Sunday Matinee: What Happened To Mary

It’s 2018 and this year there looks to be at least three movies featuring female action heroes. The Tomb Raider reboot, Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence and most recently Proud Mary. With all that has happened lately in Hollywood and in the world in general I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the evolution of the female action hero.

To start things off we have to go back over 100 years ago. The first movie serial in the United States was 1912’s What Happened to Mary. Produced by Thomas Edison’s film studio Edison Films the movie wasn’t a true cliffhanger serial although there were 12 chapters released monthly. Each installment had a ending. But in a brilliant move each episode was released to coincide with the serial story of the same name published in McClure’s The Ladies’ World magazine.

The movie starred Mary Fuller as Mary. The plot had young Mary leaving the person who raised her (he was given an allowance and told that he had to marry her off) because she doesn’t want to married. From there Mary goes to the big city and gets into various adventures.

The series was a huge success and Edison quickly started putting out merchandise for fans to buy. Puzzles, a Mary hat and a game with sheet music. The magazine offered a contest of a chance to win $100 for correcting guessing what happens next to Mary. Sadly most of the episodes are lost. From the sounds of it chapters 5 to 11 still exist in various film archives. A sequel was made in 1913 called Who Will Marry Mary? It too is lost except for a few frames.

Selig Polyscope Company saw the success of What Happened to Mary and came up with their own adventure serial. This one incorporated the cliffhanger which would become popular with serials. 1913 The Adventures with Kathlyn. William Selig went to the Chicago Tribune to help promote the movie by doing the same thing that What Happened to Mary did, release a serialized story in the paper with each film release. The Adventures with Kathlyn had more action and featured animals from Selig’s zoo. Kathlyn Williams starred in the title role. Sadly this movie is also lost.

Stay tuned for next where I’ll look at The Perils of Pauline.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.