Six Degrees of Mary Margaret McBride
As a primary source of daily news and entertainment in the early twentieth century, radio broadcasts played a central role in social and business networks. True to her nickname as “The First Lady of Radio,” Mary Margaret McBride starred in a game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” serving as a nexus of social connections between famous queer women (for more details, see The Oracle of Bacon). The nature of her self-titled radio show extended her reach across disciplinary boundaries in radio and television broadcasting, journalism, literature, theater, music, film, and politics. This entanglement of connections imbued Mary Margaret and her show with the influence and status necessary to fill stadiums for her anniversary celebrations, while also landing her on the radar of anti-Communist investigation groups. The spotlight of anti-Communist targeting was especially harsh on the media and entertainment industries, as these individuals could theoretically serve as sources of propaganda for the demonized Communist Party’s “anti-American” politics. This project highlights Mary Margaret McBride’s connections with three prominent queer women in media who faced blacklisting in the 1930s and 1940s: Mady Christians, Eva Le Gallienne, and Judy Holliday.
About This Text
This project seeks to write women back into U.S. media history, emphasizing how political affiliations and activities and sexual identities influenced these women’s career paths and recorded legacies. Drawing on primary and secondary historical records and documents, the contributors assembled this text to supplement traditional media history books and other course materials. By recording and teaching the legacies of marginalized groups like queer women in media, we hope to inspire readers to seek out the erased works and silenced voices relegated to the margins of media history.
The chapters of this text offer brief biographies of each woman’s personal life, career, and major works, with details about their experiences with anti-Communist investigations and blacklisting. Any additional resources are included at the end of the relevant chapter.
Mady Christians: the Unstoppable Force Let Loose on Stage
Compiled by Caitlin Moffett
Mady Christians in Ship Cafe
Directed by Robert Florey
Mady Christians was an Austrian-born actress who starred in over sixty films in the United States and Europe from 1922 to 1948. She was born January 19, 1892, into a family of performers. Her father was Rudolph Christians. He was well known as a German actor and directed Christians when she had her first stage debut at 16 years old. She moved to New York City in 1912. She had many accomplishments such as staring in the first ever film with sound in Germany: It’s You I Have Loved. Later she made her way to Broadway where she earned the role of playing Queen Gertrude in Hamlet.
While starring in Hamlet, Christians was directed by Margaret Webster and she developed a relationship with her. Webster and Christians shared such passion for theatre and had been involved in a romantic relationship. The two never lived together, but they were known to have vacationed together as well as spend much time together. They ended up sharing a circle of friends as Webster was friends with Eva Le Gallienne and Marion Evenson. Other women who were passionate about theatre also spent a great deal of time working in this group. Webster loved Christians' stage type personality and described her as “distinguished, opulent with a slight German accent” (Barranger, 2004). As The New York Times described Mady: “She is defiant and powerful- a terrible force to let loose on stage” (“Mady Christians to Start Course”, 1945).
She is considered to be a larger-than-life character on the stage. She was married to Dr. Sven Von Mueller and later divorced him. Christians was in several well-known movies and plays like the ones mentioned above as well as Audrey, Letter from an Unknown Woman, and All My Sons. A large part of her career took place in Germany and she starred in many movies there as well.
During World War II, Christians was involved in political work with Spanish and Russian refugees. She also advocated rights for workers especially those involved in theatre. Christians remained a concealed communist, but just as her career had peaked, rumors started about Christians not being a ‘true-American’ because she was born in Austria. Her involvement with political work was striking and led her to be publicly criticized by the House Committee of Un-American Activities in 1941.This committee ran the United States House of Representatives. Their critique on Christians led her to be watched by the FBI and put on the blacklist. She never came out as being communist until it was published and made public, when her name was put in the Red Channels, which is considered the “bible for the broadcast blacklist.” This information was no secret and ended up being the abrupt end to her career. Christians died of a stroke on October 28th, 1951. Her death to the stress and anxiety of being under surveillance of the FBI all the time (“Christians, Mady”, 2019).
