In our last look some Unlikely Thrushes of the silver screen, you may remember, we peeked in on Miss Constance Bennett and her not uncreditable go at a little song and dance. This week, we veer sharply in another direction to catch a crucial moment in the long and seemingly haphazard career of a star both unlikely and beloved: Miss Marie Dressler, who is happy to tell us what's what in this antic moment from The Hollywood Revue of 1929.
In fairness, Miss Dressler is not so much singing as putting it over (as far as the third balcony, really), Vaudeville-style. When it was made, the idea of Dressler as the queen of anything was probably part of the joke. She'd been knocking around show business since the 1880s, with mixed success at best - some Broadway, lots of touring, a brief vogue as a silent comedian in the teens, and then not much. She'd come to Hollywood (again) in 1927 looking for character parts and done this and that. Sound, however, proved to be a gift for a pro like her with a voice that could be a foghorn or a wicked whisper, her trademark double- and triple-takes now made all the more lethal with the aid of quips and double-entrendre provided by the best screenwriters at MGM.
Her turn here as the Queen may have been sandwiched in with dozens of other bits as the studio rushed to see who could make what kind of splash in the new technology, but within a year or so she'd traded her moth-eaten train and skewed tiara for a far more gratifying title - Best Actress, for 1930's Min and Bill. She was on top as she never had been before in all those long decades of barnstorming, and she had a marvelous time - almost upstaging Garbo in Anna Christie (think of the prestige - at the toppest of studios, with the toppest of stars, and in O'Neill!), outright stealing much of Dinner at Eight from the likes of two Barrymores and Harlow at the height of her Harlovian charms, and serenely presiding over a dozen other cash-cows for Mr. Mayer before, too early, she left the stage.
She was the Queen, it turned out, and a damn good one, too.