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Marlowe, Margaret Mary (1884–1962)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Margaret Mary Marlowe (1884-1962), by May Moore

Margaret Mary Marlowe (1884-1962), by May Moore

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3084957

Margaret Mary Marlowe (1884-1962), actress, author and journalist, was born on 18 February 1884 at St Kilda, Melbourne, only child of Victorian-born parents John Shanahan, grazier, and his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir John O'Shanassy. Brought up in Melbourne after the death of her father in 1885, Mary was educated by a governess and at the Presentation Convent, Windsor. Despite the family's financial losses, she was also taught music, singing and dancing.

Determined from childhood to go on the stage, about 1907 she joined Julius Knight's company as 'Mary Marlowe', the name she was known by thereafter. Soon she 'was taken on tour because she could sing enthusiastically and knew every part in every play in the repertoire'. Although unprepared for the fierce competition, she went to England in 1910 and, after playing soubrette roles in the provinces, made her London début late that year as Sally in The Man from Mexico. Later she toured with Derwent Hall Caine's company.

In March 1912 Miss Marlowe joined Bert Bailey and Edmund Duggan's company in Sydney. In The Squatter's Daughter 'her acting in the various exciting and strenuous episodes' was praised. On 4 May she was the original Kate Rudd in the famous dramatization of On Our Selection. She was 'always graceful' with a haunting, melodious voice. Zora Cross recalled: 'Her dimple was adorable. She had hazel-green eyes, sleek black hair and exquisite teeth'.

Next May Mary Marlowe sailed for England and from November toured Canada under Louis Meyer's direction. She left the company in 1914 to try her luck in New York. She played two seasons with (Sir) Ben Greet's Shakespearian company, including Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew and Adriana in The Comedy of Errors, toured the southern states under Oliver Morosco's management and did some film work with Pathé Frères.

Returning 'broke' to London in 1916, Marlowe nursed full time for two years as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment at the Quex Park Territorial Red Cross Hospital, Kent. She had begun to write while in America and in 1917 published a novel, Kangaroos in King's Land, drawing on her experiences as a struggling young actress, and in 1918 a propagandist war novel, The Women Who Wait.

She returned to Australia in 1920 and soon joined the staff of the Sydney Sun. From being 'a general dogs-body' she became dramatic editor and from 1921 as 'Puck' wrote a weekly theatrical column for the Sunday Sun. She interviewed performing seals as well as such notable actresses as Nellie Stewart, Irene Vanburgh and (Dame) Sybil Thorndike. By 1934 Mary Marlowe had published seven more romantic novels, several of which were serialized in the Australian Woman's Mirror. Always moral and often didactic, they were popular and well reviewed. She also wrote freelance short stories and articles and was Sydney representative on the Melbourne Woman's World for seven years.

In the 1930s Miss Marlowe began to broadcast for Associated Newspapers Ltd and from 1934 gave a regular weekly talk, 'A woman's view of the news', on 2UE. She also broadcast film coverage and gossip, and claimed to have introduced the informal radio interview in Sydney, usually with visiting stage and film stars. Uncompromisingly professional herself, she stressed the domestic virtues in interviews and was quick thinking and imperturbable. An avowed anti-feminist, in December 1937 over 2UE she debated with Muriel Heagney. During World War II she regularly passed St John Ambulance Association's first aid and home-nursing examinations and National Emergency Services courses. She continued to run a 'Dorothy Dix' column after she retired from the Sun in 1946, to live in her cottage at Newport Beach with her menagerie of cats and dogs.

Mary Marlowe died at Rooty Hill on 19 February 1962 and was buried in Mona Vale cemetery. A devout Catholic, she strove to maintain an untarnished reputation for virtue while on the stage and behaved with 'unfailing courtesy under all circumstances'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Campbell, ‘From theatre to radio’, P. Spearritt and D. Walker (eds), Australian Popular Culture (Syd, 1979)
  • Australian Woman's Mirror, 17 July 1928
  • All About Books, 10 Oct 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1, 22 Apr, 4, 6 May 1912, 3 Dec 1927
  • Splashes Weekly, 4, 25 Apr, 9 May 1912
  • Daily Telegraph Sunday Pictorial, 27 Nov 1927
  • Bulletin, 22 Dec 1927
  • Mary Marlowe papers and newsclippings (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Marlowe, Margaret Mary (1884–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marlowe-margaret-mary-7493/text13061, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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