Democracy Dies in Darkness

Obituaries

Mary Carlisle, a perpetual ingenue in dozens of 1930s films, dies at 104

August 1, 2018 at 3:52 PM

Mary Carlisle and Bing Crosby starred in three movies together — including “Doctor Rhythm,” shown here, from 1938. (Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

Mary Carlisle, a Hollywood actress who enjoyed popularity in the 1930s as a wholesome ingenue in musical comedies opposite singer Bing Crosby, died Aug. 1 at a retirement community for actors in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles.

Her son, James Blakeley III, confirmed the death but did not provide an immediate cause. She was believed to be 104 but never confirmed her real age, even to her family. As a centenarian, she was known to tell visitors that her true age was “none of your business.”

With her blond hair, blue eyes and alabaster skin, Ms. Carlisle had the delicate beauty of an all-American porcelain doll. “This girl has the most angelic face I ever saw,” Universal studio production chief Carl Laemmle Jr. reportedly declared upon spotting the unknown Ms. Carlisle at the company’s canteen. “I’ve got to make a test of her right away.”

Ms. Carlisle appeared in more than 60 films in a career that lasted about a dozen years. Much to her dismay, she was typecast as the perpetual innocent, a decorative virgin.

She began with minor parts in prestigious films, playing a newlywed in the star-filled hit melodrama “Grand Hotel” (1932). That year, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected her — along with starlets including Gloria Stuart and Ginger Rogers — as a “Wampas Baby Star,” which led to a publicity buildup that augured better roles. The parts were bigger but seldom better.

Bob Hope, Crosby and Ms. Carlisle in 1937. (AP/)

She was twice Lionel Barrymore’s daughter, in “Should Ladies Behave” (1933) and “This Side of Heaven” (1934). She played the title role opposite Buster Crabbe in the collegiate romance “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” (1933) and also appeared in “It’s in the Air” (1935), a minor comic showcase for radio star Jack Benny. She was a damsel-in-distress in the old-dark-house story “One Frightened Night” (1935), made at a “poverty row” studio.

Ms. Carlisle was the object of Crosby’s crooning in “College Humor” (1933), “Double or Nothing” (1937) and “Doctor Rhythm” (1938), films that boosted her visibility but left her with little to do but smile adoringly at her co-star. Off-screen, she said, Crosby teasingly called her “Chubby” and “Bubbles.”

New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall found Ms. Carlisle “ingratiating” as Will Rogers’s daughter of marrying age in “Handy Andy” (1934), and she held her own that year in a cast of scene-stealers in “Palooka,” a boxing comedy with Jimmy Durante, Stuart Erwin and Lupe Velez. She sang the Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby ballad “One Little Kiss” to popular comedian Bert Wheeler in “Kentucky Kernels” (1934).

More frequently, she remained trapped in undemanding parts in minor features, among them the sports comedies “Hold ’Em Navy” (1937) and “Touchdown, Army” (1938). She retired from acting after starring in the low-budget horror film “Dead Men Walk” (1943) and for decades was manager of an Elizabeth Arden salon in Beverly Hills.

Gwendolyn Witter was born in Stockton, Calif., likely on Feb. 3, 1914, but some sources say 1912. She grew up with her mother in Los Angeles.

Thanks to a family connection — her uncle Robert Carlisle was a film editor and producer — she learned of a casting call for chorus girls at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. With more ambition than dancing experience, she raced to find a dancing instructor and barely mustered a rudimentary time step before her tryout.

She was astounded to find herself hired. “Of course, they soon found out I couldn’t dance, so I was made a substitute,” she told a reporter a few years later. “The girls were always deviling me by saying they’d turn an ankle and that I’d have to go on for them. I was petrified, but I only had to dance in once picture, and that was just a flash.”

