Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Dizzy Dame


Silent film actress Mae Murray was born Marie Koenig on this day in 1889 in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Murray began her career as a dancer with Vernon Castle on Broadway in 1906, appeared in the "Ziegfeld Follies" and made her screen debut opposite Wallace Reid in To Have and to Hold (1916). Not a great actress, she nonetheless became an important, highly-paid film star: blonde, with bee-stung lips, a vibrant personality and a dancer's posture, her best films were made by her second husband, Robert Z. Leonard (such as The Gilded Lily, 1921; Fascination, 1922 and Circe the Enchantress, 1924) apart from her finest appearance ever, in von Stroheim's The Merry Widow (1925).

She was also one of the great eccentrics of Hollywood -- often described as "dizzy" or "ethereal," she seemed to live in her own fantasy-world which ignored practicalities. She once bought jewelry at Tiffany's and paid for it with little bags of gold dust; while working on The Merry Widow, when co-star John Gilbert stalked off the set following an argument with von Stroheim, Murray chased Gilbert into the parking lot wearing nothing but her shoes; and once, after being informed that Paramount's East Coast office had cut out all the "fairy tale" scenes of one of her films, Murray boarded a train for New York (without even packing first) and spent weeks crawling about a film warehouse, rescuing the excised footage from the cutting room floor and pasting it back in her movie.

She left her successful relationship with MGM Studios at the insistence of her fourth husband, Prince David Mdivani -- who wasn't so much a prince as the son of a former Russian imperial governor in Batum (in Georgian Russia), the brother of Prince Alexis Mdivani (the some-time husband of heiress Barbara Hutton) and Prince Serge Mdivani (the some-time husband of actress Pola Negri), and boyhood chum of writer Lev Nussimbaum (also known as Kurban Said or Essad Bey). The move away from MGM effectively ended Mae's her career. After her divorce from Mdivani in 1934 and losing a bitter custody battle over their son Koran David, she faded into poverty and obscurity, eventually dying as a ward of the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills on March 23, 1965. She published an autobiography, appropriately entitled The Self-Enchanted, in 1959.

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