|Mary Kornman, daughter of Gene Kornman, a notable photographer, was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho on December 27, 1915. Mary’s sister,
Mildred Kornman, was born ten years later on July 10, 1925.
Mary’s acting career started as young as eight years old. She
is best known for her role as sweet little Mary in the silent “Our Gang” features of the mid to late 1920's. By
the time sound was added to movies, Mary had become too old for the series and to my knowledge does not appear in any of the
early “talkie” versions. Yet she would go on to perform a similar role in a teenage version of the “Our
Gang” series entitled “The Boy Friends”. Mary would still play the sweet unassuming role, which came so
naturally to her.
For Mary, there was life in filmmaking long after childhood stardom had waned, which is uncommon
even in today’s acting world. And why not! She appeared in countless movies with such stars as John Wayne, Fred Astaire,
Bing Crosby and Bobby Steele, who you might remember as “Duffy”, in the 1960’s series, “F-Troop”.
One of the most memorable films of Mary was “College Humor”, 1933, in which she plays “Amber”, the
shy college girlfriend of actor Jack Oakie. In this movie we get to see a side of Mary’s talents not shown in her other
features, that being an elaborate song and dance routine with Jack. Bing Crosby headlines this film with his signature ability
to croon and swoon the ladies. Even Mary, for a moment, is moved by his charming and melodious voice. It was on the set, while
filming this movie, that Mary would meet her first husband, credited cameraman of “College Humor”, Leo Tover.
It was this same year that Mary appeared in another movie with Bing; a short entitled “Please”. This
movie, filmed on location at Yosemite National Park, was not discovered until 1960. In it, Mary plays a voice teacher, Beth
Sawyer, on whom Bing has set his affections. Playing himself, Bing hides his identity as to finagle lessons out of Beth in
order to get close to her.Mary then enters him in a singing contest only to find out Bing's true identity. Humiliated by this,
Mary rejects Bing but is soon won over as he croons a chorus of "Please" through her parlor window.
Brides”, 1934, would follow in which Mary plays “Matteo”, the beautiful young daughter of the doctor of
a gold mining town in Brazil. Here, American women are shipped over, as would be brides for the American miners. Mary doesn’t
have a major role in this film yet once again she shines throughout and positively steals the limelight from the more leading
Mary would later play an out of character role as a young woman, “Joan”, who had been lost
in the jungle as a child only to be raised by a local tribe. This cliffhanger serial, released in 1935, is entitled "Queen
of the Jungle" and could very well have been an inspiration for Spielberg's "Indiana Jones". It is still available
on both VHS and DVD. Originally made for the movie theaters, it was considered a disaster, as it was a remake of an earlier
silent movie, “Jungle Goddess”. In order to save money, the movie company used thirteen-year-old footage of various
wildlife and acting scenes and awkwardly spliced them throughout the remake along with superimposed sound effects. The movie
from a production standpoint has much to be desired. Nonetheless, Mary’s sweetness and innocence transcends these shortcomings,
making this serial most enjoyable to watch.
In 1935 Mary would play a supporting role along side of an up and
coming actor of Wild West features later to be known as the “Duke”. In “Desert Trail”, no one is better
qualified to play the love interest, “Anne”, of the misunderstood John Wayne character, “John Scott”,
who is falsely accused of murder. This movie is also available on VHS in a “colorized” format but unfortunately
the voices have been dubbed over on that version, with the possible exception of John Wayne’s. Another colorized version
of “The Desert Trail” can be found on a DVD entitled ”The Fugitive”, from “The Young Duke Series”.
This DVD consists of three John Wayne westerns that have been cut down, renamed, digitally remastered and colorized. The second
episode, “On The Run” is actually a shortened version of “The Desert Trail”. Fortunately the original
voices were left alone and much of the footage containing Mary has not been cut. This is definitely worth watching just to
see Mary in full living color.
Another Wild West feature would follow that year entitled, ”Smokey Smith”.
This time, with leading actor Bobby Steele. Though Mary’s character “Bess” lives with her stepfather, who
is housing outlaws, she still does the right thing in helping “Smokey” bring the bad guys to justice. Unfortunately,
Bobby’s westerns fell by the wayside, as the young John Wayne became the new favorite cowboy hero of filmgoers.
Again in 1935, Mary would appear as Kitty Marley in “The Calling of Dan Matthews”. Kitty, who is celebrating
her eighteenth birthday, becomes caught up in the world of underage drinking, a subject that is all too common today yet new
to the picture industry at that time. This ground-breaking movie has the local Reverend Dan Matthews, played by Richard Arlen,
taking on the mob who is serving alcohol to minors. Richard Arlen also appeared in College Humor three years earlier, along
with Mary, playing the role of Mondrake.
After five years Mary’s first marriage would end in divorce. This
would be followed by her marriage to Ralph B. McCutcheon, a trainer of horses, some used in films. They first met when Mary
bought a horse and looked up Ralph to teach her new horse some tricks. Mutual love for the animals led to their long marriage.
Their ranch, in Sand Canyon, was named "Rancho Maria" after his wife. Ralph may be best known for his horse “Fury”,
who appeared in many movies including "Black Beauty" and "My Friend Flicka". Fury also appeared in such
TV shows as "Bonanza", "Rin Tin Tin" and the "Monkees".
Mary, though very shy, was
not afraid to take on any work in Hollywood. According to Mildred, Mary’s sister, Mary never had to look for work. Work
always found her. Not being fascinated with the Hollywood lights, Mary only stayed in movies until her mid twenties. Mary’s
main concern was to see her sister through school. Mildred recently referred to Mary as her “Rock”, which is not
surprising. Had Mary remained in the acting business, it is no doubt that with her charm and natural talent she would have
gained the well-deserved status and recognition of other diva actresses of that time.
Never having children, Mary
would spend the rest of her life devoted to her husband, Ralph. Mildred tells us that they were very much in love. They both
spent their remaining years on their ranch with the horses they so loved. Mary was never to return to movies, yet she would
keep in close contact with many of her Hollywood acquaintances and friends.
When recently asked if Mary was as
kind and genuine a person as she appeared to be in her movies, Mildred simply replied, “She was all of that and more”.
Sadly, Mary passed away at the young age of 57 on June 1, 1973 after a long illness, Mildred by her side. Ralph would
then follow in 1975. They both were buried at the Linn Grove Cemetery in Greeley, Weld County, Colorado.
Mary spent only her younger years in movies, she leaves behind quite an extensive filmography, starting with the silent "Our
Gangs" of the 1920's (available on DVD, "The Little Rascals Collection 2004 ") right up to the sophisticated
"talkies" of the late 1930's (some still available on VHS at "Moviesunlimited.com"). With her genuine
kindheartedness ever present throughout all of her films, I would highly recommend any one of them.
Today we have
HDTV, satellite TV and cable TV delivering to us hundreds of channels to choose from in superb clarity. With this progression
in technology one might agree that we have also experienced quite a regression in the actor's ability to act, thus providing
us with very little new material that is worth viewing. Might I suggest a movie by the sweetest lady ever to pioneer the filmmaking
industry and grace us with her beauty on the Silver Screen, Mary Kornman!