Mary Beth Hughes: From “The Women” to “The Working Girls”

Thank you, Caftan Woman, for making me aware of the natal day of Mary Beth Hughes (1919-1995). Never heard of her? Don’t blame ya — she had to have had one of the least memorable professional names in show business history. “Mary Beth Hughes? Wasn’t she in my math class?” Yet she co-starred in several major, well-known films, and also supported some of our favorite classic comedians, so we give her her due today.

After some regional stage experience, notably as the title character in a touring production of Alice in Wonderland, Hughes moved to Hollywood in the late ’30s with her single mother and grandmother, a former stage actress named Flora Fosdick. (True story!) After about a half dozen nonspeaking bit parts, she landed one of her first named characters as Miss Trimmerback in the The Women (1939). Then in 1940 the foxy fox got a contract at Fox, where she was to remain for four years, co-starring in pictures like The Great Profile (1940) with John Barrymore, Ride On Vaquero (1941) with Cesar Romero, Dressed to Kill (1941) with Lloyd Nolan, and The Ox-Bow Incident (1942) with Henry Fonda. Her hottest film is without a doubt Anthony Mann’s 1945 noir for Republic The Great Flamarion, with Erich Von Stroheim and Dan Duryea. Through the late ’40s and early ’50s, westerns were her bread and butter.

Camp fans enjoy the Poverty Row juvie exploitation flick I Accuse My Parents (1944). We would also like to call your attention to Caged Fury (1948), a circus drama with Buster Crabbe, in which her character gets mauled to death by a lion.

One of Hughes’ first comedies was The Cowboy and the Blonde (1941) opposite George Montgomery, an obvious rip-off of the 1938 classic The Cowboy and the Lady, with Taming of the Shrew themes that anticipate McLintock! Other comedies include Rockin’ in the Rockies (1945) with the Three Stooges, Joe Palooka in Winner Take All (1948), The Abbott and Costello Show, Dig That Uranium (1955) with the Bowery Boys, and a stint as a regular on The Red Skelton Show. During fallow periods, she performed a live nightclub act.

Her last few films were naughty naughty: the X rated The Blue Hour and How’s Your Love Life? (both 1971), Stephanie Rothman’s interesting The Working Girls (1974) for AIP and her last, the not-to-be-believed Tanya (1976), a sexual satire of the Patty Hearst story.

To learn more about show business, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.