Gone Too Soon Blogathon 2012: Maggie McNamara
So today is another divergence from the Films of Jean Harlow but I’m proud to announce my first participation in a Blog-a-Thon. The excellent classic film blog Comet Over Hollywood is devoting this weekend to stars we lost before their time. After you read my choice, go over to Comet and read the other blog entries from those participating. I had to get in on this as our own Jean Harlow died at the tender age of 26 (unfortunately another film blog nabbed her before I could). I went with the lovely Maggie McNamara. You may not recognize the name and that’s a shame as she could have been poised for greatness. I had to pick her as she stars in one of my favorite movies ever that really changed the film game.
The sad thing is very little is known about McNamara. Sure there’s the requisite childhood memories but after her brief career in a few movies nothing is none about her life. She was born Marguerite McNamara on June 18th, 1928. She became one of the most successful models of the John Robert Powers school of modeling. She always felt the need to be genuine saying about her modeling “I will not follow if it’s not right for me. I don’t care what the fashion dictators say.” It seemed like she was already inhabiting her character from The Moon is Blue.
Her big claim-to-fame was starring as Patty O’Neill in the 1953 Otto Preminger film The Moon is Blue. McNamara was only 23 at the time. If you haven’t seen it tape it the first time it’s on TCM (unfortunately it’s not available on DVD). The Moon is Blue tells the story of Donald (William Holden) who meets Patty and spends pretty much the entirety of the film trying to seduce her. The movie changed the Production Code as it was the first film to openly talk (about as openly as 1953 allowed) about sex and also was the first film to use the word “virgin.”
McNamara is extremely sweet, graceful, and classy as Patty, a role she played in the Broadway production after Barbara Bel Geddes. I compared her to a primer (that’s prim-er, not prime-er) Audrey Hepburn or a crasser (for the 50s) Debbie Reynolds. Her short hair, big doe eyes, and curt sentences made her a girl you thought would be easy to seduce but she one ups Donald throughout the entire movie. I mean William Holden is one of the most gorgeous men of classic cinema, using some of his best seduction techniques and this girl side-steps him the entire time. McNamara didn’t play Patty like a snotty rich-bitch or a prude. In fact she surprises Donald with how frank she is about sex (“well isn’t it better for a girl to be preoccupied with sex than occupied?”). Her sweetness and blunt manner drew you in and kept you entertained. Here’s a portion of the film with McNamara and Holden…tell me she didn’t have something. The role eventually scored her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and a BAFTA nomination for Most Promising Newcomer to Film.
After The Moon is Blue McNamara went on to make Three Coins in a Fountain which I sadly haven’t seen and that’s pretty much it (the other three films aren’t even worth noting on Wiki). For some reason the facts of her life become blurred and we don’t know why she didn’t make more movies. She did television after that, appearing in a classic episode of the Twilight Zone called the Ring-a-Ding Girl and she also did an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (both shows also had appearances from doomed beauty Inger Stevens as well…odd). Somewhere in there was a marriage and divorce to director/actor David Swift and McNamara died February 18th, 1978 at the age of 49. She had been working as a typist at the time and committed suicide through sleeping pills. Supposedly there had been a history of mental illness and a note. McNamara had supposedly been working on a script called The Mighty Dandelion but there’s no word where that is. I don’t understand why a biography hasn’t been written filling in the gaps of her life. Obviously there was something going on that audiences who saw the effervescent girl in The Moon is Blue weren’t aware of. We’ll never truly see what she was capable of, but I always watch The Moon is Blue and see sheer exuberance on the screen.
To Maggie McNamara: You’re never forgotten and we’ll always have The Moon!
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I watched this very carming film for the first time a couple of months ago. I’m sorry to learn that her life had such a sad ending..
