Mary Anderson of Gone with the Wind fame died in Burbank on Sunday. The death of the 96 year old actress comes close on the heels of Mickey Rooney’s death, prompting many fans on social networking sites to label it the “end of an era.” The redheaded actress was among the last few surviving members of the cast that brought Margaret Mitchell’s civil war epic to the silver screen.
According to Betty Landess, who has been a longstanding friend of Anderson, the actress died in Burbank where she was receiving hospice care. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Landess said that her friend’s health had been deteriorating for a while and that she had had a string of mild strokes. Mary Anderson, who lived in Brentwood for a long time, is known for her roles in a number of Hollywood films that came out in the 40s and 50s.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Mary Anderson was actually born April 3, 1918 though she often claimed she was born in 1920. The actress, who sometimes went by her birth name of Bebe, was first spotted by director George Cukor. He was, at the time, scouting for a fresh face to cast in the movie adaptation of the civil war epic novel by Margaret Mitchell. Mary Anderson, who died on Sunday aged 96, originally auditioned for the lead role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Back then, she was still a student at Howard College, now known as Samford University.
However, in an unfortunate twist of fate, Cukor was fired as the director and producer David O. Selznick cast Vivien Leigh for the lead role. Anderson wound up getting the minor, supporting role of Maybelle Merriweather. That year, Vivien Leigh went on to win the Oscar for the best actress.
Notwithstanding this initial set-back, the acting career of Anderson did take off and she starred in films like The Song of Bernadette, Flight Angels, Henry Aldrich for President and Cheers for Miss Bishop among others. Her role as one of the nine survivors in Alfred Hitchcock’s drama, Lifeboat, won Anderson critical acclaim. She played a United States Army nurse, Alice Mackenzie, and was cast opposite the likes of Walter Slezak, Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Hume Cronyn and William Bendix in the movie.
She also began branching out into stage acting and television performances, and by 1960 had earned herself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Her most notable role onstage was in Guest in the House, a 1942 Broadway production and she landed a recurring part in the 1964 prime time soap opera, Peyton Place, which aired on ABC from September 1964 to June, 1969. Some of the other television series Anderson starred include, Mike Hammer, Climax!, The Californians, My Three Sons, Perry Mason and Daniel Boone.
Mary Anderson was married twice. Her first marriage was to Leonard Behrens, but the couple ended up in a divorce. Anderson was married once again in 1953 and this time she tied the knot with ace cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who stole a whopping 18 Academy Awards nominations. He won four of them for The Black Swan, Leave Her to Heaven, Wilson and Cleopatra. Leon Shamroy died in 1974.
Mary Anderson also had a brother, James Anderson, who died in 1969. An actor himself, he was known for his performance of a villain character in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. James Anderson also appeared in the film Little Big Man and a couple of television shows like Gunsmoke and Rawhide. Mary Anderson, 96, who debuted in Gone with the Wind, is survived by no family.
By Aruna Iyer