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George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, was a steadfast force on the international stage for decades, from his stint as an envoy to Beijing to his eight years as vice president and his one term as commander in chief from 1989 to 1993. He died Nov. 30 at 94. Read the obituary
Stephen Hillenburg, a onetime marine biology teacher who created “SpongeBob SquarePants,” an Emmy Award-winning animated Nickelodeon program about a goofy underwater world that was the defining cartoon show of its generation, died Nov. 26 at his home near Los Angeles. He was 57. Read the obituary
Movie director Bernardo Bertolucci, right, checks a scene during the filming of the movie “The Last Emperor.” Bertolucci died Nov. 25 at his home in Rome. He was 77. Read the obituary
James H. Billington, an eminent American scholar of Russian culture who reigned for three decades as librarian of Congress, died Nov. 20 at a hospital in Washington. He was 89. Read the obituary
William Goldman, Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men,” died Nov. 16 at 87 at his home in Manhattan of complications from colon cancer and pneumonia. Read the obituary
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Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, died Oct. 16. Read the obituary
Burt Reynolds, center, whose blend of machismo and wiseguy playfulness launched his celebrity in the 1970s — first as a freewheeling chat-show guest, then as a nude centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine and finally as a Hollywood action star — died Sept. 6. He was 82. Read the obituary
Paul Taylor, the modern dance choreographer whose work encapsulated the human experience in exquisite simplicity and whose artistic range led his self-titled dance group to a level of international renown, died Aug. 29 at a hospital in New York. He was 88. Read the obituary
George Walker, first African American composer to win Pulitzer Prize, died Aug. 23 at 96, at a hospital in Montclair, N.J. Read the obituary
Neil Simon, the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning author of plays such as “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park” and “Lost in Yonkers” who was often called the world’s most popular playwright after Shakespeare, died Aug. 26 at age 91. Read the obituary
Senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, driven by code of honor, died at 81. John McCain, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July 2017, endured more than five years of imprisonment and torture by the North Vietnamese as a young Navy pilot. He went on to battle foes — on the left and the right — in the marble corridors of Washington. A Republican who seemed his truest self when outraged, he reveled in opposing orthodoxy and spent decades representing Arizona in the Senate. He twice ran unsuccessfully for president. Read the obituary.
Robin Leach, a British-born TV personality and unapologetic practitioner of “Jacuzzi journalism” whose long-running show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” ogled the world’s most conspicuous consumers consuming conspicuously, died Aug. 23 at a hospital in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He was 76.
Kofi Annan of Ghana, whose popular and influential reign as secretary general of the United Nations was marred by White House anger at his opposition to the American invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s, died Aug. 18 in Bern, Switzerland. He was 80. Read the obituary
R&B singer Aretha Franklin is seen during her youth. The “Queen of Soul” died Aug. 16 at 76. Read the obituary.
Lt. Col. Bui Tin, right, shakes hands with an unidentified U.S. Air Force sergeant to mark the departure of the last American service member from Vietnam in1973. The senior officer in the North Vietnamese army, who accepted Saigon’s surrender in 1975 but later became a leading opponent of the state he helped build, died on Aug. 11 at age 90. Read the obituary
Hall of Fame hockey player Stan Mikita, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the 1961 Stanley Cup, died Aug. 7. He was 78. Mr. Mikita, who weighed only 165 pounds, played 22 years for the Blackhawks and was the team’s captain. Read the obituary
Alan Rabinowitz, a zoologist who overcame a debilitating stutter to become a powerful voice for leopards, jaguars and other wild cats threatened by humans, died Aug. 5 at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 64. Read the obituary
Charlotte Rae, who played the sage housemother to a brood of teenage girls on the long-running sitcom “The Facts of Life” during a career that encompassed many other TV roles as well as stage and film, died Aug. 5 at her Los Angeles home. She was 92. Read the obituary.
Washington Post reporter and columnist Warren Brown, who brought race and class-conscious insights to his coverage of the automotive industry and who wrote about his health struggles and the kidney he received from a colleague, died July 26 at a hospital in Manassas, Va. He was 70. Read the obituary
Mary Ellis delivered spitfires and bombers to the front line during the war as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying more than 1,000 planes during the conflict before moving to the Isle of Wight to manage Sandown airport from 1950 to 1970. She died on July 25 at 101. Read the obituary
Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga uncovered evidence suggesting the United States’ World War II internment policy had racist motives and was not a result of “military necessity,” as Pentagon officials claimed. She was 93 when she died July 18 at a hospital in Torrance, Calif. Read the obituary
Frank Sinatra’s first wife, Nancy Barbato Sinatra, shown in 1949 with Frank and their children, from left, Nancy, Tina and Frank Jr., died on July 13 at 101. Read the obituary
Tab Hunter, the blond actor and singer who was the heartthrob of millions of teenage girls in the 1950s, and received new attention decades later when he revealed he was gay, died July 8. He was 86. Read the obituary
Anthony Bourdain, the chef who became a world-traveling storyteller as the host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” died on June 8 in France. He was 61. Read the obituary.
