Biography of Marie Dressler
Marie Dressler (November 9, 1868 – July 28, 1934) was a Canadian-American actress and Depression-era film star. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930-31 in Min and Bill.
Dressler was born Leila Marie Koerber in Cobourg, Ontario, to parents Alexander Rudolph Koerber, who was Austrian and a former officer in the Crimean War, and Anna Henderson, a musician. Her father was a music teacher in Cobourg and the organist at St. Peter's Church, where as a child, Marie would sing and assist in operating the organ. Her first acting appearance was as Cupid at age five in a church theatrical performance in Lindsay, Ontario. Dressler left home at fourteen and began her acting career as a chorus girl with the Nevada Stock Company when she was fourteen. Her first job paid her $8 a week. It was at this time that Dressler adopted the name of an aunt as her stage name. Dressler's sister Bonita, five years older, left home at about the same time. Bonita also worked in the opera company.
In 1892 she made her debut on Broadway. At first she hoped to make a career of singing light opera, but then gravitated to vaudeville. In vaudeville she was known for her full-figured body—fashionable at the time—and had buxom contemporaries such as her friends Lillian Russell, Fay Templeton, May Irwin and Trixie Friganza. She used the services of 'body sculptor to the stars' Sylvia of Hollywood to keep herself at a steady weight. Dressler appeared in a play called Robber of the Rhine which was written by Maurice Barrymore. Barrymore gave Dressler some positive advice about furthering her career and she later acknowledged his help. Years later she would appear with his sons, Lionel and John, in motion pictures.
Dressler's first marriage was to American George Hoeppert. According to Dressler's testimony, she married Hoeppert in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1899, although Kennedy puts the marriage date as May 6, 1894, and a divorce early in 1896. In 1907, Dressler met Maine business man James Henry Dalton, who would become her companion until his death in 1921. According to Dalton, the two were married in Europe in 1908. However, Dressler later learned that the "minister" who married them in Monte Carlo was actually a local man paid by Dalton to stage a fake wedding. Dalton's first wife Lizzie claimed that he had not consented to a divorce or been served divorce papers, while Dalton claimed to have divorced her in 1905. By 1921, Dalton had became an invalid due to degenerated kidneys and would watch her from the wings in a wheel-chair. After his death, Dressler was planning for Dalton to be buried as her husband, but Lizzie Dalton had Dalton's body returned to be buried in the Dalton family plot. Her first marriage to Hoeppert gave Dressler American citizenship, which was useful later in life, when American immigration rules meant permits were needed to work in the United States, and Dressler had to appear before an immigration hearing.
During the early 1900s, Dressler became a major vaudeville star, although she had appeared on stage in New York City earlier, for example, in 1492 Up To Date (1895). In 1902, she met fellow Canadian Mack Sennett and helped him get a job in the theater. For a time, Dressler had her own theatre troupe, which performed "Miss Prinnt" in cities of the American north-east. Dressler performed in London, England from 1907 to 1909 before returning to New York. In addition to her stage work, Dressler recorded for Edison Records in 1909 and 1910.
Dressler continued to work in the theater during the 1910s, and toured the United States during World War I, selling Liberty Bonds and entertaining the American Expeditionary Forces. American GIs in France named both a street and a cow after Dressler. The cow was killed, leading to "Marie Dressler: Killed In Line of Duty" headlines, to which Dressler quipped "I had a hard time convincing people that the report of my death had been greatly exaggerated."