Marin Sais: Creature of California

When it came time to devise a professional name, Mae Smith (1890-1971) of San Rafael, California chose personal significance over immortality perhaps: “Marin”, after the county she came from, and “Sais”, after a Mexican ancestor who settled the region. Marin Sais appeared in over 270 movies over 40+ years in the business, the best remembered of which is arguably the camp anti-drug classic Reefer Madness (1936), though that’s the fault neither of herself nor her films, it’s just fate playing a weird trick. No doubt she has her genuine fans among the lovers of vintage comedies and westerns.

As a teenager, Sais moved to New York where she began to act in stock theatre and perform in vaudeville. Her first film credit was the part of Maria in Vitagraph’s one reel Twelfth Night (1910), supporting Florence Turner. In 1911 she signed with Kalem, where she starred in scores of westerns, comedies, and melodramas through 1917 with stars like Lloyd Hamilton and Bud Duncan (both in and out of the “Ham and Bud” series), Ruth Roland, and others. “Scores” is not an exaggeration; well over half of her films were made between 1911 and 1917. Many of these were adventure and western film series where she played the same character from week to week, with names such as “Bertha, the Girl Detective”, “Frances Ballon, House Detective”, “Ethel Porter, Stingaree’s Sweetheart”, “Mona Hartley”, “Barbara Brent”, and “Madge King”. James W. Horne directed many or most of these.

Sais’s career rose a rung in 1918 when she was hired to star opposite Sessue Hayakawa in the feature The City of Dim Faces, followed by His Birthright (1918) and Bonds of Honor (1919), also with the popular star. She also supported Mary McLaren and Anna Q. Nilsson in The Vanity Pool (1918). In 1920 she married Jack Hoxie, and began appearing as his leading lady in a series of western features starting with Thunderbolt Jack, directed by Francis Ford. Though the pair divorced in 1925 they continued appearing in movies together through 1927, at which point she began supporting Bob Steele and others. In the talkie era, she appeared almost exclusively in B movie westerns, supporting Buster Crabbe, Jack Luden, and others. She played “The Duchess” (Red’s Aunt”) in a series of Red Ryder westerns in 1949. Her last film, The Great Jesse James Raid (1953) is notable for being the only movie to co-star the tempestuous, doomed couple Barbara Payton and Tom Neal.

Sais retired after that at the age of 63. It seems young-ish, but think of all the movies she made, and consider also that she stunted as well as acted. She was highly regarded as a horsewoman, and had injured herself from time to time over the years. She had more than earned the rest of her last couple of decades.

For more on vaudeville, where Marin Sais got her start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.