Pretty, well-built and with a fine singing voice, Marbeth Wright was just 14 when she signed her first contract and hope for the best. For whatever reason, her movie career never got of the ground – however she found luck in other revues of showbiz and achieved a better career in Europe.
Marbeth Wright was born on July 9, 1915, in Crawford, Texas, to James C. Wright and Mabel Anderson, their only child. Her father was a police officer. The family moved to Los Angeles, California sometime after 1920, and Marbeth grew up and attended school there.
Marbeth started performing at the tender age of 11 – on a gathering in her home town, she sang popular songs, including “Honey Bunch,” “What a Man’ and several others, and won much applause for her skills. She was bitten by the showbiz bug, and there was no other path – she would become an actress. Although only 11 years old, she started working hard to achieve her dreams, and from then on was a regular at the pageant and dancing scenes.
Marbeth won Cecil De DeMille’s personality Contest, actually a lure to find new talent they could exploit in movies. Marbeth was allegedly Miss Los Angeles in 1928, which would make her only 13 years old when she won the title. Was that even legal? Yet, all the documents attest that she was born in 1915. Weird. I would put her at least in 1913, if not 1912. After winning this title, the doors to Hollywood were wide open for the beautiful girl, and she signed a studio contract in 1929 and started her career the same year.
After three silent films that I won’t cover here (The Great Gabbo, Happy Days and The Bridge), Marbeth appeared in Just Imagine, one of the most bizarre movies to get out of Hollywood. The forced and generally unfunny comedian, El Brendel, plays a normal guy (huh, touch luck with calling his humor normal) who is struck by lightning in 1930, and winds up in 1980 New York. And you imagine how people in 1930 imagined 1980! They sure didn’t expect the shoulder pads and the hair spray! Needless to say, it’s campy, it’s ridiculous and it’s so bad it’s good! As one reviewer wrote, “There are relays of airplane roads above the city, babies are dropped from coin fed machines, and outfits are made reversible for day and evening wear.” Don’t tell me you don’t want to see this!
Marbeth next appeared in The Trial of Vivienne Ware, a well made and sturdy drama with Joan Bennett as the innocent female lead, pushed into a nasty court trial. She was again a dancer in It’s Great to Be Alive, another bizarre one. The plot already goes south in the first sentence: An aviator who crash landed on an island in the South Pacific returns home to find that he is the last fertile man left on Earth after an epidemic of masculitus. A reviewer wrote about it on IMDB: “It’s Great to Be Alive” is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a science-fiction comedy, similar in spirit to “Just Imagine” (1930), although not quite as musicalised. This is a dumb movie, but it’s so cheerful in its mindlessness that you’ll have a good time watching it …. What more do I need to say? Hollywood sure made some very strange movies back in the day.
Marbeth took a hiatus from movies – I have no idea what exactly was she doing, I always suspect, when an actresses disappears, that she got married and then divorced, but perhaps this is not the case with her. When she returned in 1935, she appeared in The Lottery Lover, a conventional and only average movie about the misadventures of military cadets in Paris. Like most movies set in Paris in the 1930s, it features the Folies Bergere prominently. Lavish costumes and great sets can’t manage to save a dull script and insipid story.
Guess what? Marbeth then appeared in a movie aptly titled Folies Bergère de Paris. And guess what again? The movie is actually not a bad one. Headed by the effortlessly charming Maurice Chevalier (the king of precode, oh la la), it’s a story about an entertainer impersonates a banker who looks just like him, causing confusion for the bankers wife and his girlfriend. It has all the right ingredients – the witty banter, good music and decent actors. She continued her dancing output in George White’s 1935 Scandals, a typical George White movie, full of pretty girls dancing and with little to no plot.
Marbeth appeared in another idiotic musical, and that movie is truly and well forgotten, Redheads on Parade. Next, she was not a dancer but rather a secretary in The Girl Friend, only a modesty funny comedy with Ann Sothern, Jack Haley and Roger Pryor. Nothing to write home about! She finished her movie career with Music Is Magic – this is officially an Alice Faye movie, the true star is Bebe Daniels, a 34-year-old star who refuses to acknowledge that her prime is past that she must choose roles in accordance to her advanced age! I cannot stress enough how this movie shows, unintentionally, how Hollywood treats women. While I’m the first to say that casting people who are too old for some roles is not a perfect solution, the lack of substantial roles for women above 35 years of age is alarming. And Daniels, still beautiful and with tons of charisma, is a better actress than the younger Faye and truly steals the show.
Marbeth moved to other forms of showbiz, and never made another movie.
Marbeth was 5’5” tall, and tried to get into the papers like any dutiful starlet tries, but she never caused a scandal or sensation. It was her baking skills that got her into the papers in 1929 – she baked a very nice bread man for a culinary fair.
Marbeth also gave a handy beauty hint to readers:
An alluring note is added to light summer gowns by the use of fresh flowers in the hair. A cluster of mess rosebuds, gardenias, or a pink camellia is especially attractive.
Marbeth’s life gets interesting in about 1936, when she was allegedly summoned to Maurice Chevalier to appear with him in a revue show in Paris. The story goes like this (taken from a contemporary newspaper):
Marbeth Wright has signed a contract to go to Paris and appear at the Casino there and also play in a picture with Maurice Chevalier. I’m not saying there’s a romance, but I hear Maurice selected this young lady, who played Just a bit in “Folles Bergere,” as the object of his special attention when they were making the picture and chose her also for the new Job.
I was highly suspicions of this story. Chevalier, one of the most famous stars in the world, asking for a complete unknown for a co-star, and he’s not even a friend or a lover? While possible, I doubted this very much. However, after some digging around, I found out something that could be reason – it seems that Marbeth was involved, romantically of course, with Max Rippo, who was at the time Chavelier’s secretary. Now, this makes much more sense – Rippo recommended his lover to Chevalier, he obviously liked what he saw and signed her. This way, I guess, Rippo and Marbeth could continue their liaison in Paris.
Marbeth sailed for Paris in 1936, and stayed there for the next three years, singing in the Monte Cristo casino. If we only knew what other stories of Paris Marbeth could have told us…
Marbeth only returned to US in mid 1939, when it became absolutely clear that bad times were looming over Europe – she returned to Los Angeles, where her parents lived, but she did not sign a contract with any studio nor did any nightclub work. One has to wonder what happened to Marbeth? Why the termination of her career? Could there be a revival?
Unfortunately, there was to be no revival. Marbeth Wright died from a dental infection on September 17, 1939, 16 days after was declared in Europe . She was just 24 years old, and it was a tragedy she died so young.