November 13, 1913
Rock Island, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||August 13, 1986 (aged 72)|
(m. 1935; div. 1938)
(m. 1940; died 1974)
Helen Mack (born Helen McDougall, November 13, 1913 – August 13, 1986) was an American actress. She started her career as a child actress in silent films, moving to Broadway plays and touring one of the vaudeville circuits. Her greater success as an actress was as a leading lady in the 1930s. She made the transition to performing on radio and then into writing, directing, and producing some of the best known shows during the Golden Age of Radio. She later wrote for Broadway, stage and television. Her career spanned the infancy of the motion picture industry, the beginnings of Broadway, the final days of vaudeville, the transition to sound movies, the Golden Age of Radio, and the rise of television.
Youth and stage
Mack was born in Rock Island, Illinois, the daughter of William George McDougall, a barber, and Regina (née Lenzer) McDougall, who had a repressed desire to become an actress. She attended the Professional Children's School of New York City. Her friend Vera Gordon helped her along as a child actress. She appeared on Broadway and in vaudeville and debuted in films at age 10 in 1925. Her stage debut was in The Idle Inn with Jacob Benami. She performed with Roland Young in The Idle Inn and toured America with William Hodge in Straight Through The Door.
Mack began her film career, first billed as Helen Macks, at the age of 10 in the 1923 silent Success, featuring Brandon Tynan, Naomi Childers and Mary Astor. In Zaza, Mack worked with Gloria Swanson. She had a small role in D.W. Griffith's last film The Struggle (1931).
Her Fox Film screen test came in March 1931, and within three weeks she was on the studio lot. She made her debut as a leading lady opposite Victor McLaglen in While Paris Sleeps (1932) and was cast with John Boles in his initial Fox Film venture Scotch Valley. She played in several westerns in the early 1930s, including Fargo Express (1933) with Ken Maynard and The California Trail with Buck Jones.
Reviewer Norbert Lusk commented favorably on Mack's performance in the 1933 film Sweepings (1933), saying, "She has a lively personality, appreciated all the more in a heavy, gloomy picture, and she plays her shopgirl role with understanding and finesse." Before this film, Mack's career had declined for three years. Three of her productions failed. One reason was that she was usually a character star, and her employers had used her as an ingenue. RKO Radio Pictures Inc. offered her a second chance as Mamie Donahue in Sweepings.
She may be best remembered for the 1933 movie sequel The Son of Kong, as Harold Lloyd's sister in The Milky Way (1936), and as suicidal Molly Malloy in the screwball crime comedy His Girl Friday (1940) with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. She also played an important role as Tanya in Merian C. Cooper's production of H. Rider Haggard's She (1935). Her other roles included the bank-robbing ingenue opposite Richard Cromwell and Lionel Atwill in 1937's The Wrong Road for RKO.
In 1931, 13 members of the Fox Film Company publicity department resigned in protest after WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) did not include a Fox starlet on its annual list of "baby stars". Linda Watkins missed by one vote, and Mack was a bit farther down the list. In response, Fox named Mack, Watkins and Conchita Montenegro as rival debutantes or budding stars. By a vote of its executives, Fox proposed to name "baby stars" for each year after.
In the 1940s and '50s, Mack worked as a producer and director of radio programs, including such series as Richard Diamond, Private Detective; The Saint and Meet Corliss Archer. As TV displaced radio, she continued to write plays and TV episodes until her death.
Mack married lawyer Charles Irwin in San Francisco in February 1935 at age 21, when she was under contract to Paramount Pictures. He was a bankruptcy trustee for Fox Film West Coast Theaters. They had a son in 1936 and divorced in 1938. In 1940, she married Thomas McAvity in Santa Barbara, California. He later became a vice president of NBC. They had one son. McAvity died in 1974.
Mack died three months before her 73rd birthday after a battle with cancer.
