About as reliable as one could ever find, character actress Mary Treen was a familiar face to most and could always be counted on to bring a bit of levity to any film scene.
A minor actress for much of her career, she managed to secure a plain, unassuming niche for herself in 40s, 50s and 60s Hollywood.
She was born Mary Louise Treen in St. Louis, Missouri in 1907, her father dying while she was still an infant. Raised in California by her mother, who once performed under the
stage name Helene Sullivan, and her stepfather, a physician, she attended the Westlake School for Girls as well as a convent where she tried out successfully in school plays.
Mary began dancing in vaudeville shows and revues before seeking her fame in the movies. Tall (5'9") and stringy-framed, she formed a musical comedy duo with Marjorie Barnett,
who was 5'3", billing themselves as "Treen and Barnett: Two Unsophisticated Vassar Co-eds." Much of their comedy was centered around their difference in height.
Not a beauty by Hollywood standards, Mary relied on humor to get attention. In 1934, Warner Brothers signed her up after seeing her in a local play.
After three years, she freelanced. Her scores of pudgy-cheeked nurses, waitresses, career girls, wallflowers and confidantes enhanced many a comedy or, at the very least,
offered a brief respite in a heavier drama. In the long run, however she deserved better. A few of Mary's highlights would include the films Kentucky Moonshine (1938),
I Love a Soldier (1944) (the role was written especially for her), Don Juan Quilligan (1945), and the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
(as James Stewart's cousin Tilly). In later years both Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley utilized her talents in their movie vehicles.
On TV Mary was given a bit more to do and actually stole a few scenes as the arch maid Hilda on "The Joey Bishop Show" (1961) for three seasons. She typically guested on
lightweight sitcoms such as "The Andy Griffith Show," "Green Acres," "Here's Lucy," "Happy Days" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Perhaps because she could play old maid types so easily in later years, she was often thought to have never married. She actually did marry, quite late in life, to a whole-sale
liquor dealer. They had no children. He died in 1965 and she eventually moved in with her ex-vaudeville partner, Marjorie Barnett-Klein, who was also widowed. In later years the
two performed their old routines to the delight of other senior citizens. Mary was living in Balboa Beach, California when she died of cancer in 1989.
Under the general title "Sally of Hollywood," the Fanchon & Marco idea presents a coterie of stars in entertaining songs and dances
- "A rangy girl and a short and stumpy one, billed as Treen and Barnett, do dances that could have been better but might have been worse, so more
power to them. They made a hit with the audience and won a vociferous encore."
The Film Daily (V.66) July-December 1934
- "After two weeks' work in Gentlemen Are Born,' Mary Treen was signed to a long-term contract
by Warners. She previously appeared in vaudeville in a comedy act called Treen and Barnett."
West Coast Theatres / San Diego; May 4, 1928