at which point she and her son "went home to mother."
28 January 55 announces her divorce intention in a Los Angeles Times article
55 signs to appear as a semi-regular on television's "The Red Skelton Show"
June 55 stars in the Laguna Beach Playhouse production of The Seven Year Itch
55 through early 56 there is much unfavorable press coverage regarding her upcoming divorce due to counter-claims and monetary-settlement squabbles
13 July 55 page 1 of the Los Angeles Herald Express banner headline reads "He Called Me Tramp, Says Mary Beth." Publicity like this will work to the detriment of her career.
Autumn 55 heads the cast in the Los Angeles stage comedy Educating Eve
56 is in one film, a few television shows, and a short Las Vegas singing engagement
Summer 56 stars in the Laguna Beach Playhouse production of Oh Men! Oh Women!
Autumn 56 begins a seven-year association with the Los Angeles-based stage production of Pajama Tops
57 her penchant for retaliation via publicity stunt-engagements does nothing for her credibility. She calls off her engagement to her hairdresser, Jack Tettimer, allegedly because of the hold-up in the finalization of her divorce.
Summer 57 films her final Allied Artists film, Gun Battle at Monterey
November 57 her divorce is finalized. Street will marry actress Debra Paget in 1958 and die from natural causes in 1971.
58 calls off her engagement to restaurant owner Sid Slate, supposedly due to a pneumonia siege, which costs her the lead opposite Sterling Hayden in Terror in a Texas Town. She’ll be off the screen for the next 13 years, during which time she will do occassional stage and television work.
Summer 59 tours in a limited run of Pajama Tops on the straw-hat circuit
60s is reportedly engaged to businessman Nels Olsen
9 March 60 in a story relating to the previous day's start of a movie industry strike, the Los Angeles Mirror News reports that few actors filed initial benefit claims. The article features a large photo of Mary Beth and character actor John Angelo submitting filings and states that players who sought unemployment benefit claims "included Mary Beth Hughes, Angie Dickinson, Dennis Hopper, Jan Reeves, and John Angelo." Since she is the most prominent member of the group at the time, the paper quotes her extensively: "I guess a lot of them (actors) feel it's a breadline but not me. This is good, non-taxable money. I was a contract player for 10 years and couldn't collect any of it. I'm going to make up for it now." The article also quotes her as saying that she blames the strike on screenwriters, not actors. "Everyone thinks that we started this thing," she says, "but it's mainly the producers and the writers." The producers' reprimand damages her chance of future screen employment.
Summer 61 decides to retire from show business and becomes a receptionist-technician for a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles. She’s soon moonlighting, appearing in a nightclub revue.
62-63 directs and stars as Babette in the final Los Angeles run of Pajama Tops
63 does a "Rawhide" episode and appears with her son on a segment of television's "Your First Impression"
64-66 with the virtual demise of her acting career, she hits the nightclub circuit with the show band "Mary Beth Hughes and the Swingers"
67-76 performs in Los Angles nightclubs as a duo with singer/bit actor Mal Langan
30 November 68 reunites with Milton Berle for an episode of the ABC television series "The Hollywood Palace"
Autumn 69 Nicky Stewart takes over the management of her career from the Murray Weintraub Agency
23 June 70 is cast in Red Skelton’s last CBS colorcast
Early 70s the bitterness she has regarding the decline of her movie career subsides. "Maybe wishing isn’t enough. Perhaps luck is the important factor. It now seems to me that a freak of fortune was responsible for whatever I got." She sings and plays electric bass in second-class nightclubs. It’s not a happy time for her due to those in the audience who would rather drink and talk during her performance. She quits the nightclub circuit and returns to B films.
71-75 films three exploitation movies
10 November 73 marries her manager, Nicky Stewart; he is nine years her senior. They live together with their many cats in her large ranch house in Sepulveda, California.
Mid-70s states to an interviewer that she would like a steady part in a television series. Resumes her nightclub work in upscale Southern California bistros, where she is frequently asked if she is the mother of actress Mary Beth Hughes. "At first I would become angry, then I realized it was a compliment," she said.
December 76 in a People magazine interview, she announces her retirement from show business in favor of the beauty aid products industry. "I was tired of auditioning for sexy grandma roles."
77 divorces Stewart after realizing his business decisions accelerated the demise of her nearly half-century show business career
78-79 her last show biz effort is as TV spokeswoman in California for Zales Jewelry. At this time she opens a Canoga Park, California, beauty parlor.
Late 80s leaves the beauty shop industry
89 begins working at Teletech in Sherman Oaks, California. She sells Sprint long distance over the telephone. Teletech also receives the 1-800 calls for the television show "Unsolved Mysteries."
90 working late one evening, she discovers that a television crew is in the Teletech parking lot, setting up to film Robert Stack, the host of "Unsolved Mysteries," standing in front of the phone banks. She walks over to the first production assistant she can find and demands, "Where’s Bobby? I want to talk to Bobby!" The production assistant replies, "Uh…Mr. Stack?" She says, "Yeah, Bobby." She is told that Mr. Stack is in his trailer and does not want to see anyone. Indignantly she retorts, "Well, tell Bobby that Mary Beth Hughes is out here!" When asked if Stack knows who she is, she replies, with a twinkle in her eye, "He should. We dated for a year and a half." When told who is asking to see him, Stack leaves his trailer and speaks with her until it is time to film his segment.
91 is laid off from Teletech
27 August 95 dies of natural causes, in Los Angeles, California
Author: Cheryl Messina. A special thank you to Tom Turton for his insights into the life and career of Mary Beth!
Sources:
Movie Stars of the ?40s by David Ragan; IMDb; Movieland; The Official Mary Beth Hughes Website; Films in Review, October 1971, "Mary Beth Hughes," by T. P. Turton
Recommended Books:
Links:
Filmography
The Official Mary Beth Hughes Website
Brian's Drive-In Theater: Mary Beth Hughes