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Mary MacLaren

Mary MacLaren
Mary MacLaren Witzel.jpg
MacLaren, 1916
Mary Ida MacDonald (McDonald in some records)

(1900-01-19)January 19, 1900
DiedNovember 9, 1985(1985-11-09) (aged 85)
Years active1916-1949
Spouse(s)George Herbert Young
(m. 1924; div. 1928)[1]
Robert S. Coleman
(m. 1965; ?)[2]
RelativesKatherine MacDonald
(sister, also actress)

Mary MacLaren (born Mary Ida MacDonald, also credited Mary McLaren; January 19, 1900 – November 9, 1985) was an American film actress in both the silent and sound eras.[3][a] She was the younger sister of actresses Miriam and Katherine MacDonald and appeared in more than 170 films between 1916 and 1949.[4]

Early life and stage work

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mary was the youngest of three daughters of Lillian Edith (née Agnew) and William Albert MacDonald.[5] Her two sisters, Miriam and Katherine MacDonald, also became actors, and another sibling, her brother Edward, died at birth in 1901, 14 months after Mary was born.[6][b] Federal census records for 1900 document that Mary's father supported his family working as the proprietor of a hotel in Pittsburgh.[5] By 1910, however, her parents had divorced, and Lillian worked as a dressmaker to support her daughters.[3] Before moving with her mother, Miriam, and Katherine to New York City around 1913, Mary obtained her basic education in Greensburgh (now Greensboro), Pennsylvania.

Once situated in New York, all three girls began working either in modeling, performing on stage in minor acting roles, or dancing in revues. Mary began her own stage career in the Winter Garden in New York City with Al Jolson in The Passing Show of 1914 and Dancing Around.[7]


MacLaren as Queen Anne in The Three Musketeers (1921)
MacLaren as Queen Anne in The Three Musketeers (1921)

MacLaren's screen career began in 1916 with Shoes.[8] She subsequently performed in productions for the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, including Idle Wives (1916), The Plow Woman (1917), The Model's Confession (1918), The Petal on the Current (1919), The Unpainted Woman (1919), Bonnie Bonnie Lassie (1919), Rouge and Riches (1920), and many others.[9] Among her more notable film roles is her performance as Queen Anne of Austria in the 1921 Douglas Fairbanks production of The Three Musketeers.[10]

In studio directories and trade publications, the 5'3" MacLaren was described as having blue eyes and "masses of blond hair" and being an accomplished swimmer and tennis player.[9] While the height of her screen career was in the silent era, she successfully transitioned into sound productions and continued to perform periodically in films throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s.

Later years and death

In 1979 in California, the long-retired actress resisted attempts by Los Angeles County officials to declare MacLaren mentally incompetent and to assume control of her finances due to repeated charges that she was living in her "dilapidated home" with too much clutter and too many pets.[11][10] She appeared before the Superior Court commissioner who ruled that she was capable of managing her own affairs.[11]

MacLaren, at age 85, died of "respiratory problems" at West Hollywood Hospital in California in November 1985.[11][10]

Selected filmography

MacLaren opposite actor William V. Mong in Shoes (1916)
MacLaren opposite actor William V. Mong in Shoes (1916)
MacLaren with Holmes Herbert and child actress Rita Rogan in The Wild Goose (1921)
MacLaren with Holmes Herbert and child actress Rita Rogan in The Wild Goose (1921)
A Lawman Is Born (1937)
A Lawman Is Born (1937)


  1. ^ Official documents, including census and marriage records, confirm 1900 as MacLaren's birth year, as do other unofficial references such as obituaries and MacLaren's grave marker in California. The earliest, most reliable documentation regarding her birth year are the federal census of 1900 and 1910, both of which document 1900. The original census page of June 1900, records Mary MacDonald's [McDonald’s] age at that time as "6/12" (six months old). While one official record, her 1985 California death certificate, does cite her birthday as January 19, 1901, no government record has been found that documents her birth year prior to 1900. Some secondary sources state that Mary began her career as a chorus girl on Broadway "at the tender age of 13". For performers that young, it was not an uncommon practice in the early 1900s for stage and film producers to "back date" biographical information about their employees, presenting them to be older than their true age.
  2. ^ Katherine MacDonald had a successful and fairly long film career, but sister Miriam retired from acting in 1919, at the age of 23, when she married Horace Clyde Balsley.


  1. ^ Shirley, Lois. "Sadder But Wiser: Mary MacLaren's romance in India became a living nightmare", Photoplay (Chicago, Illinois), June 1928, pp. 39, 117. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  2. ^ ""California Marriage Index, 1960-1985", Robert S. Coleman to Mary I[da]. MacDonald, February 23, 1965. Center of Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento. FamilySearch.
  3. ^ a b "Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Population", digital copy of original handwritten enumeration page, Pittsburgh City, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, April 18, 1910, Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C.
  4. ^ Fox, Charles Donald; Milton L. Silver (1920). "Mary MacLaren". Who's Who on the Screen. New York City: Ross Publishing. (NOTE: Not currently in copyright).
  5. ^ a b "Twelfth Census of the United States: 1900", population schedule, digital copy of original handwritten enumeration page, Pittsburgh City, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. FamilySearch (FS) database.
  6. ^ "New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949", death of Edward Wallman McDonald, son of Lillian Edith McDonald and William [A.] McDonald, March 11, 1901, Bronx, New York City. FamilySearch database.
  7. ^ Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1921, Motion Picture News, Inc., New York, N.Y., p. 230. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  8. ^ ""Shoes" (Bluebird)". The Moving Picture World. June 10, 1916. Retrieved November 11, 2013. Mary McDonald [..] takes on a new name - Mary McLaren - for her entry into the list of regular Bluebird stars. Miss McLaren is a "genuine find", according to a Bluebird publicity promoter, and until the professional critics have had opportunity to controverse the assertion so let it stand.
  9. ^ a b Fox, Charles Donald; Milton L. Silver (1920). "Mary MacLaren". Who's Who on the Screen. New York City: Ross Publishing, 1920.
  10. ^ a b c "Mary MacLaren, Silent Film Star", Newsday, Nassau edition (Long Island, New York), 11 November 1985, p. 27. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  11. ^ a b c "Noted Silent Screen Actress Mary MacLaren Dies at Age 85," p. 64, Los Angeles Times, 11 November 1985
  12. ^ Pepper, Peter. "The Strange Case of Mary MacLaren", The Moving Picture Weekly (New York, N.Y.), June 24, 1916, pp. 9, 34. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 12, 2020.

Further reading

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Mary MacLaren
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