Mary Wickes (June 13, 1910 – October 22, 1995) was an American film and television character actress.
Mary Isabella Wickenhauser (she later shortened her surname for acting) was born to Frank Wickenhauser (1880-1943) and his wife, Mary Isabella (née Shannon; died 1965), in St. Louis, Missouri of German, Scottish and Irish extraction, and raised Protestant. She graduated at the age of eighteen with a degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis, where she joined the Phi Mu women's fraternity and was initiated into Mortar Board in 1929.
Wickes' first Broadway appearance was in Marc Connelly's The Farmer Takes a Wife in 1934 with Henry Fonda. She began acting in films in the late 1930s, and was also a member of the Orson Welles troupe on his radio drama The Mercury Theatre on the Air; she also appeared in Welles' 1938 film Too Much Johnson. One of her earliest significant film appearances was in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), reprising her stage role of "Nurse Preen".
A tall (5'10"), gangling woman with a distinctive voice, Wickes would ultimately prove herself adept as a comedienne. She attracted attention in the 1942 film Now, Voyager as the wisecracking nurse who helped Bette Davis's character during her mother's illness. (She had already appeared earlier that year with Davis in The Man Who Came To Dinner, and joined her again six years later in June Bride.) In 1942, she also had a large part in the Abbott and Costello comedy Who Done It?. She continued playing supporting roles in films during the next decade, usually playing wisecracking characters. A prime example was her deadpan characterization of the harassed housekeeper in the Doris Day vehicles By the Light of the Silvery Moon and On Moonlight Bay, a character type she would repeat in the holiday classic White Christmas (1954), starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. She played similar roles in two later movies with Rosalind Russell in the 1960s: The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.
Wickes moved to the new medium of television in 1949, starring in the title role of a Westinghouse Studio One version of Mary Poppins. In the 1950s, Wickes played the warm yet jocular maid Katie in the Mickey Mouse Club serial Walt Disney Presents: Annette and regular roles in the sitcoms Make Room for Daddy and Dennis the Menace. She also played the part of a ballet teacher, Madame Lamond, in the I Love Lucy episode "The Ballet" in 1952. Wickes also served as the live-action reference model for Cruella De Vil in Walt Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and played Mrs. Squires in the film adaptation of Meredith Willson's The Music Man (1962).
In 1953, Wickes played the housekeeper, Martha, to Ezio Pinza's character in NBC's short-lived Bonino sitcom. Pinza portrayed an Italian-American opera singer trying to rear six children. Among the child actors on the program were Van Dyke Parks and Chet Allen. In 1954-55, she played Alice on The Halls of Ivy.
In 1956, Wickes appeared with Thelma Ritter in "The Babysitter" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Wickes also appeared in two episodes of Zorro. In the 1961-62 season, she appeared as Maxfield opposite Gertrude Berg in CBS's Mrs. G. Goes to College. For her work in the sitcom, Wickes was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress". In 1964, she appeared on ABC's The Donna Reed Show in the episode "First Addition."
A longtime friend of Lucille Ball, Wickes played frequent guest roles on I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here's Lucy. In 1970-71, she guest starred on CBS's The Doris Day Show. (Day was another of her friends.) She was also a regular on the Sid and Marty Krofft children's television show, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and the sitcom Doc. She made numerous appearances as a celebrity panelist on the CBS game show Match Game. By the 1980s, her appearances in television series such as Our Man Higgins, M*A*S*H, The Love Boat, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Murder, She Wrote had made her a widely recognizable character actress. She also appeared in a variety of Broadway shows, including a 1979 revival of Oklahoma! as "Aunt Eller".
She was cast as the mother of Shirley MacLaine's character in the 1990 film Postcards from the Edge and from 1989 to 1991 portrayed Marie Murkin in the television movie and series adaptations of Father Dowling Mysteries. She played Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act (1992) and in the sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993). She appeared in the 1994 film version of Little Women before she became ill.
Wickes suffered from numerous ailments in the last years of her life including kidney failure, massive gastrointestinal bleeding, severe low blood pressure, ischemic cardiomyopathy, anemia and breast cancer (stage of cancer unknown), which cumulatively resulted in her death from surgical complications on October 22, 1995, at age 85.
Her final film role, voicing the gargoyle Laverne in Disney's animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released posthumously in 1996. She was interred beside her parents at the Shiloh Valley Cemetery in Shiloh, Illinois.
Wickes was posthumously inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2004.
Unmarried, Wickes left a large estate and made a $2 million bequest, in memory of her parents, establishing the Isabella and Frank Wickenhauser Memorial Library Fund for Television, Film and Theater Arts.
Mary Wickes was a volunteer at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan in Los Angeles for years.
Perhaps remembered best as Nurse Preen, opposite a delightfully irascible Monty Woolley, in William Keighley's The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) or, on TV, as Miss Cathcart in "Dennis the Menace" (1959) (1959-63).
She appeared as her Sister Act (1992) character in Lady Soul's "If My Sister's In Trouble" music video.
Mary and Lucille Ball were neighbors and the closest of friends for decades.
She was a sister in Phi Mu Fraternity, Zeta Epsilon Chapter (Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri).
Longtime companion of playwright Abby Conrad.
She served as the live-action reference model for the villainous Cruella De Vil in Disney's animated feature One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).
Mary originated the role of "Mary Poppins" on CBS-TV in 1949.
Was given an honorary Doctor of Arts from her alma mater, Washington University, in 1969. She earned her Master's degree at UCLA when she was in her 80s.
More than 30 years after a role that brought her fame on Broadway, she once again played the role of Nurse Preen ("Miss Bedpan") in a special TV version of The Man Who Came to Dinner (1972) (TV), with Orson Welles replacing the late Monty Woolley in the role of Sheridan Whiteside.
Played a bus driving nun in two movie franchises: as Sister Clarissa in The Trouble with Angels (1966) and its sequel Where Angels Go Trouble Follows! (1968), and as Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act (1992) and its sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).
Interred beside her parents at the Shiloh Valley Cemetery in Shiloh, Illinois.
Women like me. They think I`m wholesome or something
I love playing good comedy with a heart, comedy which touches the audience
I can`t stand those who talk only acting. That's pretty bad