Mary Duncan

Mary Duncan ( August 13, 1894 – May 9, 1993) was an American stage and silent film actress. She is best known for her performances in F.W. Murnau's City Girl (1930) and Morning Glory (1933).

Mary Duncan
Mary Duncan ca. 1930.jpg
Duncan, c. 1930
Mary Annie Dungan

August 13, 1894
DiedMay 9, 1993
Resting placeGreen Hill Cemetery, Amsterdam, New York, U.S.
Alma materCornell University[1]
Years active1927-1933
Spouse(s)Stephen "Laddie" Sanford (1933-1977; his death)

Early yearsEdit

Duncan was born in Luttrellville, Virginia, the sixth of eight children born to Capt. William S. Duncan and his wife,[2] Ada Thaddeus Douglass.[citation needed] She attended Cornell University for two years (or one year)[2] before settling on acting as a career.[3] When she left Cornell, she studied acting under Yvette Guilbert.[2]


Duncan began her career as a child actress playing on the Broadway stage from 1910. Her Broadway credits include Human Nature (1925), All Wet (1925), New Toys (1924), The Egotist (1922), Face Value (1921), and Welcome to Our City (1919).[4] In 1926 she played "Poppy" in the smash hit and controversial play The Shanghai Gesture,[3] in which Florence Reed played her mother (known as "Mother Goddam"). Reed's character kills her daughter in a startling end to the play. This play was turned into a very sanitized film in 1941 with Gene Tierney.

Duncan also starred in the 1930 film City Girl by director F.W. Murnau.[citation needed] After that, her career hit a lull. An article by Florabel Muir in the New York Daily News in 1931 began: "Mary Duncan was in Hollywood nearly all of last year looking for work with little or no luck. She even altered her appearance by having things done to her nose, but still the producers wouldn't give her a tumble."[5]

Duncan's last film appearance was in the 1933 film Morning Glory, which starred Katharine Hepburn (one of Hepburn's earliest films, for which she received the first of her four Academy Awards for Best Actress).

Personal lifeEdit

On September 1, 1933, Duncan married Stephen "Laddie" Sanford,[6] who was an international polo player as well as director of the Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company, after which she retired from films. They remained married until his death in 1977. She spent much of her remaining years working with several major charities, and earned a reputation as a socialite in Palm Beach, Florida.[7] She kept herself active by playing golf twice a week and swimming every morning before breakfast, which helped her maintain her size 8 figure. As an actress, she had followed the ministrations of Sylvia of Hollywood to keep her shape.


Mary Duncan died in her sleep aged 98.[7] She was survived by a niece and great-niece. Duncan was the last known person to have in her possession a copy of the lost Murnau film 4 Devils; Martin Koerber, curator of Deutsche Kinemathek, has speculated that her heirs may still have the valuable print somewhere.[8]


Year Title Role Notes
1927 Very Confidential Priscilla Travers
1928 Soft Living Lorna Estabrook
1928 4 Devils The Lady Lost film
1929 The River Rosalee
1929 Thru Different Eyes Viola
1929 Romance of the Rio Grande Carlotta
1930 City Girl Kate
1930 Kismet Zeleekha
1930 The Boudoir Diplomat Mona
1931 Men Call It Love Helen Robinson
1931 Five and Ten Muriel Preston
1931 The Age for Love Nina Donnet
1932 State's Attorney Nora Dean
1932 Thirteen Women June Raskob
1932 The Phantom of Crestwood Dorothy Mears
1933 Morning Glory Rita Vernon (final film role)


  1. ^ "Movie Star Chosen for Round-Up Queen". Heppner Gazette-Times. Pendleton, Oregon. August 21, 1928. p. 6.
  2. ^ a b c Brundidge, Harry T. (December 7, 1929). "Mary Duncan, Green-Eyed Vampire of Films, Hollywood Mystery Woman". The St. Louis Star and Times. Missouri, St. Louis. p. 3. Retrieved August 19, 2018 – via  
  3. ^ a b "Mary Duncan Will Remain". The Los Angeles Times. California, Los Angeles. June 26, 1927. p. 53. Retrieved August 18, 2018 – via  
  4. ^ "Mary Duncan". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on 19 August 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  5. ^ Muir, Florabel (June 17, 1931). "Mary Duncan's Wanted After Loafing a Year". Daily News. New York, New York City. p. 36. Retrieved August 19, 2018 – via  
  6. ^ "Actress Weds Sportsman". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Missouri, St. Louis. Associated Press. September 2, 1933. p. 9. Retrieved August 19, 2018 – via  
  7. ^ a b "Mary Duncan; Movie Actress and Socialite". The Los Angeles Times. May 17, 1993. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
  8. ^ "Lost Films: 4 Devils". Deutsche Kinemathek. Retrieved March 12, 2013.

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