Mady’s archives are mostly at the New York Public Library in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, where most of these photos and documents have been digitized. Mady has archives in the National Library of Sweden. Most of Mady’s archives are photos and sometimes film and theatre reviews are included. She certainly does not have many archives that are accessible. Her FBI file has also been declassified and is open to the public.
Shadow Actress: Eva Le Gallienne and the Legacy She Left Behind
Compiled by Elliot Slate and Grace Baker
Eva Le Gallienne
Eva Le Gallienne was born in London, England on January 11th, 1899. Her parents got a divorce when she was only four years old, and she and her mother moved to Paris where Le Gallienne spent most of her childhood travelling back and forth between Britain and France. She was only 15 years old when she took the stage for the first time in the 1914 production of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Monna Vanna. Le Gallienne spent the following year in New York City with her mother trying out for different performances in town but none were successful. She spent a season on the road with the Summer Stock Theatre, where she spent a summer performing and learning. At age 21, she became a Broadway star with her performance in Arthur Richman’s Not So Long Ago. She continued to shine on the Broadway stage with many more performances in the early 1920’s.
In 1926, Le Gallienne founded the Civic Repertory Theatre, which she ran for ten years, producing 37 plays. With this she also became a respected stagecoach, director, producer and manager. She devoted her life to the art of theatre, which was expressed through her work. She received many praises and awards over the years, including: The National Medal of Arts presented to her in 1986, an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 1980’s film Resurrection, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for a play titled Alison’s House, which told the story of Emily Dickinson. Le Gallienne had many accomplishments and definitely left her mark on the world of theatre, but there was one thing she always struggled with: her sexuality.
Le Gallienne had many partners over the years, including actresses Alla Nazimova, Mercedes de Acosta, Margaret Webster, and Josephine Hutchinson. She never hid her sexuality from the theatre community, but reports stated Le Gallienne battled with depression, which was linked to her never quite being okay with being a lesbian. Le Gallienne apparently went as far as considering a “front” marriage with actor Basil Rathbone. However, she did not go through with it. It was her relationship with actress Josephine Hutchinson which, according to the media, triggered Le Gallienne to drink and become very depressed (Robert, 2010). Hutchinson was married at the time she was involved with Le Gallienne. They were together for a couple of years and when Hutchinson’s husband decided to divorce her, he listed Le Gallienne as a “co-respondent” (Helen, 1997). Le Gallienne and Hutchinson were both marked as ‘shadow actresses,’ which at the time meant they were queer, making it difficult for them to find work (Robter, 2010).
Though some individuals seemed to paint Le Gallienne as a self-loathing lesbian, even going as far as claiming she was a man trapped in a woman’s body, people close to her claim that the media were wrong. Close friends to Le Gallienne shared how full of life and passionate she was and disagreed with others who portray her as a self-hating lesbian.
Le Gallienne was 92 when she died of a heart attack at her home in Weston, Connecticut. How can you sum up the life of an individual who did so much for not only the theatre community, but for queer women, working women, and the arts in general? In 92 years, Le Gallienne gave life to characters on stage and made people feel a variety of emotions. She fully took on the person she was portraying, another reason she went on to be as successful as she was. From winning the National Medal of Arts to being on the cover of Time magazine, Le Gallienne had many achievements. She never hid who she was and continued to love who she wanted. This was one of her biggest accomplishments.
The Eva Le Gallienne papers are predominantly held in The New York Public Library and the Five College Archives & Manuscript Collections. The New York Public Library contains letters and correspondence between Le Gallienne and her friends, business acquaintances, and fans. This archive has notes on the Civic Repertory Theater. The Five College Archives contains biographical information, photographs, and the original manuscript from Le Gallienne’s autobiography “Plus Twenty”.
Judy Holliday: The Dumb Blonde with an IQ of 172
Compiled by Kacie Van Stiphout
Judy Holliday and Katharine Hepburn in Adam's Rib.
