Impractical Princess: Mae Murray

Impractical Princess: Mae Murray

Mae Murray was the quintessential, 1920’s modern woman. Mae is by all accounts a vixen, having married 4 times and being known more for her beauty, than her talent. She was nicknamed, “The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips” and “The Gardenia of Hollywood”. Mae Murray was a great dancer. She began dancing on the vaudeville circuit, when she was discovered by the great, Irving Berlin. He was her ticket to Broadway, giving Mae rousing reviews to directors & actors, alike. Soon, Murray became the toast of New York and many wealthy, powerful men were dying to have the trophy beauty on their arm. Although Broadway adored Mae, she was fabricated for Hollywood. In 1918, she married Robert Z. Leonard and the union was a huge career boost. He was an actor, director, producer, and writer for Hollywood’s heavy-weight, studios. Together, they made a creative, duo and secured Mae a lucrative contract with, MGM. Mae’s movies were box-office gold, beginning in 1918. She starred with the best leading men such as, John Gilbert and Valentino. The critics denounced Mae’s acting abilities, hating her “over-the-top” on-screen, emotions and costumes. Despite the criticizing critics, Mae’s public: the movie-goers, turned out in droves to see her newest, silent. The public adoration cemented her self-worth to MGM, who began growing tired of her antics, on & off-screen. Mae was blowing through her money like the American flapper, she was. Spending millions on cars, furs, jewelry, and men. Murray starred in the hit, “The Merry Widow”, in 1925. Her last famous, film. Talkies were just around the corner and a series of bad decisions put Mae, in a bad position. First bad decision: becoming a diva. Being a difficult women was seriously, frowned upon by male actors, co-stars, and studio heads. Mae was in full-force, diva-mode when making “The Merry Widow”, but because her movies brought in the $$, people had to put up with her behavior. Second mistake:
divorcing Leonard, her creative rock for so-called “prince”, David Mdivani. Mdivani had 2 brothers one also married Hollywood queen, Pola Negri. They earned the title, “The Marrying Mdivanis”. Mae’s prince convinced her to let HIM be her manager, convincing Mae to walk out on, MGM. When Murray turned over the management of her career to her prince, no successful screen work ever followed. Third bad judgement call: turning a blind-eye to Mdivani as he bilked her for millions, leaving her almost penniless. When the money was gone, so was the fake, prince. Mae went back on her knees to MGM, but the scorned Louis B. Mayer was having none of it. He was glad to get rid of the diva, as he was harvesting a new crop of starlets. Mae made 2 more movies…her first talkies. Even though her voice wasn’t bad and she was still Mae Murray, early RKO productions (the studio that accepted the MGM orphan) were, low-budget and badly photographed. These films enhanced Mae’s over-emoting, acting and showed her age. Mae dropped into Hollywoodland, obscurity. To support herself, she worked in nightclubs that celebrated the “gay ’90’s”. She probably found some happiness in the nostalgic, atmosphere. In later life, Mae moved to the, “Motion Picture House” in Woodland Hills, a retirement community for Hollywood professionals. She died there in 1965, at the age of 79…only leaving behind a trunk of clothing. Mae Murray may be forgotten, today but in the ’20’s she was tops. Mae was a beautiful, talented woman who was a risk-taker (even if the risks were too much) and loved to have fun. For her movie career, she has a star on the Walk. Adieu, Ms. Murray and may you rule in Hollywood Heaven!


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