Mary Mulhern: Jack Pickford’s Last and Least-Known Wife

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Today is the birthday of Mary Mulhern (1908-1965). Originally from Newark, NJ, Mulhern was the daughter of Irish immigrants, her father a traveling salesman. When she was only 17 years old, she was cast as a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925. The following year she was also cast in the Ziegfeld revue No Foolin‘. In 1928 she took a trip to London and Paris. And in 1929 she appeared in three Vitaphone shorts: Somewhere in Jersey, Just Like a Man, and Harry Rosenthal and His Bath and Tennis Club Orchestra. At this point she seemed well on the way to a decent career.

But then there was a lapse in judgment. In 1930, she became the third Ziegfeld wife of rake, roué, and reprobate Jack Pickford, stepping into shoes previously filled by the better known Olive Thomas and Marilyn Miller. The day after the wedding, they were accosted by creditors for unpaid bills. Pickford was alternately violent and neglectful of her, and then he was hospitalized following a car accident. They were in the process of getting divorced when he passed away in 1932.

In the meantime she had starred in a 1931 Hollywood production of Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime with Althea Henley, produced by Sid Grauman. But after this, her professional career seems to have evaporated, not surprising in the depths of the Great Depression.

By 1934, she was back in New York. From this point, the only references to her are mentions by columnists, always in the context of her being a former Ziegfeld beauty and Pickford wife.

Walter Winchell gives this intriguing item in 1934: “What the gazettes omitted in the Max BaerEdward McCarthy snarl is that Edward McCarthy is Mary Mulhern’s Monkey-Doodle.” Translated, this sounds like there was a public altercation between the boxer Max Baer and this McCarthy, probably in some night club, and that McCarthy was Mulhern’s romantic interest at the time. That this appears as an item at all in Winchell’s column has all the earmarks of Mulhern contacting Winchell to complain that she wasn’t mentioned in any of the previous coverage of the event. Over the next 20 years, Winchell would apparently be one of Mulhern’s only friends, throwing her whatever crumbs he could in his column.

A Winchell column item from 1945 informs us that she is “to wed a fourth time, to a youthful British nobleman.” This one, unfortunately, seems to have been a fantasy on every level. Pickford was Mulhern’s only known husband. This may have been a simple error of flipping the facts: Mulhern was Pickford’s third wife, but Pickford was not Mulhern’s third husband. And the marriage to the nameless nobleman seems never to have taken place.

The 1950s found Mulhern in desperate straits.  In 1952, Jack Lait’s column mentions that she was “a hostess in an ice cream shop at 59th Street and Park Ave.” In 1953, Winchell reported that she was working at a restaurant and needed a job. In 1955 she wrote to Winchell seeking his corroboration that she had been in show business so she get “a loan from an actor’s group.” Later that year she was checked into a mental hospital, where she remained until she passed away a decade later.

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