Directed by George Cukor
Judy Holliday was born June 21st, 1921 in New York City. She was an American singer, television actress, and comedian. She started her career in the Broadway scene, sticking with on-stage acting. Her career ending on the big screen. Holliday died from breast cancer on June 7th, 1965. She was an Academy Award-winning actress.
Judy was born into a Jewish family under her birth-given name, Judith Tuvim. Her family was always surrounded by music or entertainment. Her mother, a pianist, was a huge contributor in Holliday’s love for the stage, enrolling her in ballet at the age of four. Holliday had been involved with dance up until her high school graduation. She ended up touring with Orson Welles Theatre, hence her start in the Broadway scene.
From there, Holliday transitioned to the big screen. At this time, she was usually typecast in the “dumb blonde” role. However, despite this stigma, Holliday landed many roles that allowed her to be nominated for seven awards. Her resume includes, but is not limited to: It Should Happen to You in 1954, Bells Are Ringing in 1960, Adam’s Rib in 1949, and Born Yesterday in 1950. Her portrayal as Billie Dawn in this film landed her an Oscar Award for Best Actress. During her acceptance speech, she associated herself with a Jewish community. In the Hollywood world, this was unheard of, and ultimately, affected the remainder of her career.
She stepped out of this role, just in time, to convey the new ideal of “the working-girl”. In many ways, this was her commentary and contribution to feminist ideals at the time. However, this put a spotlight on certain anti-communist rhetoric. According to Judy Holliday’s Urban Working -Girl Characters, “images of working-girl feminism to camouflage these counterthemes…blacklisting closed off the public space for popular-front left-wing feminism, publicly silenced Holliday herself…” (160).
She was associated with the communist community so often that she was brought to court to testify about the names of people that she was organized with. She refused to give names of people associated with the Communist Party. In 1952, she went before the Senate internal security subcommittee. She played the dumb blonde on screen, and she played this role in the courtroom, as well. This acting played in her feminine favor because she did not go to jail. These FBI investigations and allegations placed her on a Hollywood blacklist. This halted her career for a decade.
More personally, Judy Holliday married David Oppenheim. She is also survived by one son, Jonathan. Jonathan believed his mother's work was political and soulful. Jonathan noted that Holliday signed political petitions in the early 1930s, additionally stating that she always had certain trouble mixing her activist opinions with the Hollywood social scene. While she never wrote it down, her activist ideals were more angled towards human and humanitarian ideals.
“My mother carved her own path. She had this sort of faith in her own talent and its uniqueness.” Jon Oppenheim, on his mother, Judy Holliday (Rothaus, 2018).
Concerning her sexuality, Judy’s personal life was kept mostly secret. Her son from one heterosexual marriage has not commented on speculation of Judy’s bisexual personal history. While these rumors circulated the Hollywood scene, Judy was always a protagonist alongside strong male characters such as Dean Martin.
Most of Holliday’s archives are available on a digital platform. The Hekman Digital Archive has Holliday’s performances, biographies and audio files listed in the Academic Department of Theatre History. This information is submitted to Heckman Digital through online accounts and covers specific time periods of her life.The online database is kept up by Calvin College at Heritage Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Jewish Women’s Archives also has documents from Holliday’s life and career. Materials can be submitted to JWA.org, a non-profit located at One Harvard Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. The close relation of the East Coast location and Judy Holliday’s home in New York shows that these are credible materials in this organization’s vault. The close proximities limit the misplacement of primary documents. These two archives mostly dealt with Holliday’s professional career, another testament that her personal life was kept very private.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxcaIuYlEXI Last TV appearance on game show
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZqRrSxoMgw Oscar 1951
The First Lady of Radio: The Life and (Re)Creation of Mary Margaret McBride
Compiled by Blaine Pennock
Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn in the midst of one of their famous arguments.