Kate Spade, the fashion designer best known for her iconic line of handbags, was found dead June 5 at her home in Manhattan. She was 55. Read the obituary.
Philip Roth, the acclaimed author seen as “the voice of his generation,” died May 22 at age 85. Read the obituary.
Tom Wolfe, author of such books as “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” died May 14 at 88. Read the obituary.
Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the 1978 blockbuster “Superman,” died May 13 at 69. Read the obituary .
Jab’o Starks, a drummer whose crisp, disciplined grooves propelled some of James Brown’s biggest hits and helped define the offbeat rhythmic style of early funk and hip-hop, died May 1 at his home in Mobile, Ala. He was 79. Read the obituary
Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, a Korean-born martial artist who settled in Washington and helped popularize taekwondo in the United States, preaching a philosophy of “truth, beauty and love” while teaching members of Congress how to kick and punch, died April 30 at an assisted-living community in Arlington, Va. He was 86. Read the obituary
Bob Dorough, a pianist and singer who performed with jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis but was perhaps best known for his whimsical compositions for the animated video series “Schoolhouse Rock!,” died April 23 at his home in Mount Bethel, Pa. He was 94. Read the obituary
Verne Troyer, an actor who was known best for his role as Mini-Me, a pint-size version of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil in two “Austin Powers” movies, died April 21. He was 49. Mr. Troyer, who was 2 foot 8, appeared in dozens of movies and TV series, including “Jack of All Trades” and “Boston Public.” His most famous role, by far, was as Mini-Me, first in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999) and in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002). Read the obituary
Bruno Sammartino, foreground, fled to the mountains of Italy with his family during World War II and came to the United States at 14, weighing just 80 pounds. Within 10 years, he built himself into a 275-pound mound of muscle, with remarkable strength and a relentless, blue-collar style that made him one of the most popular professional wrestlers of the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Sammartino, who was once among the highest-paid athletes in the United States, died April 18 at a hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 82. Read the obituary
Barbara Bush, who was the wife of one president and the mother of another and whose embrace of her image as America’s warmhearted grandmother belied her influence and mettle, died April 17. She was 92. As the matriarch of one of America’s political dynasties, Mrs. Bush spent a half century in the public eye. She was portrayed as the consummate wife and homemaker as her husband rose from Texas oilman to commander in chief. They had six children, the eldest of whom, George W. Bush, became president. Their eldest daughter, Robin, died at age 3 of leukemia, a tragedy that had a profound impact on the family. Read the obituary
Carl Kasell, a radio personality who brought gravitas and goofiness to the airwaves, first as a staid newsreader on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and later as the comic foil and scorekeeper on the delightfully silly news quiz show “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!,” died April 17 at an assisted-living center in Potomac, Md. He was 84. Read the obituary
Peter Gruenberg, a German scientist who won the Nobel Prize in physics for a discovery that made possible great advances in computer technology by enabling the rapid reading of vast quantities of stored data, died April 7. He was 78. Read the obituary
Donald McKayle, a Tony-nominated choreographer who created classic works of modern dance and was the first black man to direct and choreograph Broadway musicals, died April 6 at a hospital in Orange, Calif. He was 87. Read the obituary
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela addresses a crowd in Kagiso township in April 1986. The ex-wife of South African anti-apartheid fighter and former president Nelson Mandela died April 2 in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness at the age of 81, her spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement. Read the obituary.
Steven Bochco, a television writer and producer whose gritty police procedurals and courtroom dramas, notably “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “NYPD Blue,” injected ambitious storytelling, quirky ensemble casts and occasional nudity into what was then a critically derided form of mass entertainment, died April 1 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 74. Read the obituary
Former Dutch politician Johan van Hulst saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis and was a Righteous Among the Nations. He died March 22 at the age of 107. Read the obituary.
Charles Lazarus, who transformed his father’s Washington bicycle business into Toys R Us, a retail giant that rivaled Santa Claus’s workshop before it declared bankruptcy in September 2017, died March 22. He was 94. Read the obituary
Illustrator Robert Grossman, who created a surreal movie poster for “Airplane!” and caricatured presidents from Richard M. Nixon to Donald Trump, died March 15 at his home in Manhattan. He was 78. Read the obituary
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a folksy New York liberal who championed women’s rights and American manufacturing for more than three decades as a Democratic congresswoman, died March 16 at a hospital in Washington. She was 88 and the oldest sitting member of Congress. Read the obituary
Stephen W. Hawking, the British theoretical physicist who overcame a devastating neurological disease to probe the greatest mysteries of the cosmos and become a globally celebrated symbol of the power of the human mind, died March 14 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. Unable to move nearly any of his muscles, speechless but for a computer-synthesized voice, Dr. Hawking had suffered since the age of 21 from a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Read the obituary
Eugene Hughes, a former boxer and boxing trainer, drug abuse counselor and founder in 1975 of a youth program of education and personal discipline through boxing, died March 12 at an assisted-living apartment in Washington. He was 80. Read the obituary
