Mary Wickes was born to boss stars around and she did it in her own inimitable style for over half a century in dozens of movies. She began her film career in 1941's 'The Man Who Came To Dinner". Surrounded by a powerhouse cast, (Monty Woolley in the title role plus Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Jimmy Durante, Reginald Gardiner and Billy Burke) Mary Wickes created a sensation as the no-nonsense Nurse Preen and was effectively typecast forever. But Wickes accepted this challenge like a sprinter at the gate and poured energy and grit into a long succession of nurse and maid roles.
In 1942's "Now Voyager", Bette Davis remarks to her Nurse Pickford, "Dora, I suspect that you're a treasure". And indeed she was. Onscreen, Mary Wickes was intimidated by no one, not her blustering employers, not their bratty kids, and certainly not, when she played the quintessential nun, Mother Superiors. She even played Mary Poppins on live television 15 years before Julie Andrews arrived at the Disney studios with her spoonful of sugar.
When Warner Bros. tried to capture the same audience that made "Meet Me In St. Louis" such a hit over at M.G.M., Mary Wickes was on hand as the loyal, lovable family retainer in "On Moonlight Bay" and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon". She was maid to Annette in the Disney serial of the same name. And 26 years before she joined Whoopi Goldberg's choir in "Sister Act", she was a nun in the Hayley Mills vehicle, "The Trouble With Angels", director Ida Lupino's favorite project.
In recent years, Mary Wickes enjoyed a renaissance as an actress, playing in such high profile ventures as "Postcards from the Edge", (an offbeat role for her as Shirley MacLaine's mother and Meryl Streep's grandmother) the "Sister Act" films and "Little Women". It seems as if every new generation of casting directors asked themselves "Why don't we get a Mary Wickes type?" before kicking themselves in the head with the realisation that the original Mary Wickes was still around and ready to do cartwheels around the set. Alas, until now.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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