Mary Howard: Of “Borneo” and Broadway

Mary Howard (1913-2009) first came on to my radar as the ingenue in the Frank Morgan classic The Wild Man of Borneo (1941), originally devised as a vehicle for W.C. Fields. Her credits were not voluminous but she did make a mark in show business and the arts.

Born Mary Rogers in Independence, Kansas, Howard studied dance with Albertina Rasch and others in her youth. Two older sisters were in the Ziegfeld Follies; Howard’s one Broadway credit was a part in the ensemble of Life Begins at 8:40 (1934-35) with Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger. She had 32 film credits between 1933 and 1942, including bit roles in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Marie Antoinette (1938). Her career picked up 1940, when she got good supporting parts in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), The Wild Man of Borneo (1941), Billy the Kid (1941), Riders of the Purple Sage (1941), and several other films, a run that ended with The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942). When World War II hit Howard focused on entertaining servicemen in live performance, which she did for the duration.

In 1945 Howard married stage and screen producer and director Alfred de Liagre Jr. Liagre is primarily associated with Broadway, where he was instrumental in mounting 70 productions between 1933 and 1988, often in collaboration with Jean Dalrymple for the American National Theatre and Academy. He produced and directed the original production of Mr. and Mrs. North (1941), as well as The Madwoman of Chaillot (1948-50), J.B. (1958-59), and the smash hit Deathtrap (1978-82). Meanwhile, Mary Howard de Liagre kept a hand in the theatre arts, as a board member of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Princess Grace Foundation, and a founding member of Recording for the Blind.

To learn more about show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.