Mary Anderson, an actress featured in both Gone with the Wind and Alfred Hitchcock’s adventure thriller Lifeboat, died following a series of small strokes on Sunday, April 6, 2014, while under hospice care in Toluca Lake/Burbank, northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Anderson, the widow of multiple Oscar-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy, had turned 96 on April 3.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1918, Mary Anderson was reportedly discovered by director George Cukor, at the time looking for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s film version of Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller Gone with the Wind. Instead of Scarlett, eventually played by Vivien Leigh, Anderson was cast in the small role of Maybelle Merriwether — most of which reportedly ended up on the cutting-room floor.
Cukor was later fired from the project; his replacement, Victor Fleming, received sole credit for the film’s direction. Gone with the Wind (1939) went on to become the biggest blockbuster in history, and the winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), and Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard). Also in the cast: Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland.
In Lifeboat (1944), one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most entertaining films, Mary Anderson played a nurse, one of nine survivors — among them a fur coat-clad Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, William Bendix, Hume Cronyn, and scene-stealing Nazi officer Walter Slezak — after a ship and an U-boat are sank in the North Atlantic. Though not as well regarded as Hitchcock’s efforts from the ’50s and ’60s, and criticized by some for its depiction of a Nazi who easily outsmarts the Americans aboard the floating vessel, Lifeboat earned Hitchcock one of his five Best Director Oscar nods. (He lost to Leo McCarey for the sentimental blockbuster Going My Way.)
More Mary Anderson movies
Mary Anderson never became a star or even a leading lady. Her roles were almost invariably small ones, whether in A productions or B movies. Anderson’s film credits include Anatole Litvak’s All This and Heaven Too (1940), supporting Bette Davis and Charles Boyer; Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), starring Martha Scott; Henry King’s mammoth hit The Song of Bernadette (1943), with Jennifer Jones as the French peasant girl who sees and chats with the Virgin Mary (a pregnant Linda Darnell); Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck’s pet project Wilson (1944), a box office disappointment in which Anderson was featured as U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Eleanor (Alexander Knox had the title role); and Mitchell Leisen’s mother-love melodrama To Each His Own (1946), which earned Olivia de Havilland her first Best Actress Academy Award.
Mary Anderson’s film career came to a halt in 1953, following her marriage to Leon Shamroy. (As per online reports, the couple had a child who died in 1956 at the age of two months.) Anderson would make a brief comeback in 1959 in Byron Haskin’s thriller Jet Over the Atlantic, featuring stars of yesteryear Guy Madison, George Raft, and Virginia Mayo, and if the IMDb is to be believed, two decades later she landed an unbilled bit in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980).
Mary Anderson on TV and Broadway
On television, Mary Anderson had a recurring role on ABC’s Peyton Place 1964, playing a pathological murderess and Ryan O’Neal’s Mom. Additionally, Anderson was featured in several other TV series, among them Climax!, Studio One in Hollywood, Mike Hammer, Perry Mason, The Californians, Lawman, My Three Sons, and Daniel Boone.
On stage, Anderson starred as a sweet-faced, ornithophobic psycho in the 1942 Broadway production of Hagar Wilde and Dale Eunson’s Guest in the House. (Anne Baxter played the role in John Brahm’s 1944 film version.)
Leon Shamroy, James Anderson
Mary Anderson remained married to Leon Shamroy until his death a few days before his 73rd birthday in July 1974. (She’d had a previous husband, Leonard Behrens, 1940-1950.) Long associated with 20th Century Fox, Shamroy received a total of 18 Academy Award nominations — mostly for his work in color motion pictures — winning for Henry King’s The Black Swan (1942) and Wilson (1944), John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963).
Among Shamroy’s Oscar nominations were those for Henry Koster’s The Robe (1953), the first feature film in CinemaScope; Henry King’s Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955); Walter Lang’s The King and I (1956); Joshua Logan’s South Pacific (1958); and Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963).
Mary Anderson’s younger brother, James Anderson, was featured in small roles and bit parts in dozens of movies and television shows, mostly Westerns. On the big screen, he could be seen in Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and, posthumously, in Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man (1970) and Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970). On TV, among his countless appearances were those in Rawhide and Gunsmoke. As per online sources, James Anderson died of a heart attack at age 48 in 1969.
Surviving ‘Gone with the Wind’ cast members
Following the deaths of Mary Anderson and Alicia Rhett (in early January 2014), the only surviving Gone with the Wind cast members are Olivia de Havilland, 97, who played Melanie Wilkes; and Mickey Kuhn, 81, who played Melanie’s son, Beau Wilkes.
Including uncredited bits, online sources claim the oldest surviving Gone with the Wind cast member is Shep Houghton, who would be turning 100 on June 4, 2014. Houghton is supposed to have had an undetermined role in the film.
Coincidentally, Mary Anderson died on the same day as Mickey Rooney, a Best Actor Oscar nominee (for Babes in Arms) the year Gone with the Wind won Best Picture.