Hartley Working

Mariette HartleyI’m sure many of us have favorite performers whose careers we’ve followed for years, and the lovely actress Mariette Hartley has long been one of mine.  Though she’s probably over the years been more famous for her work in television, she’s had a more than respectable big screen career which started out in a particularly auspicious manner.  Miss Hartley celebrates her 67th birthday today, June 21. 

After growing up in Connecticut as the granddaughter of famous American psychologist John B. Watson, Mariette cut her acting teeth in children’s theater and later as a protégée of legendary stage actress Eva Le Gallienne.  The strapping young natural beauty, whose fresh-faced, clean-cut appeal led many to compare her to the early Ingrid Bergman, was discovered by MGM studios and soon chosen by iconoclastic director Sam Peckinpah as the female lead in his new western Ride the High Country (1962).  Her role as the spunky frontier lass who escapes from herMariette Says I Do in Ride the High Country controlling religious-fanatic father only to end up as a bride who’s expected to entertain the groom’s several brothers…well, it was an amazing debut role.  The barely out-of-her-teens Hartley held her own opposite screen veterans Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, and the rest of the cast included such revered character actors as Warren Oates, James Drury, R.G. Armstrong, Edgar Buchanan, L.Q. Jones and buxom Jenie Jackson (who will be remembered by fans of the TV series The Wild Wild West as Kitten Twitty, aide to Dr. Miguelito Loveless in two episodes). 

The reputation of Ride the High Country has ascended in recent years, and though it’s now firmly established as a genuine classic, at the time of its initial release it was strictly second feature material.  As for Mariette’s Mariette Hartley in Marniecareer, she segued into a sequence of TV guest roles in many of the popular series of the day, including Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, and Ben Casey, until MGM stuck her in a cheapie jungle adventure flick called Drums of Africa (1963) with Frankie Avalon and Lloyd Bochner.  In 1964 she had a small co-starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Tippi Hedren-starrer Marnie, then it was back into more steady TV work.  In 1969 she starred in singer-actor Bobby Darin’s directorial debut The Vendors, a project about the scummyMariette Hartley and Mr. Spock underbelly of the music business, but this project remains mysterious and unseen to this day.  Also in 1969 Mariette made what is undoubtedly her most famous and legendary TV guest-starring appearance, as she coaxed a lost-in-the-past Mr. Spock to eat meat and commit nooky in an episode of classic Star Trek.  (Later she would also help the Incredible Hulk achieve connubial bliss – and win herself an Emmy – in an episode of that show.)

Again, she turned up in a few big screen titles – Marooned (1969), The Return of Count Yorga (1971), Skyjacked (1972), The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972) – but mostly busied herself with myriad TV guests Mariette in The Return of County Yorgaroles in a dizzying parade of most of the top dramatic series, such as several Bonanza episodes, Marcus Welby, Mannix, The F.B.I., Columbo, many Gunsmoke hours and many, many more.   She did a pilot for an African Queen TV series, with the talented Warren Oates as Charlie Allnut opposite her Rosie Sayer, but it didn’t get past the initial movie.  It was about this time that she began a series of commercials for Polaroid opposite James Garner, and it was this multi-year run of ads that really put Mariette into the public eye and thrust her into the kind of fame that she had never before experienced.  More prominent TV roles followed, a few more movies, and lots of personality-type appearances like CBS’ attempt to turn her into a morning show hostess.  She attained a reputation for her comedy chops at this time, expanding from the predominantly dramatic image she had courted in most of her work.  Since that time she’s worked frequently in all genres, and most recently played Courtney Cox’ mother on several episodes of the Hollywood tabloid-set melodrama Dirt

Of course, all the time Mariette was amassing a resume a mile long, she was battling difficult personal demons, a struggle which was brilliantly and poignantly documented in her 1990 autobiography Breaking the SilenceMariette Hartley has never been less than an incredibly honest and appealing performer, with plenty of class and sass.  We wish her a wonderful birthday and many more!

4 Responses Hartley Working
Posted By Ariel : June 22, 2007 2:44 am

It's so strange. We see countless people emoting on television, in movies. We remember so few of them, even minutes after the screen goes dark. And then there are actors like Mariette Hartley–and Warren Oates!–that we can't take our eyes off, can't ever forget.

Posted By Ariel : June 22, 2007 2:44 am

It's so strange. We see countless people emoting on television, in movies. We remember so few of them, even minutes after the screen goes dark. And then there are actors like Mariette Hartley–and Warren Oates!–that we can't take our eyes off, can't ever forget.

Posted By Aaron E. : June 23, 2007 11:24 am

Here is an actress who was mostly wasted in film roles except for her debut in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. TV was another story. Big success there. The weird thing is most people probably still remember her more for those Polaroid commercials with Jim Garner. Those should have led to a romantic comedy with them because they had so much sex appeal and charisma between them in those :60 spots they could easily have the new Nick and Nora Charles in a THIN MAN remake or something…..wasted opportunity. You had a prolific and busy career anyway, Mariette, and you're still working. Happy birthday!

Posted By Aaron E. : June 23, 2007 11:24 am

Here is an actress who was mostly wasted in film roles except for her debut in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. TV was another story. Big success there. The weird thing is most people probably still remember her more for those Polaroid commercials with Jim Garner. Those should have led to a romantic comedy with them because they had so much sex appeal and charisma between them in those :60 spots they could easily have the new Nick and Nora Charles in a THIN MAN remake or something…..wasted opportunity. You had a prolific and busy career anyway, Mariette, and you're still working. Happy birthday!

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