Old Movie Teams

Weren’t they also in that other movie?

Marie Dressler & Polly Moran

Marie Dressler and Polly Moran from Hollywood Revue

Marie Dressler and Polly Moran began their movie careers when the movie industry was still in its infancy, appearing in their first films in 1914 and 1913, respectively. Not until 1927, however, did the two women share the same screen. Their first outing as a team happened in The Callahans and the Murphys. A silent film, it came on the heels of Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer and in the face of intense hostility from Irish-Americans upset that their entire ethnic group was being portrayed as drunkards. Consequently, the film enjoyed only a very short theatrical release. Still, this film helped launch a partnership that lasted through five years and nine feature-length films. Their formula consisted of humor in conflict and proved the mainstay for most of their appearances together. They were usually friends who became estranged, strangers who begrudgingly became friends, and/or rivals who reveled in rivalry.

While perhaps more versatile in her range of roles and certainly renown for grander performances than ones she played in tandem with Polly Moran, Marie Dressler nonetheless struggled much more than Ms. Moran to maintain a public for her movies. Her first movie role was the titular part in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), receiving top billing, even over the likes of an up-and-coming performer named Charles Chaplin. But her appeal was not lasting and her career sputtered more than once in the following dozen years, nearly to the point of oblivion. By 1927, she was thought unmarketable as an actress and found herself both professionally and financially destitute until she was cast in the role that started her partnership with Polly Moran. It didn’t hurt that Irving Thalberg, the MGM boy wonder, had seen her act, knew her predicament, and, pursuaded by her powerful screen presence, set out to team her also with other players in less formulaic and much more challenging vehicles. Ultimately, she received, in 1931, the Oscar nod for her portrayal of Min alongside Wallace Beery’s Bill in the classic tearjerker Min and Bill (1930).

Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler in Min and Bill

Marie Dressler’s commitment to and continuance of the Dressler/Moran team waned only with illness. She died of cancer in 1934. Polly Moran, who began as one of Mack Sennett’s darlings of comedy in 1913, continued steadily in films until 1950, rounding out her movie career with small supporting roles for the likes of Red Skelton (in the 1950 release The Yellow Cab Man) and that quintessential movie team, Tracy and Hepburn (in the 1949 feature Adam’s Rib). Ms. Moran died in 1952.

The following comprises a list of Ms. Dressler and Ms. Moran’s feature-length collaborations:

The Callahans and the Murphys (1927) – silent
Bringing Up Father (1928)
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
Caught Short (1930)
Chasing Rainbows (1930)
The Girl Said No (1930)
Politics (1931)
Prosperity (1932)
Reducing (1931)

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