Meet Mary Hartline...

Mary Hartline header

Curator's Note: It's amazing how many remember Mary Hartline, even though her television debut was more than half a century ago---and even though here career in the medium was rather brief. (Click here to go directly to the Mary Hartline links)

Mary Hartline's striking looks and more-than-ample figure made her a natural for the black-and-white, low-definition television screens of the late 1940's and early 1950's.

From January, 1949, until the last week of December, 1955, Mary appeared weekly on "Super Circus" [click here to watch a video clip], the ABC television network's premier Chicago origination (produced by its Chicago o&o, WENR-TV). "Super Circus" aired Sundays from 4 to 5 pm, Central Time. The show was produced---live, of course---in the Civic Theater (adjacent to the Civic Opera House) before an audience of close to nine hundred moppets, all of whom were under the age of fifteen.

Mary was typically introduced on "Super Circus" (by ringmaster Claude Kirchner) as "our Queen." She would lead the "Super Circus" band in at least one up-tempo number per half-hour segment, participate in comedy sketches with the show's three clowns and guide youngsters from the studio audience through on-stage contests.

Above all, Mary was a merchandiser---of the Super Circus sponsors' products, of "Super Circus" licensed products and of her own product line, which included dolls, toys and clothing. Mary's beauty added immensely to the effectiveness of her pitch. (Another saleperson on the show was Mike Wallace who, dressed as a side-show barker, sold Peter Pan peanut butter.)

For a time in early 1951, Mary co-hosted (with pianist Chet Roble) the kids-oriented "Mary Hartline" [click here to watch a video clip] show over ABC-TV. The late-afternoon weekday broadcast never found a sponsor and was thus short-lived.

Following the demise of "Super Circus", Mary returned to television in the summer of 1957---demoted from queen to princess, reduced from network to local. "Princess Mary's Magic Castle" [click here to watch a video clip] aired weekday mornings over WBKB, ABC's Chicago owned-and-operated successor to WENR-TV. The show aired through the middle of December, 1958.

Mary's radio days...

Mary made her broadcast debut on Saturday, February 2nd, 1946 as a member of the cast of ABC radio's "Teen Town" (the show's title was shortly changed to "Junior Junction"). Originating from the NBC studios in Chicago's Merchandise Mart (where ABC, lacking its own Chicago facilities, leased space) the show was purportedly set in a town run completely by teenagers. The late Dick York was the town's mayor. Mary was passed off as the show's bandleader and trumpet soloist (she had studied trumpet as a child). In fact, ABC music director Rex Maupin led the band. And the trumpet solos attributed to Mary were alternatively played by Ralph Martieri and Eddie Ballentine, except on one occasion when Mary herself executed Begin the Beguine---a performance several surviving ABC staffers vividly remember more than half a century later.

In May of 1946, Mary was stricken with a severe case of bulbar polio. But under the care of Dr. Martin Seifert (of Evanston Hospital) she made an extraordinary---and rapid---recovery, returning to the air in a month's time. (For years, Dr. Seifert's medical students struggled to retain clinical objectivity as they watched the film he had shot of Mary, in which he demonstrated the degree to which her limbs had regained their strength.)

Mary remained with "Junior Junction" until the debut of "Super Circus" on the ABC television network.

But how did Mary get into the broadcasting business? Read on...

A brief bio...

Mary Pauline Hartline was born in Hillsboro, Illiniois, the county seat of Montgomery County, in 1926. She was the second child (and second daughter) of Paul Hartline and Dorothy Crowder. Paul Hartline was chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, by virtue of which he became Hillsboro's postmaster not long after the advent of the New Deal.

During Mary's senior year in high school, her classmates elected her the "Queen of Love and Beauty"---the central Illinois equivalent of prom queen. By that time she had already met Harold Stokes, who successively became her mentor, lover and, for a time, husband.

Harold Barclay Stokes...

Harold Stokes was born in Nokomis, Illinois in 1905. Nokomis is about fifteen miles northeast of Hillsboro. When he was a child, his family moved to Saint Louis. He attended the University of Missouri.

Harold had considerable musical talents which he directed toward jazz and popular music. He played a robust piano (with hints of Jelly Roll Morton) and occasionally accordion. He was an accomplished dance-band orchestrator.

In 1928, Stokes became the musical director of the Chicago-based Jean Goldkette band (which the legendary Bix Beiderbecke had left not long before). The group appeared daily on WGN radio and regularly recorded for Victor. (One such session, which Stokes directed, included members of the "McKinney's Cotton Pickers" band. It was the first instance I know of where blacks and whites played together in a Chicago recording studio.)

