Some brief notes on the brief career of Betty Mack (Idalene Thurber, 1901-1980).
A rural Illinois girl, Mack started out as a Broadway chorus girl at the age of 18. She was in the shows Red Dawn (1919), Little Miss Charity (1920), Tip Top (1920), The Half Moon (1920), and Love Birds (1921). Nearly a decade passes before Mack turns up as a French coquette in the Trem Carr production God’s Country and the Man (1931) — one surmises that she spent the intervening decade in vaudeville, burlesque, regional musicals, stock theatre or night club work, but I’ve not turned up any corroboration. Carr, one of the founders of Poverty Row’s Monogram Pictures, was from Trenton, Illinois; perhaps the two knew each other in their youth, providing her with a leg up in the industry. At any rate, at the age of 30, she was now co-starring in a series of B movie westerns for Carr, opposite the likes of Tom Tyler, Rex Bell, and Bob Custer. This run lasted until the middle of the decade, when Monogram was folded into the newly founded Republic Studios.
Of greater interest to many of our readers no doubt will be the fact that Mack appeared in several comedy shorts in the ’30s, starting with Roadhouse Queen (1933) with Walter Catlett, and then several in which she is paired with Charley Chase: Midsummer Mush and Luncheon at Twelve (both 1933), and The Cracked Ice Man, Four Parts, I’ll Take Vanilla, Another Wild Idea, It Happened One Day, Something Simple, and The Chases of Pimple Street (all 1934). A drunk driving arrest in 1935 may have ended this happy association. Her last comedy shorts were Free Rent (1936) with Monte Collins, and two with The Three Stooges in 1937: Grips Grunts and Groans (1937) and The Sitter Downers (1937).
Mack’s last decent western roles were in The Last of the Clintons (1935) with Harry Carey, Senor Jim (1936) with Conway Tearle, Hair Trigger Casey (1937) with Jack Perrin, and Rough Riding Rhythm (1937) with Kermit Maynard (Ken’s brother). She was one of the chorus girls in Gold Diggers of 1937. Starting in 1938, Mack worked mostly as a bit player and extra, ending with Confessions of Boston Blackie in 1941.
For more on show business history, 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.
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