A weekly feature in which my five-year-old son is let loose on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles, and chooses a star from among the more than 2,500 honorees. His “random” picks sometimes reveal unexplained connections such as the summer day in 2012 when he sat down on the star of actress Celeste Holm and refused to budge. We later learned that the Oscar-winning actress had died only hours earlier. There are five categories on the Walk of Fame: motion pictures, television, radio, music and theater but Charlie tends to favor the movies.
It’s happened many times: actors who were household names — so popular during their heyday that you couldn’t possibly imagine they’d ever be completely forgotten. I’m always happy when Charlie picks someone from this group on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his choice this week of Polly Moran definitely fits that description.
Born in Chicago on June 28, 1883, Polly Moran started out very young in vaudeville and was quickly discovered by Mack Sennett. Though she began at Keystone Studios in 1914 as one of Sennett’s Bathing Beauties, she soon distinguished herself as a physical comedian and rose up the ranks to top stardom.
If you are lucky enough to have seen any of Moran’s 120 films, you know that she was a trailblazer for future women in comedy. You can see elements of her style in everyone from Lucille Ball to Sarah Silverman.
When Moran moved to MGM and teamed up with Marie Dressler in 1927 for The Callahans and the Murphys, it was comedy gold. Though the film was eventually pulled from distribution because of complaints by Irish-American groups that they were being depicted as a bunch of drunks, the Moran-Dressler partnership continued for eight more films including Bringing Up Father (1928), Chasing Rainbows (1930), Reducing (1931), and Prosperity (1932). Moran’s success with Dressler may have been a blessing and a curse. When Marie Dressler suddenly died of cancer in 1934, Polly Moran’s popularity took a nose-dive and she began appearing in low-budget B-movies.
Though Moran stayed an active part of the Hollywood social scene, she retired from the movies by the early 1940s. In 1949, her old pal George Cukor cast her in a featured role in the film Adam’s Rib starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Though she was well received in the role, she later said, “I worked in the picture two days before I got a look at mysef. I never went back.” Sadly, Polly Moran died a few years later on January 25, 1952, at the age of 68.
Because she is so forgotten today, let’s take a look at Polly Moran and Jimmy Durante singing “Fly Away to Ioway” in these rare out-takes from the 1934 film Hollywood Party: