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Marguerite "Maggie" McNamara (June 18, 1928 – February 18, 1978) was a stage, film, and television actress and model from the United States.[1] McNamara began her career as a teenage fashion model. She came to public attention in the controversial film The Moon Is Blue directed by Otto Preminger, reprising the role she played in the Chicago production of the play. She earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her role in the film.

Maggie McNamara
Studio publicity Maggie McNamara.jpg
Studio Publicity Photo, 1953.
Marguerite McNamara

(1928-06-18)June 18, 1928
DiedFebruary 18, 1978(1978-02-18) (aged 49)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of deathBarbiturate overdose
Resting placeSaint Charles Cemetery
EducationTextile High School
OccupationActress, model
Years active1951–1964
Spouse(s)David Swift (m.1951; div. 195?)

By the mid-1950s, McNamara's career began to decline. She appeared in two films after The Moon Is Blue and made her final film in 1963. After five guest-starring roles in television series in early 1960s, she retired from acting. For the remainder of her life, she worked as a typist in New York City. On February 18, 1978, McNamara died of a barbiturate overdose at the age of 49.


Early lifeEdit

McNamara was born in New York City, one of four children of Timothy (1888-1955) and Helen (née Fleming 1888-1967) McNamara.[2] Her father was of Irish descent while her mother was born in England to Irish parents.[3] McNamara had two sisters, Helen and Cathleen, and a brother, Robert.[4] Her parents divorced when she was nine years old.[5]

She attended Textile High School in New York.[6] As a teenager, McNamara was discovered when modeling agent John Robert Powers saw photos of her taken at a friend's home. With her mother's encouragement, McNamara signed with his agency and, while still in high school, began working as a teen model. She was one of the most successful teen models of the time and appeared in Seventeen, Life, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.[7] McNamara later commented on her modeling days:

I was terribly shy, and I used to work on myself to keep from showing it. When I was facing a camera, I pretended that neither it nor the photographer were there. I played a game with myself according to the clothes I was wearing...You have to feel right in what you are wearing, to have it look right. Just as each period has its own fashion, each person has his own style. When you find it, I think you should stay with it. When I was modeling I had to dress exactly as Vogue wanted the picture to be. But any good quality becomes something else when it is overdone, and I feel that this applies to being too clothes conscious. I don't care what the fashion dictator says. I will not follow if it's not right for me. But your overall impression consists of more than clothes. Your grooming, posture, the sound of your voice, and your perfume play a part in the total picture you create.[3]

In April 1950, McNamara appeared on the cover of Life magazine for a second time. After seeing her on the cover, producer David O. Selznick offered her a film contract. She turned it down and continued to model while studying dance and acting.[5][7]


In 1951, McNamara began her professional acting career when she was cast as Patty O'Neill in the Chicago stage production of The Moon Is Blue. Written by F. Hugh Herbert, the play was already a Broadway hit starring Barbara Bel Geddes. That same year, she starred on Broadway in The King of Friday's Men, which ran for four performances.[8][9]

In 1953, McNamara went to Hollywood to reprise her role in Otto Preminger's film adaptation of The Moon Is Blue. The film was highly controversial at the time due to its sexual themes and frank dialogue (the play and the film contain the words "virgin", "pregnant" and "seduce"). As a result, the film failed to secure the seal of approval from the MPAA. United Artists, who produced The Moon Is Blue, decided to release the film anyway.[10] It was promptly banned in Kansas, Ohio, and Maryland and given a "Condemned" rating by the National Legion of Decency.[10][11] Despite the controversy, the film was a success and earned $3.5 million at the box office.[12] While box office returns were strong, The Moon Is Blue received mixed reviews.[13] McNamara's performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and a BAFTA nomination for Most Promising Newcomer to Film.[14][15]

After filming, McNamara signed with 20th Century Fox and was cast in the 1954 romantic drama film Three Coins in the Fountain. The film was generally well received and helped to boost McNamara's popularity. The following year, she co-starred opposite Richard Burton in the biographical film Prince of Players. Although McNamara's career started well, she made only one more film after Prince of Players. Part of the reason why her career stalled has been attributed to her refusal to move to Los Angeles. She also reportedly refused to do publicity for her films or pose for the cheesecake shots that studios generally expected their female stars to do. Her career troubles were furthered by emotional problems. In his 1977 memoir, director Otto Preminger wrote that, "Maggie suffered greatly after becoming a star. Something went wrong with her marriage to director David Swift. She suffered a nervous breakdown."[5]

After 1955, McNamara did not accept any screen roles for the remainder of the decade. In 1962, she returned to acting in the Broadway play Step on a Crack.[16] Later that year, she performed in a production of Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn with Darren McGavin at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Florida. She had previously worked with McGavin on a one-night only performance of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.[7] The following year, Otto Preminger cast her in a small role in The Cardinal. It proved to be her final film role.[5] In 1963, McNamara turned to television. She guest starred on an episode of Ben Casey and starred as the title character in the Season 5 Twilight Zone episode "Ring-a-Ding Girl".[17] McNamara's last onscreen appearance was in the July 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour entitled "Body in the Barn", opposite Lillian Gish.[18]