Photo reprinted from Ware (2005:124), originally retrieved from Mary Margaret McBride Collection housed at the Library of Congress (https://lccn.loc.gov/mm81059253).
Affectionately called “The First Lady of Radio” in reference to her close friendship and radio rivalry with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Margaret McBride revolutionized radio show formats and advertising techniques through her highly successful radio shows (America’s Twelve Master Salesmen 1952:109-13; Krebs 1976:40). Her career in journalism and broadcasting spanned over 50 years (1918-1975), during which time she often contributed to multiple newspapers and radio broadcasts at the same time (Ware 2005:121; 235). She authored and co-authored twelve books, including four memoirs and two children’s books. The self-branding and product endorsement techniques she developed to maintain funding for her radio shows continue to impact media today, including television, podcasts, and social media platforms like YouTube and Twitch.
Before the Crash: The Rise of a Determined Career Woman
Born in Paris, Missouri on November 16, 1899 to a lower class farming family, Mary Margaret was the first of five children and the only daughter of Elizabeth (or as Stella called her, “Lizzie”) Craig and Thomas Walker McBride (Ware 2005:111). Her extended family nurtured her ambitious goal of attaining a higher education and becoming a novelist. However, her aunt revoked her financial support of her studies after Mary Margaret refused to study education and accept an offer to teach at her private high school (Ware 2005:118-9). After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1918, following three intense years of working to pay her own expenses in addition to an internship at the local Paris Mercury, she took advantage of network ties to advance her career. In the span of a couple of years, she moved to the Mexico, Missouri Ledger, the Washington D.C. Cleveland Press, and eventually to New York City to work as a publicist for John D. Rockefeller’s Interchurch Organization, an interfaith group she had covered in the Press (Ware 2005:119-122).
While working as a publicist in 1920, Mary Margaret met Estella Kahn (changed name to Karn), a public relations manager with extensive business and travel experience (Ware 2005:122-5). Mary Margaret moved to the New York Evening Mail to work as a “sob sister.” She later worked as a freelance journalist for several other newspapers and magazines, staying afloat in the aftermath of the stock market crash and the major downturn in journalism in 1931 (Ware 2005:155). She also published several of her books during this time.
McBride interviews Eva Le Gallienne and Margaret Webster about the American Repertory Theatre’s production of Alice in Wonderland.
Photo reprinted from Sheehy (1996:292).
After the Crash: Crafting a “Stellar” Radio Star
In 1934, Mary Margaret’s agent landed her an audition for a women’s radio program with the WOR network. She was cast as the title character/host of the Martha Deane Show, launching her later meteoric rise to fame (Ware 2005:159). She struggled with the distance between the traits and lifestyles of herself and the idealized character she projected through the microphone, leading to her on-air “murder” of the grandmotherly Martha Deane character and numerous crises of imposter syndrome throughout her career (Ware 2005:157; Schwarz 1986:62). Her transfer to NBC in 1941 included moving to a valuable prime air time slot and putting the show under her real name. Her career spanned over 40 years across all three major broadcasting networks and included a brief three-month stint on television, alongside regular columns and special articles with the Associated Press and other publications.
Mary Margaret McBride’s success and legacy can be attributed to the wide array of innovations she introduced through her show. Her personal appeal and strong relationships with her listeners stemmed from her explicit respect for women’s contributions in the home (and later in the workforce), her self-tested and truthfully endorsed sponsored products, and her interactive relationship with listeners through mail correspondence before the era of call-in shows (Ware 2005:159-161). The surprise nature of her show (she never revealed guests ahead of time) and the audio-only nature of radio exposed her listeners to voices and experiences not available on other mainstream shows. Her guests included influential women who defied norms of domesticity as creative and successful career women, famous Black writers and artists and Civil Rights activists, and refugees from Europe before and after World War II. However, the progressive, inclusive nature of the show, her ties to women’s rights organizations including Heterodoxy (Schwarz 1986:62;85) and the Equal Rights Association (McBride 1959:156), and her social network ties to “known subversives” also put her at risk of anti-Communist attacks. This anti-Communist targeting might also include speculation about her sexuality, as she never presented herself as married or interested in men beyond a handful of anecdotes from her life before broadcasting.
