Better known as a supporting actress than as a leading lady, Mary McCarty nevertheless made a splash already in her first Broadway outing, delivering an award-winning performance in Sleepy Hollow. And at the end of her Broadway career, she enjoyed critical acclaim for her portrayal of Marthy Owen in a 1977 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, earning a Tony® nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Along with those two thespian peaks, she was a frequent character actor in film, on television, and on the boards. At the end of her career, she reached a wide television audience with her roles as Nurse Willoughby on “Trapper John, M.D.” and as Bertha in the soap opera “All My Children.”
Born in 1923 in Winfield, Kansas, McCarty appeared in film already as a teenager in Shirley Temple’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). In the same year she had a bit part in the Jane Withers movie Keep Smiling. In 1942 she played Miss Trent in the movie musical Ice Capades Revue, and she appeared regularly in B films in the mid-1940s.
She made her Broadway debut in Sleepy Hollow (1948), a musical adaptation of the famous Washington Irving tale about the Headless Horseman. Though the show fizzled after twelve performances, McCarty scored a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Eva. She returned to the Great White Way to perform in the revue Small Wonder (1948) and created the part of Maisie Doll in the Irving Berlin hit Miss Liberty (1949), a musical revolving around the creation of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. McCarty’s numbers included “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” and she sang and danced alongside Eddie Albert, later of Green Acres fame.
In the Harold Rome revue Bless You All (1950), McCarty performed with Pearl Bailey and Gene Barry, among many others, and she played Brewster in the short-lived Howard Teichmann farce A Rainy Day in Newark (1963).
But in the 1950s and ’60s McCarty was more active in film than on the Broadway stage. She played the fashion designer Annie in The French Line (1954), a 3-D movie that truly flaunted the curves of the leading lady, Jane Russell – whose smokin’-hot number “Lookin’ for Trouble” sure enough got the film into trouble. Defenders of decency howled, and the scene was later bowdlerized. In her number “By Madame Firelli,” which preceded Russell’s bump-and-grind routine, McCarty – wearing businesslike attire – acted as an ideal foil to Russell. McCarty’s later films included Pillow Talk (1959), with Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall; Babes in Toyland (1963); My Six Loves (1963); and All That Jazz (1979).
Her other Broadway credits include Sondheim’s Tony®-winning musical Follies (1971), in which she shone as Stella in the production number “Who’s That Woman.” She stepped in for Debbie Reynolds as Mrs. O’Dare in a revival of Irene (1973), and she was the original Mama Morton in Chicago (1975), the smash hit by Fosse, Kander, and Ebb. When she belted out her big prison-scene number “When You’re Good to Mama,” she played up the homoerotic innuendos for all they were worth.
In 1980, McCarty died of a heart attack at age fifty-seven.