Personal lifeEdit

In March 1951, McNamara married actor and director David Swift.[19] The couple had no children and later divorced (Swift remarried in 1957). McNamara never remarried.[20] After her divorce, she had a relationship with screenwriter Walter Bernstein.[5]

Later years and deathEdit

After her last onscreen role in 1964, McNamara fell out of public view. For the remaining 15 years of her life, she worked temp jobs as a typist to support herself.[5] Her obituary noted she had been writing scripts, including one titled The Mighty Dandelion, which had been purchased by a production company at the time of her death.[4]

On February 18, 1978, McNamara was found dead on the couch of her apartment in New York City. She had taken a deliberate overdose of sleeping pills and tranquilizers and left a suicide note on her piano.[6][5] According to police reports, she had a history of mental illness, and friends reported that she had suffered from acute depression.[21][14] She is interred in Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.[22]


Year Title Role Notes
1953 The Moon Is Blue Patty O'Neill Nominated: Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated: Most Promising Newcomer to Film BAFTA Award
1953 Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach Tourist Uncredited
Alternative title: The Girl on the Roof
1954 Three Coins in the Fountain Maria Williams
1955 Prince of Players Mary Devlin Booth
1963 The Cardinal Florrie Fermoyle
1963 Ben Casey Dede Blake Episode: "The Last Splintered Spoke of the Old Burlesque Wheel"
1963 The Twilight Zone Barbara "Bunny" Blake Episode: "Ring-a-Ding Girl"
1964 The Great Adventure Laura Drake Episode: "The Colonel from Connecticut"
1964 The Greatest Show on Earth Moira O'Kelley Episode: "Clancy"
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Pamela Episode: "Body in the Barn", (final appearance)


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, March 22, 1978, page 46.
  2. ^ 1940 Census Record accessed 12/9/2016
  3. ^ a b Lane, Lydia. "Maggie McNamara Is Just as on Screen", San Antonio Express-News, June 11, 1954, p. 29
  4. ^ a b "Maggie McNamara, Actress, Dies; In 'Moon Is Blue' on Stage, Screen". The New York Times. March 16, 1978. p. 15.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bell, Arthur (March 20, 1978). "Bell Tells: Goodbye, Maggie". The Village Voice. p. 86. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
  6. ^ a b Brettell, Andrew; King, Noel; Kennedy, Damien; Imwold, Denise; Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Barrons Educational Series. p. 277. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
  7. ^ a b c "Crazy Things Do Happen To Maggie McNamara". The Palm Beach Post. January 28, 1962. p. 25.
  8. ^ "A Tidy Little Gold Mine". Life. Time Inc. 30 (14): 87. ISSN 0024-3019.
  9. ^ Broadway Plays 1951
  10. ^ a b "Hullabaloo Over 'Moon Is Blue". Life. Time Inc. 35 (2): 71. July 13, 1953. ISSN 0024-3019.
  11. ^ Hirsch, Foster (2007). Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King. Knopf. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-375-41373-5.
  12. ^ Fujiwara, Chris (2009). The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. Macmillan. p. 146. ISBN 0-86547-995-X.
  13. ^ Musser, Charles; Bowser, Eileen; Schatz, Thomas; Crafton, Donald (1994). History of the American Cinema: Transforming the screen, 1950-1959. 7. University of California Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-520-24966-6.
  14. ^ a b "Maggie McNamara". Toledo Blade. March 17, 1978. p. 7. Retrieved August 21, 2014.
  15. ^ "Most Promising Newcomer To Film in 1955". BAFTA. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  16. ^ "Step On a Crack - Person List". Playbill.
  17. ^ Stanyard, Stewart (2007). Dimensions Behind the Twilight Zone: A Backstage Tribute to Television's Groundbreaking Series. ECW Press. p. 160. ISBN 1-550-22744-0.
  18. ^ Parish, James Robert; Terrace, Vincent (1989). The Complete Actors' Television Credits, 1948-1988, Volume 2. 2 (2 ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. 234.
  19. ^ "Hedda Hopper". The Los Angeles Times. March 19, 1952. p. C8.
  20. ^ "Maggie McNamara Dies". The Victoria Advocate. March 17, 1978. p. 5A. Retrieved January 1, 2013.
  21. ^ Katz, Ephraim (1994). The Film Encyclopedia: The Most Comprehensive Encyclopedia of World Cinema in a Single Volume (2 ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 877. ISBN 0-06-273089-4.
  22. ^ Roberts, Jerry (2012). The Hollywood Scandal Almanac: 12 Months of Sinister, Salacious and Senseless History!. The History Press. p. 59. ISBN 1-609-49702-3.

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