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Marie Dressler (born Leila Marie Koerber, November 9, 1868 – July 28, 1934) was a Canadian-American stage and screen actress, comedian, and early silent film and Depression-era film star. Successful on stage in vaudeville and comic operas, she was also successful in film. In 1914, she was in the first full-length film comedy. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1931.
Leaving home at the age of 14, Dressler built a career on stage in traveling theatre troupes. While not conventionally beautiful, she learned early to appreciate her talent in making people laugh. In 1892, she started a career on Broadway that lasted into the 1920s, performing comedic roles that allowed her to improvise to get laughs. From one of her successful Broadway roles, she played the titular role in the first full-length screen comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), opposite Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. She made several shorts, but mostly worked in New York City on stage. During World War I, along with other celebrities, she helped sell Liberty Bonds. In 1919, she helped organize the first union for stage chorus players.
Her career declined in the 1920s, and Dressler was reduced to living on her savings while sharing an apartment with a friend. In 1927, she returned to films at the age of 59 and experienced a remarkable string of successes. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930–31 for Min and Bill and was named the top film star for 1932 and 1933. She died of cancer in 1934.
Marie Dressler original name is Leila Marie Koerber. She was born on November 9, 1868, at Cobourg, Ontario.  She was one of the two daughters of Anna (née Henderson), a musician, and Alexander Rudolph Koerber (b. 13 April 1826, Lindow, Neu-Ruppin, Germany – d. November 1914, Wimbledon, Surrey, England), a German-born former officer in the Crimean War. Leila's elder sister, Bonita Louise Koerber (b. January 1864, Ontario, Canada – d. 18 September 1939, Richmond, Surrey, England), later married playwright Richard Ganthony.
Her father was a music teacher in Cobourg and the organist at St. Peter's Anglican Church, where as a child Marie would sing and assist in operating the organ. According to Dressler, the family regularly moved from community to community during her childhood. It has been suggested by Cobourg historian Andrew Hewson that Dressler attended a private school, but this is doubtful if Dressler's recollections of the family's genteel poverty are accurate.
TThe Koerber family eventually moved to the United States, where Alexander Koerber is known to have worked as a piano teacher in the late 1870s and early 1880s in Bay City and Saginaw (both in Michigan) as well as Findlay, Ohio. Her first known acting appearance was as Cupid at age five in a church theatrical performance in Lindsay, Ontario. Residents of the towns where the Koerbers lived recalled Dressler acting in many amateur productions, and Leila often irritated her parents with those performances.
Dressler's first marriage was to an American, George Francis Hoeppert (1862 – September 7, 1929), a theatrical manager. His surname is sometimes given as Hopper. The couple married on May 6, 1894, in Grace Church Rectory, Greenville, New Jersey, as biographer Matthew Kennedy wrote, under her birth name, Leila Marie Koeber, . Some sources indicate Dressler had a daughter who died as a small child, but this has not been confirmed.
Her marriage to Hoeppert gave Dressler U.S. citizenship, which was useful later in life, when immigration rules meant permits were needed to work in the United States, and Dressler had to appear before an immigration hearing. Ever since her start in the theatre, Dressler had sent a portion of her salary to her parents. Her success on Broadway meant she could afford to buy a home and later a farm on Long Island, which she shared with her parents. Dressler made several attempts to set up theatre companies or theatre productions of her own using her Broadway proceeds, but these failed and she had to declare bankruptcy several times.
IIn 1907, Dressler met a Maine businessman, James Henry "Jim" Dalton, who became her companion until his death on November 29, 1921, at the Congress Hotel in Chicago from diabetes. According to Dalton, the two were married in Europe in 1908. However, according to Dressler's U.S. passport application, the couple married in May 1904 in Italy.
DDressler reportedly later learned that the "minister" who had married them in Monte Carlo was actually a local man paid by Dalton to stage a fake wedding. Dalton's first wife, Lizzie Augusta Britt Dalton, claimed he had not consented to a divorce or been served divorce papers, although Dalton claimed to have divorced her in 1905. By 1921, Dalton had become an invalid due to diabetes mellitus, and watched her from the wings in his wheelchair. After his death that year, Dressler was planning for Dalton to be buried as her husband, but Lizzie Dalton had Dalton's body returned to be buried in the Dalton family plot.
After Dalton's death, which coincided with a decline in her stage career, Dressler moved into a servant's room in the Ritz Hotel to save money. Eventually, she moved in with friend Nella Webb to save on expenses. After finding work in film again in 1927, she rented a home in Hollywood on Hillside Avenue. Although Dressler was working from 1927 on, she was still reportedly living hand to mouth. In November 1928, wealthy friends Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Neurmberg gave her $10,000, explaining they planned to give her a legacy someday, but they thought she needed the money then. In 1929, she moved to Los Angeles to 6718 Milner Road in Whitley Heights, then to 623 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, both rentals. She moved to her final home at 801 North Alpine in Beverly Hills in 1932, a home which she bought from the estate of King C. Gillette. During her seven years in Hollywood, Dressler lived with her maid Mamie Cox and later Mamie's husband Jerry.
Although atypical in size for a Hollywood star, Dressler was reported in 1931 to use the services of a "body sculptor to the stars", Sylvia of Hollywood, to keep herself at a steady weight.
Biographers Betty Lee and Matthew Kennedy document Dressler's long-standing friendship with actress Claire Du Brey, whom she met in 1928. Dressler and Du Brey's falling out in 1931 was followed by a later lawsuit by Du Brey, who had been trained as a nurse, claiming back wages as the elder woman's nurse.
On Saturday, July 28, 1934, Dressler died of cancer, aged 65, in Santa Barbara, California. After a private funeral held at The Wee Kirk o' the Heather chapel, Dressler was interred in a crypt in the Great Mausoleum in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
Dressler left an estate worth $310,000, the bulk left to her sister Bonita.
She bestowed her 1931 automobile and $35,000 to her maid of 20 years, Mamie Steele Cox, and $15,000 to Cox's husband, Jerry R. Cox, who had served as Dressler's butler for 4 years. Dressler intended that the funds should be used to provide a place of comfort for Black travelers, and the Coxes used the funds to open the Cocoanut Grove night club and adjacent tourist cabins in Savannah, Georgia, in 1936, named after the night club in Los Angeles.
Dressler's birth home in Cobourg, Ontario, is known as Marie Dressler House and is open to the public. The home was converted to a restaurant in 1937 and operated as a restaurant until 1989, when it was damaged by fire. It was restored, but did not open again as a restaurant. It was the office of the Cobourg Chamber of Commerce until its conversion to its current use as a museum about Dressler and as a visitor information office for Cobourg. Each year, the Marie Dressler Foundation Vintage Film Festival is held, with screenings in Cobourg and in Port Hope, Ontario.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Dressler has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1731 Vine Street, added in 1960. After Min and Bill, Dressler and Beery added their footprints to the cement forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, with the inscription "America's New Sweethearts, Min and Bill."
Canada Post, as part of its "Canada in Hollywood" series, issued a postage stamp on June 30, 2008, to honour Marie Dressler.
Dressler is beloved in Seattle. She played in two films based on historical Seattle characters. Tugboat Annie was based on Thea Foss of Seattle. Her character in Politics (1931) was based on Bertha Knight Landes, the first woman mayor of Seattle.
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