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His book represents a single, exemplary attempt to document the middle class, sort-of-famous, sort-of-not life led by all those familiar working actors of the studio era.
Largely neglected by the press in their own day, they are beloved ciphers to modern movie fans. No, although she may have had her first and only sexual encounter with a gay man.
In a career that spanned more than 50 movies, more than two dozen Broadway plays and musicals and 60 television shows, she mocked her own plain looks and her abrasive manner of speaking.
Given the opportunity, she was able to demonstrate her acting range, appearing as Penelope Sycamore in "You Can't Take It With You" at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and as Mistress Quickly in Peter Coe's production of "Henry IV, Part 1" at the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn.
Her face was always familiar but her name often escaped moviegoing audiences.
"They may not ask for my autograph," she said, "as long as they sign my paycheck." Her signature role was in the original Broadway production, in 1939, of the Moss Hart-George S.
The portrait that emerges of Wickes, who led a life not unlike those of many of her characters, is far from flattering.
She lived with her mother until she was 55, and then alone in a Los Angeles high-rise for the last thirty years of her life.
She was also in "Anna Lucasta," "White Christmas," "The Actress," "The Music Man" and "Postcards From the Edge," in which she played Meryl Streep's grandmother.She started her acting career with a cameo role in the 1935 short film, Watch the Birdie.Fifteen years ago, when I worked at the USC Warner Bros.Wickes, whose original name was Mary Isabelle Wickenhauser, was born and reared in St Louis.After graduating from Washington University there, she began her theatrical career in 1935 at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, Mass.
Meticulously but tastefully, Taravella probes this and every other aspect of Wickes’s personal life to create a portrait of Wickes so detailed that, by the end of the book, you can accurately guess how she responded to a given situation before Taravella offers up the answer.