Happy Thanksgiving from Shadows and Satin — and Mary Doran!
I first noticed Mary Doran in The Divorcee (1930), where she plays the small but crucial role of the “other woman” in the marriage of Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris). I had no idea who she was, and didn’t think much about her until I started having “Doran sightings” in numerous other films – Their Own Desire (1929), New York Nights (1929), Our Blushing Brides (1930), Party Husband (1931) Beauty and the Boss (1932), and others. Her roles were frequently limited to a single scene, but she somehow managed to always offer a performance that stuck in my memory after the final credits rolled.
Mary Doran was born Florence Arnot on September 8, 1910, in New York. She originally intended to pursue a teaching career and attended college at Columbia University, but instead she became a professional tap dancer. After working for Florenz Ziegfeld in Betsy in 1926 and the following year in Rio Rita, Doran headed for Hollywood, where she signed a contract with MGM. She appeared in Broadway Melody (1929) with Anita Page and Bessie Love, and The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929), starring Norma Shearer in the title role. That same year, Doran told a reporter that appearing in the movies was more difficult than stage work.
“I came out here to educate the movies, and now they’re educating me,” Doran said. “I’m not kidding you. I mean that seriously. A girl has to be 10 times as versatile in pictures as she does on the stage. On the stage you get a reputation for playing a certain type of role and you keep on playing it year after year. Out here things are different. You play one character in one picture and are something entirely different in the next. Besides that, a girl must be able to look pretty, act, speak, sing and dance. . . . If I had known what I was walking into, I might have stayed in New York and had a stage career which would have been far less strenuous.”
In 1930, Doran was seen in The Divorcee as Janice, the would-be home-wrecker, and Our Blushing Brides as a rather ditzy lingerie model; Picture Play magazine called her “the most promising newcomer at the Metro-Goldwyn studio.” Also around this time, Doran married Joseph Sherman, chief publicity director for MGM. The union didn’t last, though; in 1937, Doran would file for divorce, charging her husband with cruelty. Meanwhile, when her MGM option lapsed, Doran’s contract wasn’t renewed. Instead, the actress freelanced with Universal, Columbia, and Paramount; her parts included another “other woman” role in Party Husband (1931), with Dorothy MacKaill, and a great scene as a secretary in Beauty and the Boss (1932), which I discussed in detail here. She was also seen to good advantage in Ernst Lubitsch’s Love Me Tonight (1932) and an amusing role in Harold Lloyd’s Movie Crazy (1932).
By now, though, the size of most of her roles – which were never that sizable to begin with – had started to diminish, and by the middle of the decade, they amounted to little more than bit parts. After appearing in a quickie western, Border Patrolman (1936), with George O’Brien and Polly Ann Young (Loretta’s older sister), Doran left films for good.
After her movie career ended, Doran got married to Kurtis Reed; the two would later have a child and remained together until Doran’s death in September 1995, two days before her 85th birthday.
Keep an eye out for the saucy, sexy, and fun performances of Mary Doran – you’ll be glad you did. Meanwhile, we extend best wishes to you and yours for a happy and safe Thanksgiving!