Mae Marsh
(11/09/1894 - 02/13/1968)

Born Mary Wayne Marsh, Mae Marsh was an American film actress with a career spanning over 50 years.

Marsh worked with D.W. Griffith in small roles at Biograph when they were filming in California and in New York. Her big break came when Mary Pickford, resident star of the Biograph lot and a married woman at that time, refused to play the bare-legged, grass-skirted role of Lily-White in Man's Genesis. Griffith announced that if Pickford would not play that part in Man’s Genesis she would not play the coveted title role in his next film, The Sands of Dee. The other actresses stood behind Pickford, each refusing in turn to play the part, citing the same objection.

Years later, Marsh recalled in an interview in The Silent Picture, “...and he called rehearsal, and we were all there and he said, ‘Well now, Miss Marsh, you can rehearse this.’ And Mary Pickford said, ‘What!’ and Mr. Griffith said, ‘Yes, Mary Pickford, if you don’t do what I tell you I want you to do, I’m going to have someone else do The Sands of Dee. Mary Pickford didn’t play Man’s Genesis so Mae can play The Sands of Dee.’ Of course, I was thrilled, and she was very much hurt. And I thought, ‘Well, it's all right with me. That is something.’ I was, you know, just a lamebrain.”.

Working with Mack Sennett and D.W. Griffith, she was a prolific actress, sometimes appearing in eight movies a year and often paired with fellow Sennett protégé Robert Harron in romantic roles. In The Birth of a Nation (1915) she played the innocent sister who waits for her brothers to come home from war and who, in one of the film's most racially charged scenes, leaps to her death rather than submit to the lustful advances of Gus, the so-called "renegade Negro" who is later killed by the Ku Klux Klan. In Intolerance (1916) she plays the wife who has her baby taken away after her husband is unjustly convicted of murder.

She signed a lucrative contract with Samuel Goldwyn worth $2,500 per week after Intolerance, but none of the films she made with him were particularly successful. After her marriage to Lee Arms, a publicity agent for Goldwyn, in 1918, her film output decreased to about one per year.

Marsh's last notable starring role was as a flapper for Griffith in The White Rose (1923) with Ivor Novello and Carol Dempster. She re-teamed with Novello for the film version of his hit stage play, The Rat (1925).

In 1955, Marsh was awarded The George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

*sources: Wikipedia; “The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era” by David W. Menefee. Connecticut: Praeger, 2004.

Available Films

The Avenging Conscience (1914)

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Hoodoo Ann (1916)

Polly of the Circus (1917)

The Mother and the Law (1919)

The White Rose (1923)

Daddies (1924)

The Rat (1926)