Madeline Hurlock: Sennett Beauty and Intellectual

While researching Marion McDonald: The Screen Vamp Who Held the Skulls of Men, I encountered Sennett bathing beauty, Madeline Hurlock, another screen vamp who worked in Sennett-Pathé shorts from 1923 to 1928. Mack Sennett, her boss, called her the “wittiest of the bathing beauties.”

The ravishing Madeline Hurlock

The ravishing Madeline Hurlock

Once, when she was asked about relinquishing vamp roles in the movies for less sinful parts, Madeline said, “The characteristics that make up the screen vampire prevent her from being anything else.”

Now, there’s vamp who has stolen my heart!

The sultry Madeline Hurlock

The sultry Madeline Hurlock

She was born Madeline Hurlock to John and Sallie Hurlock, in Federalsburg, Maryland. While Madeline always claimed 1899 as her year of birth, it was her brother, Houston, who was born that year.  Madeline was two years older, born on December 12 in 1897.

Madeline Hurlock in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census

Madeline Hurlock in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census

Madeline excelled in school. In 1912, she placed fifth in a writing contest. The prize?  One dollar.

Madeline Hurlock, age 14

Madeline Hurlock, age 14

Madeline graduated Federalsburg High School in 1915. She gave the valedictory address.

She attended Neff College in Philadelphia. Somewhere along the way, Madeline married John Sterling McGovern, an Army captain from Pennsylvania. The union was no love match. The marriage was soon on the rocks. Madeline joined a stock company and found her place in the spotlight. Her ambition took her to the New York stage. She dabbled in films, nothing more than extra roles.

Not having much luck in New York, she crossed the country to try her luck in Hollywood. Mack Sennett snatched her up and made her a bathing beauty.  She was certainly that, a beauty to behold!

In April 1923, she finally got around to divorcing McGovern, charging him with desertion.

Madeline did more than simply stand around and look ravishing. She was an intellectual, citing George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad, and others among her favorite authors.

She also had talent, which Hollywood recognized. Madeline was named a 1925 Wampas Baby Star, along with Natalie Joyce and Olive Borden, two of my personal favorites.

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Madeline carved out a niche for herself as a comedienne.

Madeline Hurlock

Madeline Hurlock

With her come hither gaze and bee-stung lips, this stunning brunette worked her way into and out of the hearts of men. She excelled in her comic vamp roles. Madeline set out to be a major star.

“The greatest stars in the business have come from comedy,” she told Ivan St. Johns in 1925. “Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Gloria Swanson, Marie Prevost, Raymond Griffith–all great artists–were trained in comedy. I have heard everyone say it is the finest training school in the world. I have heard that Mary Pickford thinks Mr. Sennett has genius for translating thought into action and that she would like some day to have him direct her in a picture. I’m young. It’s the experience and training I want.”

Madeline in A Harem Knight (1926)

Madeline in A Harem Knight (1926)

Madeline made over 50 shorts for Sennett. By the time she left the studio in 1928, she was bringing in $750 a week.

Madeline on the cover of Photoplay.

Madeline on the cover of Photoplay.

The problem was, Madeline had become bored with the work, the monotony of making pictures. She left Hollywood to travel.

Madeline, always drawn to intellectual types, married playwright Marc Connelly in 1930, the year he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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When that marriage failed, she married playwright and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood, whose work earned him multiple Pulitzer Prizes over the years, including an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for The Best Years of Our Lives. They remained married until his death in 1955.

Madeline married Sherwood in Budapest.

Madeline married Sherwood in Budapest.

I learned of Madeline Hurlock in the mid-1980s, about the time I started interviewing the remaining silent films players.  I wrote to Madeline with some questions about her career in films. Here is her reply.

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Sept. 23, 1986

Dear Mr. Ankerich:

Thanks for your letter of Sept. 16th. I no longer use my maiden name of Madeline Hurlock. I’ve been known as Mrs. Robert E. Sherwood since 1935, the year I married R.E.S. You may have heard of my husband, who was quite well known as a playwright. He won three Pulitzer Prizes for plays and another for a book called “Roosevelt and Hopkins.” He also won an Oscar for the screen play of “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

You ask me a number of questions about my film career. I signed a contract with Mack Sennett in 1923, and left the studio either late in 1927 or early in 1928. The coming of sound did not affect me, as I had become fed up with movies. I had fun doing silly comedies for the first two years, but then boredom set in.

