Meet Mary Hartline...
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)
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
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 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
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...
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 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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
An autographed color photo of Mary in her "Super Circus" outfit.
conducts the "Super Circus" band. (Around 1950)
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".
and pianist Chet Roble. (Publicity photo for the "Mary Hartline Show",
Hartline as "Princess Mary". (Autographed handout photo from "Princess
Mary's Magic Castle", 1956-1958.)
Mary Hartline at age five. (1931)
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.")
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.)
score for the song "This Evening". (A fairly decent medium-tempo
Mary shortly after her recovery from polio. (1946---still frame from a film
shot by Dr. Martin Seifert.)
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.]
aboard the speed boat of Harold Stokes. (1948 or 1949.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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Rich Samuels (e-mail to email@example.com)