A Star Is Born

On this day in 1909, ‘Little’ Mary McAllister, whom Hans J. Wollstein calls “the First Baby Star of the Films”[1], was born in Los Angeles, the grand-daughter of two Scotsmen. Mary appeared in her first silent film short, Despair (1915), at the age of six and went on to make a total of forty-four films in her fifteen-year career. Newspaper mentions make it clear that she was quite the media darling, loved by children particularly[2] but also doing her part for society as a whole. During the First World War, for example, she was made a (presumably honorary) sergeant in the US Army by President Woodrow Wilson in recognition of her work encouraging recruitment in Chicago.[3] In addition to appearing on the silver screen, Mary starred on stage, most notably as the lead in a travelling production of ‘the Little Princess’, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story.

When Essanay Studios folded in 1918, Mary went back to school, disappearing from the public eye just long enough for questions to begin about what had happened to her. But after graduating from Hollywood High she was back,[4] no longer ‘Little’ Mary McAllister, destined to appear as an adult in 15 further films. Once again she was in the spotlight, appearing at various public events and now the focus of speculation about romances with costars. She was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars for 1927, and her future in cinema seemed preordained. Yet it was not to be. After a minor role in the 1930 film On the Level when she was only 21, Mary never appeared on screen again.

At this time, of course, silent films were being replaced by ‘talkies’, and several online biographies conclude that she was unable to make the transition to the new medium. In fact, it seems that Mary simply retired to lead a private life. She married businessman Robert Brigham in 1930, the year of her final film; she and Robert had two children, and the family evidently travelled extensively. Mary’s occasional appearances on stage after this were, according to author George Katchmer, “just for fun”.[5] Her marriage appears to have ended in the early 1950s, just as her son’s was beginning, but she lived on for another four decades, dying of cancer in 1991.

Mary McAllister died in Del Mar, California, and was cremated.[6]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1] Hans J. Wollstein, Mary McAllister, Actor, New York Times website.  

[2]‘Tiny Film Favorite Vies with Vaudeville Artists for Favor’, Nevada State Journal, 17 September 1917.

[3]‘Little Film Star to Be Recruit Speaker’, Oakland Tribune, 14 October 1919; Nevada State Journal, 17 September 1917.

[4]Wollstein, ibid.

[5]G. Katchmer, A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses (McFarland, 2009), p. 241.

[6]Mary McAllister, Find a Grave Memorial, #9102667

This Week in Macalister History . . .

Major events in the history of the Macalisters take a bit of a break in October, so I thought it might be fun to take a look at what’s happening in the Macalister world at the start of October of this year. Macalisters in the arts and entertainment have certainly been busy. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, is hard at work preparing for the 10 October opening of Romeo and Juliet. The company celebrates its 50th anniversary on 2 November of this year, which has led to quite a bit of media attention. Back in the UK, Irish actress Amy McAllister (whose television work includes roles in Call the Midwife and Emmerdale) is currently appearing as Nellie, the female lead in The Man on Her Mind at Charing Cross Theatre in London’s West End. Performances are given six nights a week, with an additional matinee performance Saturdays. The play runs through 27 October. To the north, award-winning Scottish comedian Keir McAllister (whom the Edinburgh Evening News called “…a gifted comedian destined for much bigger things”) has been touring the west coast with his Walking in My Shoes tour. This week he appeared in Tyree, Fort William and the Isle of Mull.

Macalisters were also busy studying insects, of all things. Dr Erica McAlister, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum in London, undertook the last Specimen Collecting Field Trip of the season. This is part of a research project she and others in her department have been doing for the Ministry of Defence at a ‘top secret military testing station called Porton Down’. Details of the excursion can be found in her blog. Meanwhile, in the US, mosquito control expert Janet McAllister of the Center for Disease Control has been kept quite busy working to contain this year’s deadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus.

Charitable undertakings by members of this clan were also celebrated this week. On Sunday, the Wellesley (Mass.) Mothers Forum celebrated its 21st birthday; this non-profit community organisation, now 600-members strong, was established in 1991 by Lisa Macalaster and Maureen Bousa. Also on Sunday, but across the ocean, Leona McAlister, her daughter Maria McAlister, and her sister Pauline Murty, all of the Isle of Bute, were featured in the Buteman for their participation in September’s Great Scottish Run (a half-marathon), by which they raised £2,676 for the Beatson Oncology Centre.[1] Taking a slightly different approach to helping others was Don McAlister in Cape Town (S. Africa), whose latest editorial beseeched his readers to pay building contractors fairly.

Other Macalisters have been occupied with violence prevention this week. On Monday Detective Sergeant Randy McAlister of the Cottage Grove (Minn.) Police Department was interviewed by the local television news after a recent workplace shooting in that state. McAlister is a pioneer in the emerging field of threat assessment, which attempts to predict and prevent such events. He and his colleague spoke about the ‘red flags’ that often precede these tragedies and how to recognise them in time. The next day, Fort Morgan (Colo.) mayor Terry McAlister signed a proclamation making October National Domestic Violence Awareness month in his town. Various activities and programmes have been planned “to work toward improving victim safety and holding perpetrators of domestic abuse accountable”. The town council will be working in conjunction with S.H.A.R.E., Inc., a nonprofit group that serves battered women and their children in northeast Colorado.

And finally, Macalisters were also busy in politics this week. Wayne McAllister, Controller of Naugatuck Borough in Connecticut, reported on Wednesday that the borough had finished its fiscal year with a surplus of about US$1 million. Perhaps he should be running the country. The following day the Scotsman named Colin McAllister as one of those chosen by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to serve as political advisers to the Scottish government. This follows the loss of two senior advisers who left to serve in the Scottish National Party and the Yes Scotland independence campaign. And on Friday, Sinn Féin councillor Noreen McAllister was also in the news, doing what she was elected to do: speaking for the people. Councillor McAllister is trying to get the Moyle District Council (N. Ireland) to make structural changes that will eliminate the flooding problem experienced by some of her constituents.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] This is probably cheating, as neither his accomplishment nor his media recognition took place in the past week, but 10-year-old James McAllister of Darlington (England) also ran for charity in September. He completed the 4km Junior Great North Run in 22 minutes, running to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research. Well done, James!