R.I.P. Mary Carlisle: The Last WAMPAS Baby Star

I didn’t get the memo until just now (5 weeks late): Mary Carlisle, the last surviving WAMPAS Baby Star, passed away on August 1 at the age of 104.

Carlisle was born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston on February 3, 1914, and moved to Hollywood with her widowed mother when a young child. An uncle, Robert Carlisle was in the film business and through him, at the age of nine, she was given a job as an extra in the Jackie Coogan film Long Live the King (1923). She was still a kid (16) when her career began in earnest. In 1930 she began appearing as an extra in major films like Montana Moon, Madam Satan and Passion Flower.

1932 was a breakthrough year for her. She was named a WAMPAS Baby Star, often a path to stardom (Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart were also named her year). She had a named part (though still a bit role) in the all-star Grand Hotel. She co-starred in a couple of Christie comedy shorts directed by Harry Edwards: Now’s the Time and Ship A Hooey.

1933 was even better: she was was fourth billed in the all-star Paramount comedy College Humor, with Bing Crosby, Jack Oakie, Burns and Allen, Mary Kornman, Jimmy Conlin, and Grady Sutton. She was to be in some 60 films over the next decade. Other notable ones include Palooka (1934) with Jimmy Durante; Handy Andy (1934) with Will Rogers; Kentucky Kernels with Wheeler and Woolsey (1934); It’s in the Air (1935) with Jack Benny, Ted Healy, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton, Johnny Arthur, and Al Shean; the Preston Sturges-penned Hotel Haywire (1937); two more with Crosby: Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938); Beware, Spooks (1939) with Joe E. Brown; Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) with Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball. Her last film was the horror movie Dead Men Walk (1943) with George Zucco (playing twins!) and Dwight Frye.

Carlisle retired from acting after marrying former bit player James Blakeley, whose eclectic career later took him in to the production side of things. They couple raised one son, and for a time Carlisle managed an Elizabeth Arden salon in Beverly Hills. Like her fresh-faced, collegiate screen character, she must have lived clean to last ’til 104!