Showing posts with label Steve Taravella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Taravella. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before

Mary Wickes
I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before
by Steve Taravella
University Press of Mississippi
Hardcover ISBN: 9781604739053
370 pages
May 2013

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells

“Mary was one of the most recognizable character actresses in the United States. Though the general public might not have been able to recall her name immediately, generations of moviegoers, television viewers, and theatre lovers delighted in her distinctive presence.” — Steve Taravella

I have always admired ambitious and driven people. If you work hard at your dreams and follow through on your goals, you're someone I want to know more about. Mary Wickes was just that kind of person. From the moment she realized she wanted to be an actress until the day she died, Wickes was always pursuing her dream.

"Singularly devoted to her craft, Mary was happiest when at work." — Steve Taravella

Wickes was never going to become a leading lady. She didn't have the looks that Hollywood wanted in order to do so. Instead, she focused on what she did have: a strong work ethic and a knack for comedy and playing high-strung characters. Wickes honed her skills on the stage and excelled at delivery and timing. She found work in theater as well as radio and film and was early to embrace the new medium of television. She blossomed into one of the finest character actresses of the 20th century giving us memorable performances in films such as The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Now, Voyager (1942), White Christmas (1954),  Dear Heart (1964), The Trouble with Angels (1966), Postcards from the Edge (1990), Sister Act (1992) and Little Women (1994). Wickes played nuns, nurses, maids, spinsters, aunts, grandmothers, society matrons, landladies, etc. And even if you couldn't quite remembered her name, you'd remember her face.

"I just happen to have been given a face which could play an age and any period, and it never bothered me not to have been the romantic leading lady. It has always been my ambition to be the best supporting actress in the business..." — Mary Wickes

Author Steve Taravella offers readers an intimate look at the life and work of the much beloved actress in Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before. This biography is not your typical one. Taravella's book is essentially a collection of thematic essays with each chapter unlocking an aspect of Wickes' personality or exploring an era in her life. While there isn't all too much in the form of behind-the-scenes informations about her films, we do get a lot about Mary Wickes herself, who she was as a person and as a performer. Wickes was fiercely private in real life and this book felt maybe too intimate. However, Wickes had left all of her papers to be archived at Washington University so it's safe to say that she was willing to be an open book as long as it happened after her death.

Taravella explores many aspects of Wickes' private life including her close friendship with Lucille Ball (which gets its own chapter) and her personal and professional relationships with countless others. Wickes was the epitome of propriety, something born out of the close bond she had with her mom Isabella who taught her to mind her manners. The author paints a portrait of a woman who lived to perform, who became her own advocate and was always tenacious about getting work. Her story can sometimes be very sad. It was difficult to read how Wickes' old-fashioned sensibilities held her back in many regards and how she never found romantic love. Her private struggle with breast cancer was eye-opening and heart-breaking.

Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before is one of the most intimate biographies I've ever read. I finished the book feeling like I had just made a new friend.

This is my fourth review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

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