Sunday, August 28, 2011
Mary Russell (The Silver Trail)
While under contract to Republic Pictures Mary Russell appeared in a bit in Gene Autry's The Big Show (1935) and was the leading lady in The Three Mesqueteers' Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937). But I have chosen to concentrate on her co-starring role opposite former silent screen hero Rex Lease and canine star Rinty, Jr. in Reliable's The Silver Trail (released 1937). Both Mary and the ubiquitous Tom London go undercover in this pleasant, if very low-budget, little oater, where Rex is searching for his mining partner, who, it turns out, has fallen victim to unscrupulous Ed Cassidy. Lawman Tom pretends to be the local town idiot and Mary, another victim of Cassidy's scheming the villain's secretary. Considering that The Silver Trail probably was produced in mere days, Miss Russell's performance is actually typical of a studio starlet and not the high school play prowess of the young ladies usually found in these dusty locations. (Prettier even than the average Hollywood starlet, Mary Russell had little competition from The Silver Trail's only other female cast-member, the ever-popular Mrs. Emma Tansey, here playing Rex Lease's mother and looking far older than her supposed 66 years of age. Emma's son, Sherry, appears as one of Ed Cassidy's henchmen.)
Nee Marymarcia Kalbach (yes, her first name was spelled like that) and hailing from Oakland, CA (where she had attended Piedmont High School), Mary Russell was awarded her new moniker by Warner Bros. in 1934, but only after having verified the spelling with a numerologist. Or so her publicity claimed. The same ad campaign also claimed that she had been discovered by none other than veteran comedienne Louise Fazenda while working as a stylist in a San Francisco department store. Than may be, but before that she had apparently also been a photographer's model, appeared on stage at San Francisco's Fulton Theatre and performed in plays on radio station KLX. She did her usual starlet duties in Hollywood but earned a bit of negative publicity in 1938 when she divorced her husband of less than a year, Paul D. Ames, who described himself as a "play producer." Mary's grounds for divorce was that Paul was "lazy and jealous."