Born: February 3rd, 1914

Died: August 1st, 2018

Mary Carlisle, who has died aged 104, made her film debut 95 years ago, four years before the birth of the talkies, she appeared in more than 60 films and she retired from acting while the Second World War was still in progress.

Carlisle played diminutive, blonde ingenues in many films, she was a giggly honeymooner in the classic ensemble drama Grand Hotel (1932), with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and John and Lionel Barrymore, and she was serenaded in no fewer than three films by America’s favourite crooner Bing Crosby.

She was born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston, probably in 1914. She worked in Hollywood in an era when actresses knocked a year or two off their ages and publicists routinely invented backstories for stars. The New York Times put it nicely in an obituary that noted “Her father died, when she was 4 (or 6, or any other number of ages, depending on which 1930s interview you read).”

As with many figures from Hollywood’s early days who survived till recent times, she was sought out by film historians and journalists and details have perhaps become even more muddied over the years. But it seems that her mother moved with her to Los Angeles, where an uncle worked as a film producer and editor at Metro, before it became part of Metro-Golwyn-Mayer.

He helped her get started with a tiny uncredited role in the Jackie Coogan drama Long Live the King in 1923, when she was only nine.

Studio boss Carl Laemmle Jr was reputedly keen to sign her at Universal Pictures in her early teens and she appeared in walk-on roles in a few films.

But there were complications over her age and schooling and it would be another few years before she picked up her career again. She had seemingly claimed that she could dance, took a one-day tap course and landed a contract at MGM initially as a dancer.

One of her first big roles was at Paramount in the musical comedy College Humor in 1933 when she played a college student wooed by Bing Crosby’s singing teacher. He sang Moonstruck to her and played the piano while she swooned in a fashion that these days might have audiences doubting her mental health.

Along with Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart, she figured in the annual list of “Baby Stars”, those considered most likely to become big names in the movie business, and she was again coupled with Crosby in Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938).

She appeared in a wide range of films at different studios, but retired from acting after one final starring role in the horror film Dead Men Walk (1943). She played a woman who finds herself in terrible danger when her uncle, a practitioner of the Dark Arts, returns from the dead and starts killing the local populace.

Carlisle had married the previous year, to James Blakeley, an actor who later became a studio executive at 20th Century Fox and worked as a supervisor on such classic television shows as Batman, The Green Hornet and MASH in the 1960s and 1970s. They were married for 65 years until his death in 2007, aged 96. They had a son James, who survives them.

In later years, instead of returning to acting, Carlisle managed Elizabeth Arden beauty salons in Hollywood and Beverly Hills.