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!
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.