You may be able to find Never-Never Land with your heart, but no one bothered to tell Wendy Darling and her mother where they were supposed to be when a special screening of 1924's "Peter Pan" was held at San Francisco's Sheraton Palace Hotel on Labor Day weekend in 1984. At the time, Mary Brian was 78 (but only admitting to 76) and Esther Ralston was 82, but both looked so beautiful as they glided into the afternoon light that it was possible to imagine them as much younger. It would be many years before "Peter Pan" was released on video so that every kid could see the movie that only lucky kids who lived near the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York got to see for Christmas every year. Miss Ralston had the chance to write her autobiography, "Someday We'll Laugh," a few years before her death in 1994. Mary Brian, whose swan song, "The Drag Net" was released in 1947, lived on until the end of 2002, when she was 96 (but only admitting to 94).
Somehow, perhaps it was her association with Wendy Darling, Miss Brian received an wholesome, if inconvenient, reputation as a virgin. Year after year, fans saw her lovely, doll-like face in magazines and on movie posters, so lovely-doll-like roles were all she was ever offered. She was in 1926's "Behind The Front" and in 1927's "Running Wild" with W.C. Fields and in 1929's "The Virginian" with Gary Cooper and in 1930's "The Light Of Western Stars" with Richard Arlen and in 1931's "Front Page" with Pat O'Brien and in 1932's "Blessed Event" with Lee Tracy and in 1933's "The World Gone Mad." In 1936, she even went to England to make "The Amazing Quest Of Ernest Bliss." She was also cast as Gwen Cavendish in the prestigious film version of "The Royal Family Of Broadway" with a dream cast that included Ina Claire and Frederic March. A chance to diversify her screen image came when she auditioned for "A Star Was Born," in 1937 but Janet Gaynor received that meaty, Oscar-nominated role and Mary Brian accepted her loss gracefully. She didn't work onscreen again until she replaced actress Frances Farmer in 1943's "I Escaped From The Gestapo."
If Mary Brian outlived many of the admirers who adored her during her heyday as a silent and early talkie star, she left her delightful presence behind in several pictures available on video. It was a long and wonderful ride for the charming teenager who made Wendy Darling so real for so many children in her lifetime and the ride will never end for the kids who can continue to enjoy this treat in the years to come.
© 2003 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 1/15/03
1906 - 2002