Helen Mack

Helen Mack

Helen Mack (born November 12 1913, Rock Island, Illinois - died August 13 1986, Beverly Hills, California) is one of the earliest examples of pioneering women who were successful in the entertainment industry, first as a performer and then orchestrating behind the scenes. Mack started her career as a child actress in silent films, moving on to Broadway plays, and touring the vaudeville circuit. Her greater success (as an actress) was as a leading lady in the 1930s. Eventually Helen transitioned into performing on radio, and then into writing, directing, and producing some of the best known radio shows during the Golden Age of Radio. Later in life Helen billed herself as a professional writer, writing for Broadway, stage, and television. Helen's career spanned the infancy of the motion picture industry, the beginnings of Broadway, the final days of Vaudeville, the transition to "talkies", the Golden Age of Radio, and the rise of television. Helen blazed a path years ahead of her time, and laid the groundwork for many other women to follow.

Youth and stage

Helen Mack (real name Helen McDougall) was the daughter of a barber (William McDougall) and a mother (Regina McDougall) who had a repressed desire to become an actress. She obtained her education (1921-29) as a youth at the Professional Children's School of New York City. Vera Gordon was a friend who helped her along as a child actress. She appeared on Broadway, in vaudeville (1926-28), in stock as well as silent films. Mack debuted on stage in "The Idle Inn" with Jacob Benami. She performed with Roland Young in "The Idle Inn" and toured America (1928-29) with William Hodge in "Straight Through The Door".

Film actress

Her Fox Film screen test came in March 1931 and within three weeks she was on the studio lot. Mack began her film career (first billed as "Helen Macks") in "Success". The motion picture featured Brandon Tynan, Naomi Childers, and Mary Astor. In "Zaza" Mack worked with Gloria Swanson.

She made her debut as a leading lady opposite Victor McLaglen in "While Paris Sleeps" (1932). She performed in "The Struggle" (1931) under the direction of D.W. Griffith and was cast with John Boles in his initial Fox Film venture, "Scotch Valley". Mack played in several westerns in the early 1930s. Among these are "Fargo Express" (1933) with Ken Maynard and "The California Trail" with Buck Jones.

Reviewer Norbert Lusk commented favorably regarding Mack's performance in the 1933 motion picture, "Sweepings" (1933). He said "she has a lively personality, appreciated all the more in a heavy, loomy picture, and she plays her shopgirl role with understanding and finesse." Prior to this film Mack's career had declined for three years. Three of her productionsfailed. One reason for this career downturn is that she was usually a character star. Her employers had unwisely used Mack as an ingenue (stock character). RKO Radio Pictures Inc. offered her a second chance as "Mamie Donahue" in "Sweepings".

She may be best remembered for the 1933 movie sequel "The Son of Kong", as Harold Lloyd's sister in "The Milky Way" (1936) and as the suicidal Molly Malloy in "His Girl Friday" (1940). She also did an important role as Tanya in Merian C. Cooper's production of H. Rider Haggard's "She" (1935) opposite Randolph Scott, Nigel Bruce, and Helen Gahagan (who did the title role as "She, who must be obeyed"). Other less memorable, but still appealing, roles for Mack included the bank-robbing ingenue opposite Richard Cromwell and Lionel Atwill in 1937's "The Wrong Road" for RKO.

WAMPAS wrangle

In 1931 thirteen members of the Fox Film Company publicity department resigned in protest of WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) failure to name a Fox starlet on their annual list of "baby stars". Linda Watkins missed by one vote and Mack was a bit farther down the list of those omitted. In response Fox named Mack, Watkins, and
Conchita Montenegro as rival "debutante" or budding stars. Fox proposed to name "baby stars" for each year after, by a vote of its executives.

Private life

She married lawyer Charles Irwin in San Francisco, California, in February 1935. Mack was twenty-one. Irwin was a bankruptcy trustee for Fox Film West Coast Theaters. By this time Mack was under contract to Paramount Pictures. They had a son in 1936. In 1938 she divorced her husband.

In 1940 she married Thomas McAvity in Santa Barbara, California. Thomas would go on to become Vice President in Charge of Television Network for NBC. They had one son.

Late career

In the 1940s and 1950s, Mack worked as a producer and director of radio programs including such series as "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" and "The Saint". As TV succeeded radio as the prevalent entertainment medium, she continued to write plays and TV episodes until her death.

In 1949, she collaborated with Roger Price in writing the children's record Gossamer Wump, narrated by Frank Morgan and released by Capitol Records.


* New York Times, "The Screen", July 10, 1923, Page 22.
* Los Angeles Times, "New Move Marks War On WAMPAS", August 24, 1931, Page A1.
*Los Angeles Times, "Helen Mack Wins Boles Lead", December 22, 1931, Page A7.
*Los Angeles Times, "Actress Assigned", November 8, 1932, Page 11.
*Los Angeles Times, "Newcomer, Helen Mack, Conspicuous", April 2, 1933, Page A3.
*Los Angeles Times, "Films' Revolting Daughters Turn Out To Be Meek Lambs", April 30, 1933, Page A7.
*Los Angeles Times, "Helen Mack Chimes Ring", February 14, 1935, Page 1.
*Lowell, Massachusetts Sun, "Helen Mack Born Actress", January 18, 1934, Page 42.
*Sheboygan, Wisconsin The Press, "Three Debutante Stars On Way To Stardom With Fox", September 11, 1931, Page 14.
* Picture Show, "Helen Mack and Her Films", August 17, 1935, Page 18.
*Syracuse Herald-Journal, "Hollywood", November 2, 1939, Page 21.

External links

* [http://www.archive.org/details/his_girl_friday His Girl Friday]
* [http://www.helenmack.us The Unofficial Helen Mack Tribute Site]

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