While recognizing the dangers of the anti-Communist “witch hunt,” Mary Margaret and Stella carefully cultivated her on- and off-air persona (McBride 1960:145-7). In her memoirs, she briefly mentions strategically distancing herself from acquaintances who had been labeled Communists and describes the guilt she felt in doing so (Ware 2005:189). Mary Margaret also emphatically embraced opportunities to recruit women into the workforce and women’s military service organizations during World War II (Ware 2005:172-5), gave intense and frequent coverage of war efforts and updates on her show, and published a memoir titled America for Me underscoring her patriotism in 1941. Her memoirs almost entirely avoid discussions of Communism, reflecting the nation’s general amnesia around the Red Scare. According to available sources, beyond a brief exchange with CounterAttack about a mistaken endorsement for Polish hams, Mary Margaret and her show appear to have avoided the anti-Communist blacklist (McBride 1960:145-7; Ware 2005:188-190).
Mary Margaret and Stella showing off their classy mink coats, purchased at Stella’s insistence.
Photo retrieved from Mary Margaret McBride Collection housed at the Library of Congress (https://lccn.loc.gov/mm81059253).
Building a Radio Family: Reconstructing Queer Identity
After meeting through Rockefeller’s Interchurch Organization in 1920, Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn maintained a close relationship until Stella’s death in 1957 (Halper 2001:63). Her memoirs recount the years they spent together as roommates in Greenwich Village and in various other apartments; their European travels with Mary Margaret’s mother, “Lizzie”; their complex, entangled business relationship across various media and networks; their later ownership and reconstruction of divided sections of Stella’s land in the Catskills; and Mary Margaret’s inheritance of Stella’s property and possessions after her death. Their relationship is also explicit in their orchestrated co-memorialization of Mary Margaret through Stella’s publicity management for major awards, anniversary events, and an All-America tea rose, and of Stella through the retelling of her adventures in Mary Margaret’s shows and memoirs, especially those published shortly after Stella’s death. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mary Margaret lived in and broadcasted from her West Shokan home with her friend, Cynthia Lowry, who Heywood Hale Broun described to biographer Susan Ware as a lesbian (2005:286).
Susan Ware’s biography and other sources distance themselves from or actively reject recognizing Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn’s relationship beyond friendship and business. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially in the context of managing public opinion before and during the Red Scare. In addition to publicity management and careful staging of public personas during their lifetimes, existing primary source documents and items have been carefully curated by Mary Margaret and Stella, their staff and friends like Cynthia Lowry, and archivists, then rediscovered and selected by researchers for wider dissemination. Revising history requires reading between and beyond the lines to include traditionally erased groups. Historical figures’ identities defy easy classification using contemporary labels, and greater recognition of diverse identities and sexualities may encourage using broader identity categories (i.e. queer instead of lesbian or asexual).
Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn hosting a friend for dinner. Mary Margaret praised Stella’s cooking prowess in A Long Way from Missouri (1959).
Photo retrieved from Mary Margaret McBride Collection housed at the Library of Congress (https://lccn.loc.gov/mm81059253).
Preserving the Legacy: Locating Surviving Primary Sources
Currently, the Mary Margaret McBride Papers and the associated photographs are housed at the Library of Congress in the Manuscript Reading Room, with Stella Karn tagged in the collection. The Library of Congress also houses a collection of recordings from WOR-AM, the radio station which operated and broadcasted the Martha Deane Show, and from NBC, which hosted the Mary Margaret McBride Show for a period of its runtime. All of these documents, photographs, and recordings are currently open to the public.