John Sulston, a Nobel Prize-winning British scientist who helped decode the human genome, died on March 6. He was 75. Read the obituary
Propelled by an ever-lengthening stride and extraordinary willpower, the lanky British medical student Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. He pitched over the finish line at the University of Oxford’s Iffley Road track on a dank, blustery day — May 6, 1954 — and electrified England during its post-World War II doldrums. Dr. Bannister, who died March 3 at age 88, became a national hero at a time when mavericks around the world were overcoming the long-perceived physical boundaries of man and nature. Read the obituary
Nanette Fabray, a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress and singer who later won three Emmy Awards in the 1950s as Sid Caesar’s comic foil on television, died Feb. 22 at her home in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. She was 97. Read the obituary
Scottish milliner John Boyd’s hats were worn by several members of the royal family, including Princess Anne and Diana, the princess of Wales. Boyd died Feb. 20 at 92. Read the obituary
The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist whose eloquent oratory and passion for Jesus attracted a worldwide following and made him one of the most influential and best-known religious figures of his time, died on Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, N.C. He was 99. See more photos | Read the obituary
African American history author and former Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett Jr. died in Chicago at age 89 on Feb. 15. Read the obituary.
Marty Allen, fuzzy-haired member of popular 1960s comedy duo Allen & Rossi, died at 95 on Feb. 12 in Las Vegas. Read the obituary.
John Mahoney, the Tony-winning actor who played a crotchety blue-collar father on TV’s “Frasier,” died Feb. 4 at 77. Read the obituary.
Oscar Gamble, an outfielder who hit 200 home runs over 17 major league seasons and was famous during his playing days for an Afro that spilled out from under his cap, died Jan. 31 at a hospital in Birmingham, Ala. He was 68. Read the obituary.
Jacquie Jones, a prizewinning public television film director who for nine years was executive director of the nonprofit National Black Programming Consortium, died Jan. 28 at a hospital in Washington. She was 52. Read the obituary.
Ingvar Kamprad, 91, who was the founder of the worldwide furniture chain Ikea, died on Jan. 28. Read the obituary.
Mort Walker, whose “Beetle Bailey” comic strip followed the exploits of a lazy G.I. and his inept cohorts at the dysfunctional Camp Swampy, and whose dedication to his art form led him to found the first museum devoted to the history of cartooning, died Jan. 27 at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 94. Read the obituary.
The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief of staff and was a major figure in the civil rights movement. He died on Jan. 23. Read the obituary
Author Ursula K. Le Guin, the award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer who explored feminist themes and was best known for her Earthsea books, died Jan. 22, in Portland, Ore. She was 88. Read the obituary.
Naomi Parker-Fraley was said to be the inspiration behind Rosie the Riveter. She died on Jan. 20. Read the obituary
Wendell Castle, who was considered the father of art furniture and is shown here in an undated photograph, died Jan. 20 at his home in Scottsville, N.Y. He was 85. Read the obituary.
Actor Rock Hudson and actress Dorothy Malone are seen in 1957 on the set of “The Tarnished Angels.” Malone, who won hearts of 1960s television viewers as the long-suffering mother in the nighttime soap opera “Peyton Place,” died Jan. 19 at 92. Read the obituary.
Julius Lester, who recounted African American history as well as his own personal story in noted works of literature, died Jan. 18 at 78. Read the obituary
Jo Jo White of the Boston Celtics drives past the Chicago Bulls’ Wilbur Holland in Chicago in 1977. White, a Hall of Famer, two-time NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist, died Jan. 16 at 71. Read the obituary.
Edwin Hawkins, 74, a Grammy-winning gospel star best known for the hit “Oh, Happy Day,” died Jan. 15. Read the obituary.
Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Irish band the Cranberries, died Jan. 15 at age 46 in London. Read the obituary.
Keith Jackson, the folksy voice of college football who for decades wove backwoods wit throughout his Saturday broadcasts on ABC, died Jan. 12. He was 89. His signature phrase was “Whoa, Nellie!” Read the obituary.
Denise LaSalle, a Hall of Fame soul and blues singer and songwriter whose earthy lyrics and sexually explicit stage patter made her an enduring presence in predominantly black clubs and theaters, died Jan. 8 at 83. Read the obituary.
Thomas Bopp, right, here with other comet hunters, from left, David Levy, Don Yeomans and Alan Hale, received a flurry of international attention and a form of scientific immortality from the Hale-Bopp comet that bears his name. He died Jan. 5 at age 68. Read the obituary.
Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps, being promoted to brigadier general by Gen. William Westmoreland in 1970. Hays, the first female general in American military history, died Jan. 7 at age 97. Read the obituary.
John Young, NASA’s longest-serving astronaut, who flew in space six times, walked on the moon, commanded the first space shuttle and became the conscience of the astronaut corps, advocating for safety measures in the wake of the 1986 Challenger disaster, died Jan. 5 at age 87. Read the obituary.
Photo Gallery: Remembering those who have died in 2018.

In 1942, she married James Blakeley, a British-born actor who later became an executive with 20th Century-Fox studios and a production manager on TV shows such as “Batman.” He died in 2007. In addition to her son, an interior designer in Beverly Hills, Calif., survivors include two grandchildren.

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Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in The Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person.” He joined The Post in 1999.

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