I’m sorry I have no stills. Haven’t had any for years. You write that you don’t know what I looked like.  Well, I had dark brown hair, big brown eyes, was 5 feet, 4 inches tall without heels, weighed about 110 pounds. (I now weigh 105).

As I get a number of letters from boys who don’t appear too bright, I assume my old films are being shown somewhere. Most of these letters I do not answer. I am replying to yours because it is more intelligent than most. As a matter of fact, due to ailing eyes and arthritis, I find it difficult to write.

In looking for a photo, I can find nothing except one taken in Athens in either 1937 or 1938. It will hardly give you an idea of my appearance. In English, the place where I’m standing is called  “The Porch of Maidens.”

Well, the best of luck to you.

Sincerely,

Madeline Hurlock Sherwood 

Here is the photo!

Madeline Hurlock Sherwood in Greece, 1937 or '38.

Madeline Hurlock Sherwood in Greece, 1937 or ’38.

Sixty years later, I made a trip to the Acropolis. Don’t miss it, friends.  It doesn’t disappoint!

Here I am in at the Acropolis with the maidens behind me.

Here I am at the Acropolis. The porch where Madeline stood is over my shoulder.

 

When I originally wrote Madeline, I was busy interviewing silent film players Dorothy Revier, Esther Ralston, Lina Basquette, and Eddie Quillan, who appeared on screen with Madeline. When I caught my breath, I reconnected to see whether she would give me an interview.  She politely declined. Now that I look back on it, I am sorry I didn’t pursue it. She had a fascinating life in and out of the spotlight.

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Madeline Hurlock died two years later on April 4, 1989.

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Decades have passed since Madeline Hurlock pranced around the silver sheets and played with the heart rates of the male species. Her fans were young and old, married and single. She learned a lot about men while smoking up the screen.

“Married men are more romantic than the single ones,” she once said. “When married men write, they write about me.  When a bachelor sends me an epistle, it’s about himself.”

 

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An interesting side note. Madeline’s ex-husband, John McGovern, died in 1932 under rather mysterious circumstances.

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Marion McDonald: The Screen Vamp Who Held the Skulls of Men

John Scott, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 1936, took his readers back 10 years to 1926.  How could so many popular film players have simply vanished into thin air. How could their stars have eclipsed so quickly?

“You’ll live longer and have a steadier job if you stay out of the movies,” he wrote. “The life of a film player is approximately five years on the average.”  Seventy-five percent of the stars, children, and character actors were no longer active.  Where had they gone?

Valentino was dead, as was Barbara La Marr, Gladys Brockwell, Belle Bennett,  and Alma Rubens. Jobyna Ralston was now a devoted wife to Richard Arlen.  Bebe Daniels was Mrs. Ben Lyon. What had happened to Anna Q. Nilsson, Viola Dana, Shirley Mason, Lloyd Hughes, and Sydney Chaplin?

Gone were those who had the “world by the ear,”  he wrote. Virginia Lee Corbin, Edna Murphy, Carmelita Geraghty, Betty Boyd, Marion McDonald, “a vamp.”

Marion McDonald possesses her man.

Marion McDonald possesses her man.

Marion McDonald was the screen vamp, a siren who not only toyed with her men, but sometimes held their skulls in her hand. Her star rose for a period in the mid-1920s, but fell into a dark horizon around 1927.  A Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, a screen glamour girl, a lovely, young woman whose future in films seemed set. Vanished?

Before I even knew who Marion McDonald was, I knew the face. I came across a photo of her and Eddie Quillan in an old movie magazine I bought in a antique mall a number of years ago.  She is vamp personified.

Marion McDonald and Eddie Quillan

Marion McDonald and Eddie Quillan

I set out to answer the question: Who was Marion McDonald and whatever became of her? My research took me back as far as 110 years to Missouri, Massachusetts, California, and Florida.  Here’s what I discovered.

Marion McDonald (R) with other Sennett Bathing Beauties.

Marion McDonald (R) with other Sennett Bathing Beauties.

The screen vamp was born Marion Elizabeth McDonald on May 14, 1904, to Robert E. and Lucy Berger McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father’s parents were Scottish and Irish. Her mother’s parents were from Holland and Pennsylvania. Marion was one of seven children.

Birth

Marion McDonald in the Missouri birth records.

Detail

Detail

By 1920, the McDonalds were living in Winchester, Massachusetts, where Marion’s father had a successful shoe and boot business. In the early  1920s, the family moved west and settled in the Los Angeles area. The scene was set for Marion to break into films.