Harold Stokes

When NBC established a Chicago presence in 1929, Stokes became one of the networks staff conductors---leading groups of various sizes on various programs. He is said to have conducted the first coast-to-coast broadcast originating in Chicago. Stokes became known for his scorings of novelty numbers and his generally off-beat arrangements. The NBC-Chicago regulars he appeared with included Marian and Jim Jordan (in their pre-"Fibber McGee and Molly" days) and Don McNeill (in his pre-"Breakfast Club" days. On account of his looks he was called, behind his back, "Horse Face."

When WGN moved into its opulent new quarters adjacent to the Tribune Tower in 1934, Stokes was hired to lead its newly-formed "WGN Dance Orchestra." He held this position until the summer of 1941 when he was fired. (His replacement was Bob Trendler whom many will remember as the band leader on WGN-TV's "Bozo's Circus" show.) His first marriage disintegrated shortly thereafter.

Stokes retired to a chicken farm near Hillsboro that he had purchased during his palmier days at NBC. In the spring of 1944, the city fathers of Hillsboro asked him to put together an amateur variety show to raise funds for a proposed youth center. Stokes, with plenty of time on his hands, wrote an original score and assembled a cast of townsfolk. He also persuaded Jack Owen of the Blue Network's "Breakfast Club" and Lawrence Salerno (a WGN vocalist) to come to Hillsboro to appear in the show which was called "Hillsboro Hilarities."

Mary Hartline appeared in this show as a dancer. Stokes took a liking to her.

A year later, ABC hired Stokes as a radio producer. Almost simultaneously, Mary graduated from Hillsboro High. With Stokes encouragement, she decided to go to Chicago to become a model. Within a year, Stokes was assigned the new "Teen Town" show. He immediately made Mary a member of the cast. Stokes (age 42) and Mary (age 21) were married in June of 1947.

When ABC began construction of its Chicago television facilities in 1948, Stokes was assigned to program development, both for the network and its local outlet, WENR-TV.

"Super Circus" was one of Stoke's first ideas. Not surprisingly, Mary became a member of the cast to, in essence, bring her "Junior Junction" persona to the television screen.

And then...

Mary divorced Stokes in 1951 and married George Barnard, her tax lawyer. Their marriage ended in 1960. Mary subsequently married George Carlson, a Chicago construction contractor. Following Carlson's death in 1960, she married Woolworth Donahue, grandson of F. W. Woolworth, the five-and-dime magnate. Donahue died in 1972.

Mary Hartline Links...

An autographed color photo of Mary in her "Super Circus" outfit
. (Around 1950)

Mary conducts the "Super Circus" band. (Around 1950)

Mary and her trumpet. (1949-1950)

Mary with the Mary Hartline dolls manufactured by the Ideal Toy and Novelty Company

A Mary Hartline paper doll premium from Kellogg's "Sugar Smacks"
. (1954)

Mary and pianist Chet Roble. (Publicity photo for the "Mary Hartline Show", 1951.)

Mary Hartline as "Princess Mary". (Autographed handout photo from "Princess Mary's Magic Castle", 1956-1958.)

Mary Hartline at age five
. (1931)

First published photo of Mary as a model (From the Chicago Tribune, May 29th, 1945. Shot by the Tribune studio for a child psychology feature headlined "It's Wrong for Adult's to Vie for Little Child's Affections.")

Cover of the sheet music for the song "This Evening". (Published in 1946. Words by Mary Hartline, music by her soon-to-be-husband, Harold Stokes. Probably introduced on a "Junior Junction" radio broadcast. Photo by the legendary Chicago show-biz photographer, Maurice Seymour.)

Piano-vocal score for the song "This Evening". (A fairly decent medium-tempo ballad.)

Mary shortly after her recovery from polio
. (1946---still frame from a film shot by Dr. Martin Seifert.)

Mary on the Cover of "Look" Magazine. [From the July 8th, 1947 issue. For whatever reason, the negative was reversed. This is a mirror image of Mary.]

Mary aboard the speed boat of Harold Stokes. (1948 or 1949.)

Mary with her fourth husband Woolworth Donahue and his first cousin, Barbara Hutton. (The often-married (but never happily) Ms. Hutton was known as the "Poor Little Rich Girl." The photo was taken around 1971 when she was Mary and Wooly's house guest.)

Mary, Woolworth Donahue and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. (This ultimate fun couple were the Donahue's house guests around 1971. Spiro Agnew also stopped in for a while.)

Mary on the cover of "Palm Beach Life" with her great danes Sweet Pea and Giana
. (September-October, 1972---the "elegant living" issue. By this time Mary was the widow Donahue.)

One of Mary's Palm Beach mansions (including a shot of the pool area). (A carefully-restored and opulently decorated Addison Mizner original. Mary had two other Palm Beach residences and a hunting lodge in Southhampton.)

The last---and the largest---of Mary's yachts. (1982. It was called the "Hartline." Compare with the toy sailboat she held in the photo taken when she was five.)

The Official Mary Hartline Website (where you can see more Mary Hartline artifacts and even obtain an autographed photo).

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WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
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