- Success (1923) as Ruth
- Zaza (1923) as Lucille Dufresne (uncredited)
- Under the Red Robe (1923) (uncredited)
- Grit (1924) (uncredited)
- Pied Piper Malone (1924) as Child
- The Struggle (1931) as A catty girl
- The Silent Witness (1932) as Sylvia Pierce
- While Paris Sleeps (1932) as Manon Cortaud
- Sweepings (1933) as Mamie Donahue
- The California Trail (1933) as Delores Ramirez
- Melody Cruise (1933) as Laurie Marlowe
- Blind Adventure (1933) as Rose Thorne
- Christopher Bean (1933) as Susan Haggett
- Fargo Express (1933) as Helen Clark
- Son of Kong (1933) as Hilda Petersen
- All of Me (1934) as Eve Haron
- Kiss And Make Up (1934) as Anne
- You Belong to Me (1934) as Florette Faxon
- The Lemon Drop Kid (1934) as Alice Deering
- College Rhythm (1934) as June Cort
- Captain Hurricane (1935) as Susan "Matey" Ann
- Four Hours to Kill! (1935) as Helen
- She (1935) as Tanya Dugmore
- The Return of Peter Grimm (1935) as Catherine
- The Milky Way (1936) as Mae Sullivan
- A Doctor's Diary (1937) as Nurse (uncredited)
- I Promise to Pay (1937) as Mary Lang
- You Can't Buy Luck (1937) as Betty McKay
- The Last Train from Madrid (1937) as Lola
- Fit for a King (1937) as Jane Hamilton / Princess Helen
- The Wrong Road (1937) as Ruth Holden
- King of the Newsboys (1938) as Mary Ellen Stephens
- I Stand Accused (1938) as Alison Cooper
- Secrets of a Nurse (1938) as Katherine MacDonald
- Gambling Ship (1938) as Mollie Riley
- Mystery of the White Room (1939) as Carole Dale
- Mickey the Kid (1939) as Telephone Operator (uncredited)
- Calling All Marines (1939) as Judy Fox
- His Girl Friday (1940) as Mollie Malloy
- Girls of the Road (1940) as Mickey
- Power Dive (1941) as Betty Coles
- And Now Tomorrow (1944) as Angelletta Gallo
- Strange Holiday (1945) as Miss Sims, Secretary
- Divorce (1945) as Martha Phillips
- Morton, Ray (2005). King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-55783-669-4. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
- Tunheim, Thorval (April 29, 1934). "Helen Mack's 'Break' Came At Playhouse". Pasadena Post. California, Pasadena. p. 15. Retrieved April 13, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Young Actress Has Had Lengthy Career". Kenosha News. Wisconsin, Kenosha. December 8, 1933. p. 14. Retrieved April 13, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Helen Mack, 72, an Actress In Silent and Talking Movies". The New York Times. August 16, 1986. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
Helen Mack, a child actress who appeared in both silent and talking motion pictures as well as on the stage, died of cancer Wednesday at the home of a friend, Aleen Leslie, with whom she lived in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 72 years old...
- New York Times, "The Screen", July 10, 1923, Page 22.
- Los Angeles Times, "New Move Marks War On WAMPAS", August 24, 1931, Page A1.
- Los Angeles Times, "Helen Mack Wins Boles Lead", December 22, 1931, Page A7.
- Los Angeles Times, "Actress Assigned", November 8, 1932, Page 11.
- Los Angeles Times, "Newcomer, Helen Mack, Conspicuous", April 2, 1933, Page A3.
- Los Angeles Times, "Films' Revolting Daughters Turn Out To Be Meek Lambs", April 30, 1933, Page A7.
- Los Angeles Times, "Helen Mack Chimes Ring", February 14, 1935, Page 1.
- Lowell, Massachusetts Sun, "Helen Mack Born Actress", January 18, 1934, Page 42.
- Sheboygan, Wisconsin The Press, "Three Debutante Stars On Way To Stardom With Fox", September 11, 1931, Page 14.
- Picture Show, "Helen Mack and Her Films", August 17, 1935, Page 18.
- Syracuse Herald-Journal, "Hollywood", November 2, 1939, Page 21.
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