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 1914 film Tillie's Punctured
Romance opposite Sennett’s newly discovered actor, Charlie
Chaplin. Dressler appeared in two more "Tillie" sequels plus
other comedies until 1918 when she returned to work in 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, she had been secretly
blacklisted by the theater production companies due to her strong stance
in a labor dispute. It would turn out to be another Canadian who 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."
A robust woman of very plain features,
Marie Dressler’s 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 for four straight years. In addition to her
comedic genius, she also demonstrated her considerable talents by taking
on serious roles. For her starring portrayal in Min and Bill she
won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Actress. Dressler was nominated
again for Best Actress for her 1932 role as Emma. With that film,
Dressler demonstrated her profound generosity to other performers:
Dressler personally insisted that her studio bosses cast a friend of
hers and then largely unknown young actor, Richard Cromwell, in the lead
opposite her. It was a break that helped launch his career.
Dressler followed these successes with
more hits in 1933 and made the cover of the August 7, 1933 issue of Time
magazine. However, her career came to an abrupt end when she was
diagnosed with terminal cancer. In all, Marie Dressler appeared in more
than 40 films. 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 was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in
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.
More recently, another biography was
published entitled: Marie Dressler: The Unlikliest Star by
Ontario resident and writer Betty Lee.
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