Several references list The Turning Point (1920) and Cameron of the Royal Mounted (1921) as her first films.  I suspect, however, that it was the “other” Marion McDonald, the wife of actor William Colvin, who appeared in those films.

Marion’s entry into films came through Mack Sennett as one of his bathing beauties. Her first recorded film was East of the Water Plug, a Ralph Graves and Alice Day two-reeler.

What little publicity she had came in 1925, when Hollywood thought her to be a major comedic find.

Publicity from 1925.

Publicity from 1925.

While she found steady work with Sennett is his two-reel comedies, her roles were supporting or worse.  She played girlfriends, office workers, bridesmaids, sisters, maids, and part of the scenery. She excelled at playing vamps and flappers. Marion’s name typically fell to the bottom of the cast. The feminine leads went to Alice Day, Madeline Hurlock, and Ruth Hiatt.

Marion had little to do but sit around and look seductive.

A seductive Marion McDonald

A seductive Marion McDonald

After appearing in a small role in The Prince of Head Waiters, Marion gave up vamping for the camera and married Stephen A. Quinerly, a businessman who owned theaters in Miami, Florida. Marion was 22; the groom was 47.

Marion McDonald becomes Marion Quinerly

Marion McDonald becomes Marion Quinerly

Stephen Quinerly's passport photo.

Stephen Quinerly’s passport photo.

The Quinerlys had homes in Miami and Los Angeles, high in the Hollywood hills.

The Quinerly's Hollywood hills mansion, 2294 Alcyona Drive.

The Quinerly’s Hollywood hills mansion, 2294 Alcyona Drive.

In 1928, a daughter, Sally, was born. Stephen Robert (Bobby) followed in 1929.

While Marion became a real estate agent in Miami, at least two of her siblings continued to work in the studios. Sister Peggy was Jean Harlow’s favorite hairdresser and worked for her at MGM.  Brother Charles McDonald worked as a studio grip and electrician.

Peggy McDonald, Marion's sister, and Jean Harlow.

Peggy McDonald, Marion’s sister, and Jean Harlow.

In August 1938, Charles McDonald shot and seriously wounded Emita Krueger, wife of the noted symphony conductor, Karl Krueger, as she exited her car on Hollywood Boulevard. She was picking up her daughter from a dance studio. Newspapers printed the lurid details of McDonald’s jealousy of Mrs. Krueger’s attentions to his wife. He finally snapped.

“Mrs. Krueger broke up my home,” he said. “Things all began about three years ago when she (Mrs. Krueger) began trying to take my wife away from me. Apparently Mrs. Krueger  had great influence over her and told her she wanted her to amount to something. Everything in our life was Mrs. Krueger. I begged her not to interfere.”

While Emita Krueger hovered between life and death, McDonald sat behind bars. Marion rushed to California to support her family. While newspapers ran photos of her, none mentioned that she was once a Sennett Bathing Beauty and actress.

Marion consoles her brother.

Marion consoles her brother.

During the November 1938 trial, defense witnesses told of the domestic trouble that sent Charles McDonald over the edge. Trouble that turned him into “a ghost,” “a wild man,” “a caged lion.”

At Hearing

When McDonald was found guilty of attempted murder, Marion fainted and had to be carried from the courtroom.

Verdict

Charles McDonald was sentenced to San Quentin to serve from one to ten years. The shooting left Emita Krueger paralyzed from the waist down. She was sentenced to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She died at age 59 in March 1953.

Marion spent more time in Miami, where she worked as a real estate broker for Alan White Associates. The Quinerlys lived and entertained in their home on Miami’s exclusive Sunset Island. While she knew how to put together a lavish party for her friends, her granddaughter says that perhaps Marion lacked the skills needed to be a nurturing mother.

“I believe Marion must have been a strong-willed lady in her day and very confident,” her granddaughter related. “I was told that she was very dramatic and loved being the center of attention.   Interestingly, she was a redhead with blue eyes and there are three redheads in the family. I am one of them.”

A glamorous Marion McDonald

A glamorous Marion McDonald

Stephen Quinerly died in 1945 at age 66.

Marion remained active until 1954, when she developed hypernephroma (a type of cancer) in her right kidney. The cancer eventually spread to her brain. She died on October 20, 1956. She was only 52.

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Marion McDonald's death certificate

Marion McDonald’s death certificate

 

Thanks to Marion’s son-in-law and grandchildren for their help in documenting Marion’s life.