A seasoned dancer specializing in Spanish dances, Mary Landa landed in Hollywood during the war, working steadily for a few years and never achieving nothing of note. However, she proved her mantle in the war relief work but sadly fell into obscurity a short time later.
Maria “Mary” Landa was born in 1918 in Viscaya, Spain, to Juan “John” Landa and Claudia (Clandia) Arrizabalaza. Her parents were of a proud Basque sort, and her father worked as a sheep man. The family moved to the United States in August 1920, and settled in Pocatello, Idaho for a time. Her younger sister, Helen Victoria Landa, was born there on February 7, 1922. In 1927, they moved to Salk Lake City, Utah, and the same year her parents opened up a boarding house for their fellow Basque expatriates, called “Hogars“. In Spanish, Hogar means hearth. A guest described her father as a “tiny man with a powerful voice. He had all the connections. He was like a Basque ambassador.” Her younger brother John was born there on July 28, 1929. In 1930, Mary lived with her parents, her younger sister and brother, two servants and a handful of lodgers in Salt Lake City. Her mother was an expert cook, cooking all the traditional Basque recipes: rich soups, chunks of breaded liver, pigs feet and and thick buttered slabs of bread washed down by flagons of red wine and coffee laced with Spanish brandy. Her parents often joined their guests for evening card games. It was a happy, very close knit environment that Mary and her siblings were raised in.
Mary was a very artistically gifted child, excelling at drawing and dancing. I 1930, her sketches won her the second place at “School Begins” sketch contest. She also learned the traditional Spanish dances from her mother. She attended West High School in Salt Lake City, and she was always dancing at all the revenues and shows at the school.
In 1933, barely 15 years old, she started to dance for real money at the “Brass Rail”, a nightclub in Salt Lake City. Step by step, she got to California and started her Hollywood career.
As per her career prior to arriving in Hollywood, M;ary played chorines and dancers,a and was mostly uncredited. Murder on the Waterfront is a D class movie, less than an hour long, with a over stretched plot and no imagination whatsoever. The only thing to recommend is the tolerable cast, but even that’s not reason enough to watch it.
Thank Your Lucky Stars is a better than average wartime extravaganza. Eddie Cantor sure knew how to make them! Destination Tokyo – Made during the height of the war, and before it was a foregone conclusion that the Allies would prevail, it shows a surprisingly detailed (if romanticized) portrayal of life in the “Silent Service”. The characters are finely drawn with a craftsman director’s skill, and are the archetypes for subsequent films, not derivative cartoons. The cast is superb: Cary Grant, John Garfield, Alan Hale to name a few.
In Our Time is a love story with a kick. The leads are played beautifully by Ida Lupino and Paul Henreid, and the story slowly moves towards some serious issues of the day, touching upon politics and WW2. The movie is expertly directed and the cinematography is on par with the other elements. Here we truly have a small but well crafted movie from the golden age of Hollywood.
The Mask of Dimitrios is a Jean Negulesco classic. Whenever I hear Jean’s name, I think of sophistication and elegance. Truly, Jean was a man of these traits, and his movies carry that mark with an ease of a bird flying. Even when the themes are less than “elegant” (here we have a murder case),he manages to enlighten it with superb visual style. And the cast is very, very good – Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson.
The Doughgirls is a ambitious farce about wartime Washington, made after the successful Broadway show of the same name. Sadly, the movie is not as effective as the play – the performances are to hammy, and the silly plot goes out of hand and manages to confuse more than amuse the viewer. Yet, anybody who likes all women pictures should watch it – if nothing than for Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, Jane Wyman, Irene Manning and Eve Arden.
Cinderella Jones. Again this idiotic movie. I have nothing more to tell about it. Simply avoid.
Impact is an interesting, if unusual film noir. While the plot is far fetched – a rich man becomes the target of his money hungry wife and her equally money hungry lover – and escapes to a small town, pretending to be a normal citizen, and falls in love with a good girl. See where this is going? But still, the cinematography and overall directing is good, and the performances are above average – when you have Bryan Donlevy, Chrles Coburn, Helen Walker and Ella Raines, it’s no wonder they are!
Mary gave up moves afterwards.
Mary specialized in exotic dances – be it from Hawaii or from Chile, she knew them all! She started her career in Utah in about 1935, and dancing in the “Rio nights”, a colorful stage revenue.
Mary Landa married dancer Robert “Bobby” True in the late 1930s. They divorced, amidst a furor of newspaper articles, in February 1941. Mary claimed he insulted her friends causing her great mental anguish, but it was the fact that he called her an “old duck” that was the last straw. He later headed the Bobby True Trio and made some movies.
In January 1944, Morton Downey proposed to Mary. She did not accept him immediately – she took a few days to mull over it. In the end, she declined his offer. Why? Well, Mary knew that, in 1943, there were other things she should do.
In May 1944, Mary undertook the most arduous, serious activity for the war effort – with Ann Sheridan, Ruth Deans and Ben Blue, she undertook a six week tour or American army bases in China and India. Mary, who served as a dancer, was very dedicated to her patriotic duty, as they traveled through perilous terrain and lived in scarce circumstances during their travel.
Yet, in October 1944, an Associated Press release seriously accused Ann and her troupe of being unprofessional during the tour – they allegedly complained about the food, told corny jokes and even cut the tour short. Mary was the first to spring up and defend the group, claiming the reports are all false and untrue. She shot back to her critics:
“C and K rations are not the ideal repast, but we realized that it was the best food possible at those camps, and there was never any complaint from the troupe. After out eight week stay in the jungles of India and China, we were hospitalized for five days. I had an unhappy combination of flu, dysentery and sandfly fever, and, furthermore, the boys are complaining about “corn” in the routine, they should tell it to the censors.
We encountered four inch long grasshoppers never seen before and they hampered our performance on the stage.
The editor in New Dehli – a paradise compared to Burma – refuses to recognize the difficulties of entertaining in the Burma and Chinese jungles. It is really too tough for civilians and yet Ann did all she could to make those boys happy.”
Kudos to Mary, as I can only imagine the impossible circumstances the troupe had to perform in. Of course, the soldier had it even worse, but any input from people who could have just simply remained in the safety of the States should be applauded, not criticized. They were not perfect but hey, who is?
There is a funny anecdote about Mary from the trip. While staying in Cairo, Mary met Prince Michael of Greece. Like any normal girl, she was star struck by the suave royal, and was over the top happy when he asked her for a early morning luncheon one day. Sadly, the hotel bell hop failed to wake Mary up on time, and, when she finally did get up, she was 30 minutes late and not dressed! So, to placate the situation, she wrote the most polite, respectful letter she could:
“Your highness. I left a call but they neglected to wake me! I beg your highness pardon from the depths of my shattered heart. Could you forgive me? If you say you will wait another 15 minutes, I’d love having a talk. O, Dear Prince.” (Not even Hamlet could have put it better 😛 )
All she got was a reply: “Okay Pete”. Well, that was funny 🙂
Mary went on a 7 month tour of Europe in early 1945. She returned only in December 1945. She truly was dedicated to serving her country during difficult times. Mary falls from the radar from then on and I have idea what happened to her.
What I do know, is that the Hogar boarding house was sold off after her father’s death in 1977. her widowed mother, than in her late 80s, went to live in California with her son and daughter (sadly, Mary’s sister Helen Victoria died in 1949, at 27 years old), so Mary was probably living a family life in California in the 1970s. Her brother died in 1984, her mother in 1985, but I have no idea where she was.
I just hope she had a happy life.