Best known to old school terror cult members from her work as Elizabeth in the original Frankenstein, the sassy Mae Clarke was an eclectic leading lady during the ‘30s. Often playing mischievous, hardened dames, she was equally at home playing respectable, upstanding citizens. Forever, to her eternal regret, pegged as the woman whom James Cagney brutalized with a grapefruit in the classic gangster romp Public Enemy, she was eventually regulated to smaller roles in big budget MGM spectacles in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Finally finding a home on television, she was a regular on General Hospital during its early years before retiring from the screen to teach acting in the early ‘70s.
Truly giving a respectable showing by the time the final credits rolled for in 1992, her ebullient work as con woman Myra Gale in 1933’s Lady Killer shows that she actually deserves a much more prominent place of importance in the history of early celluloid. Here, draped in fashions inspired by the Art Deco movement, she coolly and calmly manipulates James Cagney’s hot-headed Dan Quigley into a life of crime. Clarke’s every action here is quietly calculating. She moves like a Nile bound Queen and accepts Cagney’s hovering devotion as her unsurprising due.
Of course, in the tenor of the times, she is subjected to her male co-star’s wraith when he discovers her duplicity. Booted out of rooms and retaliated upon with other indignities, Clarke always keeps her character’s cool demeanor at the forefront and even allows a bit of heart and conscience to shine through as this fast-paced flick reaches its speedy ending.
Fans of her work as one of Universal Horror’s most sweetly suffering heroines are urged to explore the many vibrant colors that she unleashes upon the world here. You’ll be sure to fall in love all over again.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!
(Photos, above: Clarke revisiting old co-stars (top) and with longtime General Hospital actor John Bernadino on the set of that show.)