What We Talk About When We Talk About Mary Nolan

mary_nolan_mirrorFor all intents and purposes, Mary Nolan’s film career ended in 1931 when Universal bought out her contract. She had thrown a tantrum when she discovered that everyone in her new film received a closeup except for her. Weary of her demands and temperament, the studio fired her.

She had long been a handful. Her 1927 arrival in Hollywood was greeted by protestations from Will Hayes, soon to be the arbiter of the Production Code, and ladies leagues because of her scandalous reputation. The former Ziegfeld showgirl known as Bubbles Wilson had just come from Germany, where her film performances were well received.

But it wasn’t her stint in Germany that made her distasteful. The reasons she was protested had everything to do with her messy personal life, which found her quickly involved with married MGM fixer Eddie Mannix—who knocked her around—and an earlier scandal in New York City in 1923.

In 1922, though, she was the toast of the town, prompting Mark Hellinger to write, “Only two people in America would bring every reporter in New York to the docks to see them off. One is the President. The other is Imogene ‘Bubbles’ Wilson.”

In 1924, she started an affair with the married vaudeville comedian Frank Tinney, which… didn’t go well. She tried to kill herself after a fight. She took him to court, alleging abuse. (He was acquitted and claimed the whole thing was a publicity stunt; more likely, it was the start of a long practice in which Nolan was battered around and then gleefully collected money from the batterers.)

They somehow reconciled just before Tinney left for Europe—and Nolan had to be dragged off the ship before it sailed. Her over-the-top quotes to reporters about her love for the soon-to-be-divorced Tinney caused Ziegfeld to fire her the next day. Free to follow Tinney, she did just that—until he beat her up again, at which point she hightailed it to Germany.

After her Universal Pictures debacle, Nolan married a millionaire who lost $3 million the week before their wedding. They opened a dress shop; it failed within the year amidst some litigation involving unpaid employees. They divorced in 1932, and in 1935 she sued Mannix for $500,000 in damages from the beatings she claimed to have sustained when they were a couple five years previously. (Nolan had a lot of legal messes, among them being taken to court because she stole a bear rug from a tenant and gave it to a doctor as payment.)

Raddled by drug addiction and unpaid bills, Nolan overdosed on Seconal on Halloween in 1948. She was briefly resurrected by Kenneth Anger in Hollywood Babylon, and then again in Michael G. Ankerich’s Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels.

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