“Dora, I suspect you’re a treasure.”

Bette Davis, Mary Wickes.NOW VOYAGER.

I suspect that’s how many of us think  of Mary Wickes who was active on stage, films , radio and television from the 1930s through to the 1990s.

At 5 feet 10 inches and rather sharp featured , her niche was in roles requiring a nurse, housekeeper, maid, secretary, landlady. She never walked slowly, she had a deadpan ,sometimes  caustic , often loud delivery. Being a servant didn’t mean she wouldn’t say what she thought in any situation. Generally the families Mary worked for were better off for knowing her. She knew her place but she wasn’t second fiddle to anyone.

In other words, Mary perfected her screen character and played it on stage,films and TV for 50 years.


A young Mary . Born in St. Louis in 1910, she was in New York by the early 1930s and appeared  on stage in “Stage Door” in 1936.


Jimmy Durante, Mary Wickes, Monty Woolley

Mary had been in the Broadway cast of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. She and Monty Woolley reprised their roles for the Warners screen version and that was the start of her Hollywood career.


Who can forget ‘Miss Breen’ who had to put up with the put-downs of Mr. Woolley as ‘Sheridan Whiteside’. Perhaps the only time  that Mary didn’t have a quick retort to any criticism. Still, it was her first film and screenwriters got wise to what suited her.

She took it on the chin when Whiteside compared her to his great – aunt  who “when she’d been dead three days, looked better than you do now!”.


With Frank Sinatra, Michelle Morgan and Jack Haley in HIGHER AND HIGHER.


With Rosemary Clooney in WHITE CHRISTMAS. Mary could be a busybody, but usually with a good heart.


Mary was the very first MARY POPPINS, on television in 1949. Would love to see it.


Behind-the-scenes view of American actress Mary Wickes, suspended from a pulley by crewmen, as she plays Mary Poppins in a television adaptation (directed by Paul Nickell) of the PL Travers story for the show ‘Studio One In Hollywood,’ New York, New York, 1949. (Photo by Bernard Hoffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)


Rehearsing with Bob Hope and Lucy.


With her friend Lucile Ball.

Lucille Ball, Mary Wickes.


As Madame Le Mond  in”The Ballet” episode (I love Lucy, 1952}.

Lucille’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz , gave the eulogy at Mary’s funeral.


Mary , as Miss  Cathcart, renders ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’ in an episode of “Dennis The Menace”. (On You Tube).

Not to be missed!


As Ronald Colman’s housekeeper in “The Halls of Ivy” (1954)


In an episode of “Columbo” with Peter Falk .(‘Suitable for Framing’.1971)


One of Mary’s many radio appearances in ALICE ADAMS, with Judy Garland  in the title role, with Thomas Mitchell. (1950) . Available on You Tube.


Not sure what the occasion is, but here’s Mary with June Havoc and Jan Sterling.


Mary , who died in 1995, left $2 million to her Alma mater, Washington University to establish a memorial library fund for film and theatre arts, in memory of her parents. The University, in St.Louis, has her personal papers and memorabilia which are open to researchers ( if only they were online.)

Mary was ‘artist in residence’ at the University in 1968.

Mary Wickes and students.


Some correspondence kept by Mary.


With Bing Crosby


Mary was in Bette Davis films  “Now  Voyager,” “June Bride”  And an unsold TV pilot which Bette did in 1965, called “The Decorator.” In which Mary played her assistant – Bette is an interior decorator. (Viewable on You Tube)

With  Bette Davis in “The Decorator ”.


With Bette Davis.JUNE BRIDE


Letter from Bette Davis to Mary.

(reference to”Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.”)


Leon Ames,  Doris Day,  Billy Gray, Mary Wickes. BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON.

Biography by Steve Taravella.


Mary Wickes ,born Mary Isabella Wickenhauser.


I’ve just discovered on You Tube a TV movie from 1952 starring Mary  It’s called “Miss Hargreaves “ and is set in an English village – Mary’s accent is good. She plays an eccentric writer who stirs up the village – also she may not be real! A sort of female Sheridan Whiteside. Very interesting.

Oh,  and Mary did adverts for Ford Automobile, Cristo Oil and Snowy Bleach.

And I haven’t forgotten her in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS in 1966 and SISTER ACT nearly 30 years later. She had already played a nun on The Lucy Show.

The Trouble with Angels

Definitely a treasure!



13 responses »

  1. Coincidentally, i just saw Ms Wickes in an old episode of Murder, She Wrote the other day. I recall her mainly from The Man Who Came to Dinner, which is just a marvelous film. I also seem to remember her being enjoyable in Who Done It alongside Abbott and Costello.

  2. Yes, i must watch Man who Came to Dinner again. Monty Woolley is so good.
    Haven’t seen Who Done it.
    She kept so busy through the decades .
    Wish there was access to her papers at the University.

  3. Fascinating article bringing to life a character whom i shall look for with more interest now.thanks vienna for a sterling column.

  4. Vienna, another really good write-up. The incomparable, one and only Mary Wickes. She was one of the great character actresses of all time. When she was in a movie or TV show, it was that much better. She could hold her own with anyone, even Abbott and Costello in WHO DONE IT?(1942).

    You gave us a wonderful selection of photographs and I really liked the 2nd photo from the top of a young Mary.

  5. Margaret Rutherford appeared in a stage adaptation of Miss Hargreaves at the Royal Court Theatre but it wasn’t too successful and didn’t transfer to the West End. Margaret also play ed it on radio the following year.

  6. Thanks so much for a wonderful blog on the career of the sometimes crotchety but always lovable Miss Wicks. Mary was also perfect as the busybody housekeeper in The Father Dowling Mysteries. I love her in June Bride as well. It was one of the few times she got the chance to be rather glamorous on screen. You catch my Queen of the Lot blog at:

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