Partner Spring Byington
Forest Lawn Cemetery (Hollywood Hills), 6300 Forest Lawn Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90068
Marjorie Main was the stage name of Mary Tomlinson (February 24, 1890 – April 10, 1975), who was an American character actress and singer of the Classical Hollywood period, best known as a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player in the 1940s and 1950s, and for her role as Ma Kettle in ten Ma and Pa Kettle movies. Main started her career in vaudeville and theatre and appeared in films classics, such as Dead End (1937), Dark Command (1940), The Shepherd of the Hills (1941), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and Friendly Persuasion (1956). Main's biographer Michelle Vogel has noted that Main and Spring Byington were reported widely as having had a long-term relationship. When asked about Byington's sexual orientation, Main observed: "It's true, she didn't have much use for men."
Mary Tomlinson was born on February 24, 1890, near Acton, in rural Marion County, Indiana. She was the second daughter of Reverend Samuel J. Tomlinson, a Disciples of Christ minister, and Jennie L. (McGaughey) Tomlinson. Mary's maternal grandfather, Doctor Samuel McGaughey, was the Acton physician who delivered her.
AAt the age of three, Tomlinson moved with her family to Indianapolis, Indiana, where her father was pastor of Hillside Christian Church. Four years later they moved to Goshen and then Elkhart, Indiana. In the early 1900s the Tomlinson family settled on a farm near Fairland, Indiana.
AAfter attending public schools in Fairland and Shelbyville, Tomlinson spent a year (1905–06) at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, where she was a charter member of what became the present-day Delta Delta Delta sorority, before transferring to the Hamilton School of Dramatic Expression in Lexington, Kentucky. She completed a three-year course of study in 1909 at the age of nineteen. After graduation Tomlinson took a job as a dramatics instructor at Bourbon College in Paris, Kentucky, but stayed only a year. Tomlinson later claimed that she was fired from the position after asking for a salary increase.
AAfter Tomlinson left Kentucky she spent the next several years studying dramatic arts in Chicago and New York City, despite her father's disapproval of her career choice. Tomlinson also adopted a stage name of Marjorie Main during her early acting career to avoid embarrassing her family.
In the mid-1910s Main appeared in several plays, which included touring in Cheating Cheaters wwith John Barrymore in 1916. She also debuted in the Broadway theatre in Yes or No in 1918. In addition, Main returned to vaudeville to perform at the Palace Theater in a skit called The Family Ford with comedian W. C. Fields. Not all of the early plays in which she appeared were a success. A House Divided closed in 1923 after just one performance, but Main continued to find work on the Broadway stage. In 1927 she played Mae West's mother in The Wicked Age,, and in 1928 played opposite Barbara Stanwyck in the long-running stage hit Burlesque. Main also appeared in several other Broadway productions: Salvation in 1928, Scarlet Sister Mary in 1930, Ebb Tide in 1931, Music in the Air in 1932, and in Jackson White.
MMain married Doctor Stanley LeFevre Krebs, a psychologist and lecturer, on November 2, 1921. They met while she was performing on the Chautauqua circuit. Main's husband was a widower with a grown daughter named Annabelle. Main accompanied her husband on the lecture circuit, handling the details of their life on the road. The couple had no children together, and made their home in New York City. Main performed with touring companies and in New York theaters on a part-time basis throughout her marriage. She also began her Hollywood film career in 1931. Main considered this period "the happiest years of her life." She returned to a full-time acting career after Krebs died of cancer on September 26, 1935.
The Krebs' marriage was a non-traditional one. By her accounts the marriage was happy, but not particularly close. Main claimed to be "broken-hearted" following her husband's death, but also explained that his death was "like losing a good friend. Like part of the family." Main's biographer, Michelle Vogel, quotes a later interview in which the actress related: "Dr. Krebs wasn't a very practical man. I didn't figure on having to run the show, I kinda tired of it after a few years. We pretty much went our own ways but we was still in the eyes of the law, man and wife."
OOne of Main's first feature film appearances was as an extra in A House Divided (1931). She also appeared in Take A Chance and Crime Without Passion (1934), and re-created her stage role as a servant in the film version of Music in the Air (1934), but most of her performance was cut from the film. Main also made a few more films in Hollywood, California, in the 1930s before returning to the stage in New York City.
MMain was signed to a seven-year Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract in 1940, after starring with Wallace Beery in Wyoming (1940), She also co-starred in Dark Command (1940) with Walter Pidgeon, and appeared in six major films in 1941.
MMain's best-known role was Ma Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle film series. She had renewed her contract with MGM for another seven years, which continued until the mid-1950s, when the studio loaned her to Universal Pictures to play Ma Kettle for the first time in The Egg and I (1947), starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. Main played opposite Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in the film.
AAfter her retirement from acting, Main lived a quiet, secluded life, in Los Angeles, California. She also became interested in spiritualism and the Moral Re-Armament movement.
IIn 1974, a year before her death, Main attended the Los Angeles premiere of the MGM documentary film That's Entertainment. It was her first public appearance since she retired from films in 1958. At the televised post-premiere party, she was greeted with cheers of enthusiasm and applause from the crowd of spectators.
Main died of lung cancer on April 10, 1975, at the age of eighty-five, at St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been admitted on April 3. Main is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California, beside her husband, Doctor Stanley Krebs.
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