Portrait for Vanity Fair magazine
Edward Steichen – Part One
Mary Nolan (1902 – 1948) was an American stage and film actress, singer and dancer. She was born Mary Imogene Robertson in Louisville, Kentucky. When her mother died, his father placed Mary in a foster home and later in a Catholic orphanage in Missouri.
In June 1912, she travelled to New York City to be near her oldest sister. She began working as an artists’ model and later she hired as a dancer in Ziegfeld Follies. As a showgirl, she performed under the name “Imogene “Bubbles” Wilson” and soon became one of the most popular Ziegfeld Girls.
While working in the Follies, Nolan began a tumultuous and highly publicized affair with actor Frank Tinney. He was married to former singer and dancer Edna Davenport, with whom he had a young son. Tinney drank heavily and reportedly physically abused Nolan regularly. On May 24, 1924, Tinney and Nolan got into a physical altercation in her apartment after he awoke to find her alone with a male reporter. After the altercation, Nolan attempted suicide. On May 28, she appeared before New York City Magistrate to report the assault and to press charges against Tinney. Nolan had bruises on her head and body. Tinney was arrested the following day. In June 1924, the case went before a grand jury. Based on the evidence, the jury refused to indict Tinney on assault charges. Afterwards, Tinney claimed the whole ordeal was a publicity stunt concocted by Nolan. After the grand jury hearing, Tinney decided to leave New York to perform in vaudeville in England. In early August 1924, he booked a trip on the Columbus ocean liner. Two days before Tinney was set to leave, he and Nolan reconciled and were photographed together outside of a Broadway theatre. Nolan wept as she watched the Columbus depart and told reporters on hand that she was still in love with Tinney. Nolan’s tearful goodbye to Tinney was covered by the media, which prompted Florenz Ziegfeld to fire Nolan later that day. Ziegfeld said that he fired Nolan because she had promised to end her relationship with Tinney. He added, “She broke her promise and I discharged her on account of the notoriety and also to prevent a possible disruption of the morale of my cast.”
On September 20, 1924, Nolan set sail for France where she was scheduled to appear in vaudeville. She made her way to London in October, where she reunited with Frank Tinney. By December 1924, Tinney had resumed drinking and began to physically abuse her again. In early 1925, Nolan finally ended their relationship. She left the United States shortly thereafter and began making films in Germany. She appeared in seventeen German films from 1925 to 1927 using a new stage name, “Imogene Robertson”.
Upon returning to the United States in 1927, she attempted to break from her previous scandal ridden past and adopted yet another stage name, “Mary Nolan”. Shortly after signing with Universal in 1927, Nolan began a relationship with another married man, studio executive Eddie Mannix. Mannix used his clout to further her career and Nolan found some success in films. Shortly after Desert Nights was released in 1929, Mannix abruptly ended the relationship. This angered Nolan, who threatened to tell Mannix’s wife of their affair. Mannix became enraged and beat her unconscious. Nolan hospitalized for six months and required fifteen surgeries to repair damage Mannix inflicted on her abdomen. While hospitalized, Nolan was prescribed morphine for pain. She eventually became addicted which contributed to the decline of her career.
By the 1930s, her acting career began to decline due to her drug abuse and reputation for being temperamental. After being bought out of contract with Universal, she was unable to secure film work with any major studios. Nolan spent the remainder of her acting career appearing in roles in low-budget films for independent studios.
Nolan was married once and had no children. She married stock broker Wallace T. McCreary on March 29, 1931. One week before they married, McCreary lost 2,69 € million on bad investments. The couple used McCreary’s remaining money to open a dress shop in Beverly Hills. The shop went out of business within months and Nolan filed for bankruptcy in August 1931. Nolan divorced McCreary in July 1932. She made her final film appearance in 1933.
After her film career ended, Nolan appeared in vaudeville and performed in nightclubs and roadhouses around the United States. Her later years were plagued by drug problems and frequent hospitalizations.
In 1939, she returned to Hollywood and changed her name to “Mary Wilson”. In 1941, she sold her life story to The American Weekly, which was serialized under the title “Confessions of a Follies Girl”, and appeared in several issues.
In spring 1948, she was hospitalized for malnutrition and was also treated for a gall bladder disorder. On October 31, 1948, Nolan was found dead in her Hollywood apartment at the age of 45. An autopsy later determined that Nolan had died of an overdose of Seconal. Her death is listed as an “accidental or suicide”.
Among Nolan’s few possessions was an antique piano once owned by Rudolph Valentino. It was later sold in an estate sale.
Sources / More to Read:
Wikipedia: Mary Nolan
IMDb: Mary Nolan
Wikipedia: Frank Tinney
Wikipedia: Eddie Mannix