Obituary: Mary Scott (1921-2009)

December 18, 2009


Mary Scott in “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret”

Our last obituary for 2009 (or so I hope) is also a belated one.  Based on a search of public records and information provided by the Screen Actors Guild, I have confirmed that actress Mary Scott died on April 22 in Riverside County, Los Angeles, under the name Mary Lydia Heller.

Scott accrued a number of film and television credits from the early forties through the early sixties, but she will probably be remembered as (1) the wife of British character actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, in one of Hollywood’s more unlikely May-December romances; and (2) the star of “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret,” one of the seventeen episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by the Master of Suspense himself.

Born in Los Angeles on December 9, 1921, Scott began her movie career at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1940.  She was still underage when the head of that studio, Darryl Zanuck, spotted her working in the coat-check room at Ciro’s.  Zanuck admired her legs and directed an underling to sign Scott to a player contract.  She made her film debut in an early scene in Kings Row, as one of the Ross sisters.  (The other sister was Julie Warren, who gave up her acting career to marry John Forsythe.)

Hardwicke, an esteemed character actor of the English stage with a famously plummy voice, was under contract to Fox at the same time.  Their romance began on a double date in Beverly Hills, and Scott followed the married Hardwicke back to Broadway (where he contrived to have her replace Lilli Palmer, his co-star in Caesar and Cleopatra, when Palmer took ill) and then on to London.  Only when she became pregnant with a son, Michael, did Hardwicke divorce his first wife and marry Scott, who was twenty-eight years his junior.

More socialite than serious actress, Scott played small roles in a number of films and TV segments during the fifties.  She supported Grace Kelly and Richard Greene (TV’s Robin Hood) in a live production of “Berkeley Square” for the Prudential Family Playhouse, and turned up on M Squad, Hazel, and The Patty Duke Show.  “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret,” a semi-parody of Rear Window, had Scott as distaff version of James Stewart’s character, a mystery writer who thinks her neighbor may have committed a murder.

“Mr. Blanchard’s Secret” was a major showcase for Scott, and much like “Into Thin Air,” an earlier Hitchcock episode built around Hitch’s daughter Pat, it feels as if someone had attempted an act of star-building – albeit perhaps more as a favor than out of true conviction in the prospective star’s talent.  Mary Scott appeared in seven more segments of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and, like Pat Hitchcock’s roles on that series, Scott’s parts gradually diminished in size until, in 1965’s “The Trap,” she was just an extra in a crowd scene.

I always surmised that Scott was part of either Hitchcock’s or producer Joan Harrison’s social circle, but I could never find any substantial information on her.  For years I tried, off and on, to track her down, but I had no idea if she was still living or even how old she was.  In “Blanchard” Scott wore her hair in an unusually short, tomboyish cut that subtracted some years, and in the pre-Internet Movie Database era, there was no source that connected her TV credits with those of the obscure pre-war Fox contract actress.  And then Scott seemed to have disappeared after her last Hitchcock appearance.  She was a mystery, with a name too common to track down.  Finally I found her – eight months too late.

But then I made another discovery that partly makes up for that disappointment.  In 2000, Scott published a memoir, Nobody Ever Accused Me of Being a ‘Lady, through a now-defunct British vanity press.  It is a disjointed and somewhat superficial book, but a fascinating read.  Scott offers a matter-of-fact account of many personal tragedies: abandonment by an alcoholic father; molestation by a neighbor at age five; a brother’s death in combat during World War II; and finally the drug-related suicide of Michael Hardwicke in 1983.

Candidly, she depicts her show business career as a welcome escape from those grim events, and perhaps that’s why her autobiography ends up dwelling more on party-going and name-dropping than on matters of substance.  (Among the gossip: affairs with Ronald Reagan and David Niven; Darryl Zanuck, diminutive penis exposed, trying to rape her in his office at Fox.)

Still, Scott turns a droll phrase now and then – Charles Laughton cut a figure “like a limp macaroni tube” – and while she left many of my questions unanswered, this passage went a long way toward satisfying my curiosity about her attraction to Sir Cedric:

He was the most distinguished man I had ever met.  He displayed a sly wit which was so subtle that it might easily have been missed if one was not alert.  He dressed immaculately – Savile Row, naturally.  And while Cedric did not have conventional good looks, he had – and I hate using this term, but it really fits – class . . . and plenty of it.  His honesty and integrity were above reproach.  His voice, sonorous, deep and rich, . . . was like a good vintage wine; it kept improving.  It was his premier instrument and I often wished that I could bottle it.

And as for Hitchcock?  Scott does recount a few stories about working and dining with Hitch . . . but for those, you’ll have to track down her book.

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9 Responses to “Obituary: Mary Scott (1921-2009)”

  1. Gary Says:

    I’ve also wondered about her. More fine detective work Stephen– can’t believe she wrote an autobiography! Will have to look for it someday.

    So who’s left from the Hitchcock-directed TV work: Vera Miles, John Forsythe, Billy Mumy…. anyone else?

  2. John Evans Says:

    Mary actually married a John Heller and when he passed away basically left her broke. Mary spend a couple years in a small assisted living home I own here in Palm Springs. She was a very interesting and funny lady.

  3. Vicki PS Says:

    Mary seems to have been a first class bitch, as well. Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, in his 2004 autobiography Bud: A Life, related how he was introduced to the then Lady Harwicke at a restaurant in Los Angeles where he and his wife Audrey were dining with Rod Taylor and Bob Walker, casting director for Revue Productions. Scott approached their table and Taylor introduced Tingwell as “one of the most distinguished actors in Australia”. “Really?” said Scott, “They look more like Glendale to me”. Perhaps her less than salubrious later career and last years were karma at work.

  4. AhaExp Says:

    For several years I lived next door to Mary on Angelo Drive when when she lived with Sir Cedric along with their son Michael. I remember her as very upbeat and friendly, often decked out in tennis wear. I am very sad to learn of Michael’s early death, as we were friends during the time they were neighbors.


  5. I just saw her on “the Diplomatic Corpse” 1957 episode of Hitchcock. She was quite striking and very cute. I wish she had a bigger career.

  6. kathy Says:

    she looks like grace from will and grace.

  7. Ankur Chandra Says:

    i loved Mary Scott in Mr Blanchard’s Secret…In her black cropped hair she looked innocent …Her acting, though a bit patchy, was not bad….It is an interesting and very informative piece on the lady here …i loved reading it and feel nostalgia in my heart…

  8. Ed Says:

    I had no idea Michael had passed on. We went back a very long way with him, didn’t we Steve!

  9. Mark Says:

    She looks like a cross between Noel Neill (of ’50s Superman TV episodes and movies) and Robin Tunney (of “The Mentalist” TV show and movies), all three very beautiful and entertaining women.


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