Thanks for reading! It’s definitely a shame that stardom doesn’t equate to happiness…maybe for Maggie it was a lack of stardom
I saw The Moon Is Blue as a first-run movie and was enthralled by Maggie. She was the kind of gal who always appealed to me (also, Diana Lynn, Debbie Reynolds, Audrey Hepburn, etc.). I had wondered what ever happened to here until I check Wikipedia a couple of years ago and learned of her sad life and ending. What a shame!!! “Three Coins In The Fountain” is on PBS this evening, and I’ll surely watch it and enjoy seeing her again – and shed a tear.
Thanks for letting me be a part!
Hi, and thanks for stopping by and reading my Montgomery Clift post.
I am a mega-huge William Holden fan (he’s one of my two #1 guys!!), so I have seen THE MOON IS BLUE a couple of times. He and Miss McNamara were really fun together in that film.
How sad that she committed suicide. So many of our beloved stars really had tortured lives off-screen.
William Holden is a God…especially in The Moon is Blue where he’s all flirtation. Between that and Sabrina, no woman was safe. It’s definitely sad and even sadder that she’s kind of a footnote in the world of cinema, there’s not even any information on what happened after her career ended. Thanks for reading!
William Holden is my #1 guy. So beautiful to look at from top to bottom. I have seen every film he’s made. I guess you could say I’m possessed and what a magnificent possession it is! M. P. was a Rock Hudson film. Now there’s a beautiful face…….but William……
Bill Holden is easily in my top 3 classic film men.
Wow, I knew nothing about Maggie. I watched Three Coins in the Fountain recently with my grandmother and she thought Maggie was still alive. I´ve done a quick research and discovered that she wasn´t, but her romantic pair, Louis Jordan, is, aged 90. Thanks for the information you gave! I also loved your posts about Jean Harlow.
In the blogathon, I´ve written about Olive Thomas.
I need to watch Three Coins in a Fountain, I feel bad that I haven’t seen it. Louis Jordan is 90?! Wow, I’m not a huge fan of his work but didn’t know he ws that old. I checked out your Olive Thomas post, excellent! Thanks for reading!
Oh I have seen both those films and absolutely LOVED her in The Moon! It would be a role you would find Audrey or Debbie in, but she held her own. What a shame there isn’t more about her…a real mystery as to why she didn’t make more films.
She’s definitely on par with Audrey and as much as I love Debbie I think Maggie was a far stronger presence. Thanks for reading!
The great thing about this blogathon is that it’s introduced me to a lot of actors and actresses I didn’t really know much (if anything) about and this is one of them. I really liked Maggie in that Twilight Zone episode she did and I’ve only seen parts of Moon is Blue, but had no idea she had died so young.
Same here, and the care and extra mile the other participants take (with video and pictures) makes me feel a bit lacking lol. Although considering there’s such little info on Maggie any writer can’t do her justice. Excellent post on Valentino by the way!
I’m glad you picked an actress that isn’t written about. As others have, I’ve seen The Moons Blue but her other performances don’t ring a bell with me sadly.
I can actually see the likeness to Audrey. Both cute as a button!
Thanks for doing such a nice tribute to her. Hearing that another actress fell to suicide is always heartbreaking. A tough business and even tougher back then.
I’m glad I was introduced to your blog as well.
Thanks so much for checking out the blog! Yeah I haven’t seen Maggie’s other performances (although Three Coins in a Fountain is available on Netflix Instant so it’s on my queue). The ones who have been lost to suicide are always the saddest it seems, especially since it’s proof that fame doesn’t equate to happiness!
I have seen Three Coins in a Fountain–one of those 1950s movies with great location work, great 1950s fashions, and a melodramatic approach to love and romance. Also, I like the gimmick of the fountain, which ties the narrative to the locale, making it essential to the plot instead of just a pretty back drop.
I’ve heard several people mention it so I definitely need to check it out on Netflix soon. Thanks for reading!
This was a very nice tribute to Maggie! I did see Three Coins in the Fountain many years ago but can’t say that I remembered her name from it. I enjoyed the movie so I may just have to watch it again and pay special attention to her performance. My library has her Twilight Zone episode so I’ll have to check that out, too!
