Mary Stewart: A Queen in the Chorus

Though a distinctly minor show biz figure, we find ourselves interested in Mary Stewart (1913-1995), not just because we share a surname, but we also have mad respect for the sheer breadth of her credits and experience. Originally from Chicago, she is said to have danced on stage from the age of 3. As a teenager she danced in vaudeville and was a member of Fanchon and Marco’s Dance Troupe for a time. She also sang on radio with the Three Debutantes.

In movies she never progressed beyond the chorus, but she appeared in 61 films, many of them considered musical classics. She was a Mack Sennett Bathing Girl in the Billy Bevan comedy Motorboat Mamas (1928). It wasn’t until four years later she started a movie career that kept her steadily employed for almost 30 years. Her first talking film was the original The Big Broadcast (1932); she also appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1936 and The Big Broadcast of 1937. In her second film, The Kid from Spain (1932), she was a Goldwyn Girl. You can also see her in the Fred and Ginger musicals Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), and Shall We Dance (1937), as well as George White’s Scandals (1934) and George White’s 1935 Scandals, Stand Up and Cheer! (1934), Show Boat (1936), One in a Million (1936), Stage Door (1937), A Damsel in Distress (1937), Swiss Miss (1938), Tin Pan Alley (1940), My Gal Sal (1942), Coney Island (1943), Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943), Pin Up Girl (1944), Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944), Diamond Horseshoe (1945), Blue Skies (1946), and Wabash Avenue (1950).

In the mid ’50s she skated with Sonja Henie’s Hollywood Ice Revue and appeared on the tv show Holiday on Ice (1956). She also had a minor recurring role on the tv series Medic (1954). In 1954 she appeared in the film Désirée (1954) with Marlon Brando, for which she also served as an adviser, instructing the actor in the waltz. She was assistant to choreographer to Hermes Pan for the film Silk Stockings in 1957, also dancing in the film. She was also a dancer and choreographer on The Ed Sullivan Show and on the Elvis movie Love Me Tender (1956).  Her last movie credit was Can-Can (1960).

To learn more about vaudeville please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,