Tuesday, December 9, 2014

wacky tacky Icons: Mary Wickes, What a Character!

Mary Wickes
June 13, 1910 - October 22, 1995

From postmistress/switchboard operator (It Happened to Jane), to wisecracking housekeeper (Annette, On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Sanford and Son, I'll See You in My Dreams), to gargoyle with a heart of gold (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Mary Wickes is your favorite actor whose name you probably don't know.  Imbuing every one of her roles with the plain-speaking, salt-of-the-earth gumption suggestive of her Midwestern roots, Mary Wickes was the go-to character actress for nearly every no-nonsense nun (Sister Act, Sister Act 2, The Trouble with Angels, Where Angels Go Trouble Follows, Punky Brewster) and nosy neighbor (Dennis the Menace) that Hollywood created during her seven-decade career.

"You don't say."

Featured in practically all of Hollywood's more memorable productions, scanning her extensive IMDb page is to realize that Mary Wickes is at the heart of wacky tacky's most beloved screen classics.  At this time of year, the role that immediately springs to mind is Pine Tree, Vermont's most misguided, if well-intentioned, hotel housekeeper.

Columbia Inn's head of housekeeping, Emma Allen (Wickes), counsels
General Waverly (Dean Jagger) in a pivotal scene from White Christmas (1954)

It is an underreported fact that White Christmas' entire love story hinges on Wickes' character; her meddlesome eavesdropping results in filmdom's greatest weather-related, hotel-reviving, sister-act-involved, Crosby-crooning, yuletide misunderstanding.  And without her eleventh hour cajoling of the General, there would be no glorious, snowy, Technicolor resolution.

As a child, I couldn't forget her star turns in White Christmas, Dennis the Menace, and Punky Brewster.
To the world, she was unforgettable as ballet mistress, Madame Lamond, on I Love Lucy.

There is little on record in regards to Mary's private life.  For that reason alone, she had just the kind of career I would want should I ever become a player in motion pictures.  Friendly with the major stars of both the big and small screens, Wickes side-stepped the relatively short career spans of those same friends by avoiding the press and Hollywood's biggest pitfall, vanity.  Taking a face perfectly suited for radio and turning it into a lifetime of steady screen work, she will always be an inspiration to those of us blessed with less-than-matinee-idol looks.

"Pick a Little, Talk a Little"
Wickes played one of River City's clucky society matrons, Mrs. Squires,
 in one of my all-time favorite movie musicals, The Music Man (1962)

Some of Wickes' earliest film roles were as uncredited dress extra.  Turning a corner, her career gained momentum when she donned a nurse's uniform for two of 1942's greatest films, Now Voyager and The Man Who Came to Dinner, both starring Bette Davis.  

"Dora, I suspect you're a treasure."

Always forthright, always funny, always fallible (but never mean-spirited), Mary Wickes brought tremendous charm to every character she played.  As a consistent presence in my preferred childhood entertainment, she is unquestionably one of my favorite actresses - character or otherwise.  I, too, suspect she is a treasure!

Don't you just love Mary Wickes?  Do you have any other favorite character actors?  Wherever you live, we hope that Mary Wickes ushers in a White Christmas for you this year!

Mary Wickes is a panelist on Match Game '76

Mary Wickes guest stars on Doris Day's radio show (1952)


Mr. Tiny


  1. I DO love Mary Wickes! And it appears that we share some of the very same all-time favorite movies, such as White Christmas and The Music Man. So, Just wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas and tell you how much I enjoy your blog!

    1. Thanks, Heidi! I hope you have a Merry Christmas as well!!!

  2. I loved the witch from HR puff and stuff and the one in the wiz of oz. It was so scary to me as a kid I could barely look at the tv. I love all those high camp ultra dramatic females on steroids. They remind me of drag queens!

  3. I remember seeing her as the nurse in the Orson Welles TV version of The Man Who Came to Dinner-- and my folks saying she had been in the movie of it.
    Geez, that was 1972.

    1. She brought life to everything she did. I just watched the entire Annette serial from The Mickey Mouse Club; she made the whole thing believable!

  4. I never new who she was but Ive certainly seen her what a great character

    retro rover

    1. She really is the best! I think it is nearly impossible for anyone born in America before 1996 not to have seen Mary Wickes in at least three productions. She is a national treasure!

  5. I had forgotten her name, but I love Mary Wickes. She's always been one of my favorite character actresses.

    1. She is so good. I will watch pretty much anything if her name is in the credits!