Future work on this project will include locating and contacting the individual or group who would currently have access to any remaining documents, photographs, recordings, and/or mementos from Mary Margaret and Stella’s collections and estates, such as the famous autographed projection screen mentioned in her memoirs and on her local radio show in the 1960s. Cynthia Lowry was mentioned both in the memoirs and in Ware’s book as the handler of Mary Margaret’s estate (Ware 2005:286).
Collecting Stars: Building a Network Model
by Blaine Pennock
Due to changes in technologies and best practices since the 1930s, firsthand primary sources detailing the lives of Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn are limited. The unfortunate necessity of donating the majority of her fan mail to support recycling initiatives during World War II, and the later disappearance of Stella’s curated recordings and papers, limits research to the remaining archived materials and Mary Margaret’s publications, most notably her memoirs. Since there is no curated guest list from which ties can be coded (the one exception being the index at the back of Here’s Martha Deane), the relationships described in these memoirs may need to be taken at face value with some skepticism of their veracity and with the recognition of the need to censor or curate some relationships. Any individual who Mary Margaret mentions working with, living with, meeting, or interviewing is included in the preliminary stage of data collection, and ties will be removed or weighted after all data has been collected. At this stage, this network research relies exclusively on Mary Margaret’s A Long Way from Missouri (1959). Additional academic sources were used for this project to show Mary Margaret’s ties to Judy Holliday, Katharine Hepburn, Eva Le Gallienne, Mady Christians, and Margaret Webster. Future iterations will expand the model to include ties described in Here’s Martha Deane (1936), America for Me (1941), and Out of the Air: The Most Radio-Active Woman in America (1960). Additional books attributed to Mary Margaret were discovered during this research. After data collection, the next step in the research process will be to identify clusters in terms of professional field, gender identity and sexuality, political affiliation and participation, and designation as “Communist sympathizers” by the FBI. All data analysis and modeling will be done using the “igraph” software package in R.
Insights and Preliminary Findings
The location of the individual node in the network reflects the mathematical centrality of that individual, where nodes with more connections to other nodes are plotted closer to the center of the network in order to minimize the length of the lines to all other associated nodes. The centrality of Stella Karn in this network plot reflects her starring role in Mary Margaret McBride’s career, social ties, and personal life. Erasing Stella’s impact on her life and career by refusing to acknowledge this mutuality is analogous to only crediting Jinx Falkenburg with the Tex and Jinx talk show she produced with Tex McCrary. Mary Margaret’s own writings about the distance she felt between her off-air and on-air selves highlight the multiplicity of personality behind the Mary Margaret McBride Show. This insight has led to a retheorization of this network model, with Martha Deane/Mary Margaret McBride as a radio personality/character and network effect somewhat separate from Mary Margaret as an individual person. In other words, the curated and constructed radio presence can be theorized as a hybridized, joint venture by both Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn (and, to some extent, their extended radio family). In this way, this network plot is a portrait of the brighter-than-life version of Mary Margaret McBride.
Reading through Mary Margaret’s memoirs has spotlighted Stella’s ties, efforts, and affections, rendering her visible in ways that undo what seemed to be her intentional minimization and erasure of herself. In addition to trying to locate missing recordings and documents, future research plans include filing a FOIA request for Stella’s FBI file, analyzing Mary Margaret’s FBI file and interactions with CounterAttack and other anti-Communist publications and groups, and intentional investigation into ties Mary Margaret and Stella may have had with “subversive” or watched groups and individuals throughout their lives (i.e. Heterodoxy, the Equal Rights Association, the NAACP). Special attention will be given to blacklisted individuals and strategies the Mary Margaret McBride Show, its producers, its sponsors, and the media used to handle exposure to anti-Communist stigma: rejection/distancing, declarations of innocence, or claims of ignorance.
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Mary Margaret McBride and Stella Karn
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McBride, M. M. (1959). A Long Way From Missouri. New York City: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
McBride, M. M. (1960). Out of the Air: The Most Radio-Active Woman in America - Her Own Story of the Golden Decades of Broadcasting. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
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