I definitely need to revisit that Twilight Zone episode! Thanks for reading!
Just watched “The Moon is Blue” and really enjoyed it.I recognized Maggie,my favorite
Movie when I was a teen was “Three Coins in the Fountain”.
I kept thinking of Audrey Hepburn while I was watching “Moon” interesting to see others
made the same comparison.As for William Holden,loved him!
I still have to watch Three Coins in a Fountain! Maggie definitely was poised to be a more serious Audrey Hepburn, there’s just too many similarities in appearance and roles for that to be an accident. It’s sad to see she didn’t get the chance to be a bigger star. As for Holden, well he’s fantastic in everything. Thanks for reading!
Hi Kristen! My name is Audrey McNamara (ironically enough) and I am Maggie’s great niece. Loving this article, as many who write about my Aunt on the web jump to conclusion about her motives in ending her film career, or why she ended her own life. You are correct in the fact that mental illness ran in our family, and still does. She did not end her life because of a “failed career”, but because of the demons that haunt so many of us. I would love to find out more about her myself, for I am so proud of her grace and glamour, and just finished my first debut as an actress in my high school play!
Anyway so cool to see people still talking about her, and to see that there are still a few fans out there!
Audrey, I am honored that you stopped by and read my post! It’s sad that there’s not more information out there about Maggie because, as evidenced by the continued traction this post gets, people are beyond interested in her! I’d love to chat with you more about your aunt and the rest of the McNamara clan if you’d be willing to do an interview. Feel free to email me at journeysinclassicfilm@Gmail.com. No obligation, of course, but I think more people would love to hear about her, even peripherally.
The Moon is Blue is one of my favorite movies. I loved Maggie in this film. I happen to live on Long Island, and my grandparents are buried in the same cemetery as Maggie. Whenever I visit I always stop by Maggie’s grave and leave some flowers. She was such a talent.
I am an attorney exploring this best I can. Waiting for response to FOID request to NYPD and lettes sent persons who may have known her. Believe affair with RIchard Burton he regretted when she thouht it was more serious played a role I her easing out the business. She did have friends though, and a little TV work. I even wonder if people she typed for knew who she was. Pretty unforgettable face
Wow, that’s amazing. If you find out any info I’d love to hear about it!
Bought “The Moon Is Blue” because Netflix didn’t offer it. I’m totally obsessed with William Holden. He is every woman’s dream. Irristible. It was nice to see him do something light and romantic (in Blue). We don’t have men that look like that anymore. Today’s men just want to appeal to each other by shaving the sides of their heads or by going totally bald. We need hair back. Have a look at Wm Holden in his early 20’s with lots of hair and a swagger to go with it. He never was more appealing, and at such a young age. I thought Maggie McNamara was too young for him to be interested in. He’s a full-blown man and she is a little girl. (Maybe I answered my own wonderment!)
I definitely second everything you said Loretta! William Holden is easily in my top 3 of classic movie men. He was a man’s man, but able to be vulnerable for women without being controlling. I think The Moon is Blue is a great example of Holden’s enduring appeal. Glad to know you snagged a copy!
I randomly came across this just now, but I always love seeing things about Maggie. She was my grandfather’s first cousin, so I grew up watching her movies and learning about her. She was truly gifted.
Hi Haley, that’s amazing about your grandfather! I’ve been trying to do more research on her over the years, but facts are limited. She was truly gifted.
What do you want to know?
Ooh, that’s something that can’t be answered in a comment. Could you shoot me an email (journeysinclassicfilm@gmail)? Would love to send some questions over!
In keeping with my Wm Holden obsession, I bought Executive Suite. A great cast of characters and W.H. I think steals the show. Barbara Stanwyck is in it too. They both go waaaay back as W.H. has always been referred to as Golden Boy by Her (one of their movies in the early 40’s). Executive Suite was brilliant and as an aside, no music throughout the entire picture!
Just watched Ring-A-Ding Girl. It was really eerie. She was very good in it.
She is so amazing in that! Thanks for reading.