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Marjorie Main: From Farm Girl to Film Star

Famed for her dry wit, frosty smile, sparkling eyes and raspy voice, Marjorie Main was a popular character actress who, unlike many females in Hollywood, gained the majority of her success after she turned 50.

Main was born in February 1890 in Acton and was given the name Mary Tomlinson. She eventually changed her name to Marjorie Main in an effort to avoid embarrassment to her family who did not approve of her career choice. During her childhood, her family moved to Elkhart, and she grew up as a rural farm girl. Despite her pastor father’s disapproval of acting, Main was actually inspired to act from his family readings of Charles Dickens, and she would regularly put on performances for the family.

Main continued with her love of performing, attending first Franklin College and then Hamilton College’s School of Dramatic Expression in Lexington, Kentucky. She graduated from Hamilton in 1909 at 19 and accepted a position as a dramatics instructor at Bourbon College in Paris, Kentucky. This job lasted just one year until she was fired for demanding a raise in salary. Main spent the next several years studying the dramatic arts in Chicago and New York. Her first paid role as a stage actress was as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew.

In 1921, Marjorie married psychologist and lecturer Dr. Stanley LeFevre Krebs. The two met while Main was working with a Shakespearean company playing the Chautauqua circuit. It was during her marriage that Main got her first film appearance, acting as a gossiping extra in the 1931 film A House Divided.

Krebs died just over a decade later in 1935. Using her grief as a widow to her advantage, Main achieved one of her best stage performances as the mother of gangster Joseph Downing in the stage production Dead End, playing in 460 out of 687 performances. In 1937, Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights to create the film version of the play, and Main reprised her role as the mother.

The year of 1937 was busy for Main. In addition to Dead End, Main had roles in 12 other films. The following few years were no different, and the public began to expect to see her face in every movie. After starring alongside Wallace Beery in the 1940 film Wyoming, Main signed her first longterm contract with MGM studios. It was this contract that led her to her best-known role as Ma Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle film series. She starred in nine Ma and Pa Kettle films between 1949 and 1957.

IHS holds two scrapbooks that were hand-assembled and notated by Marjorie Main, containing news articles about her various roles as well as other ephemera from her career in film including letters, certificates, photographs and membership withdrawal cards for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

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