Known as the vainest woman in motion pictures, the "self-enchanted" Mae Murray began her career at age thirteen dancing in Murray's cabaret where she appropriated her last name. She was nineteen when she was featured in the 1908 Ziegfeld Follies. Her conspicuous presence in the Follies from 1908 to 1915 made her a New York fixture. Along with Irene Castle and Ann Pennington, Murray instigated the popular craze for dancing that seized the American populace in the 1910s, being particularly famous for the hesitation and the one-step.
A strangely attractive blonde, famous for her tousled main, "bee-stung" lips, heavy eyelids, and well-turned legs, she became a Broadway sensation. A sensualist who said "beauty, rhythm, sex . . . are my religion," Murray had an ecstatic personality that communicated on screen in the famous waltz scene in Eric Von Stroheim's "The Merry Widow" or in the promenading in "Fashion Row" (1924), or hoofing in an Eastern European carnival in "Jazz Mania."
Off stage or off set she seethed temperament, falling in and out love with breathtaking rapidity and intensity, and galvanizing the American court system in a life-long series of lawsuits over anything that she found disagreeable. As long as a role could be characterized by visual means, she was masterful, able to play anything from a "Mormon Maid" to "Circe." Her forte was playing gay, frivolous women, such as the heroine in "Delicious Little Baby."
Her voice, was not mellifluous. Her Broadway career had emphasized her dancing and her physicality. Silent films favored pantomimic artistry. When sound came, her film career collapsed when three features failed. In 1926 she was worth $3,000,000; ten years later she was penniless and sleeping on park benches in New York City.
Much of the 1930s were spent in litigation over custody of the son she had with her fourth husband, Prince David M'dvani. Shortly before her death in 1965 she was found wandering the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, as an indigent.
NOTES: "Mae Murray Deserts Stage for Screen," Atlanta Constitution (Dec 12, 1915), A:3. Myrtle Gebhart, "Dazzling Player Progresses in New Direction," LA Times (Feb 24, 1924), B:11. Alma Whitaker, "'The Merry Widow' and Terpsicore join Hands Again," LA Times (Oct 16, 1927). "Her $ 3,000,000 Gone, Mae Murray Says," NY Times (Feb 24, 1940), 14. Jerry Cohen, "Silent Film Vamp Mae Murray Dies, Broke, Lonely," LA Times (Mar 24, 1965), A:1. Internet Movie Database. Inez and Helen Klumph, Screen Acting Its Requirements and Rewards. (NY: Falk, 1922). Jane Kesner Ardmore, The Self-Enchanted: Mae Murray, Image of an Era. (McGraw-Hill, 1959). David S. Shields/ALS