Helen Mack {Starlet Dreams}

June 18, 2009

You may not be familiar with the name Helen Mack. And her portrait might not immediately ring a bell in your mind either. But I'm positive that if you are a fan of late 30's screwball comedies, two simple words will immediately make you realize who she is. Mollie Malloy.

In His Girl Friday, Helen Mack had the unbelievably powerful role of Mollie Malloy, the girl whose life was doomed simply because she was nice to a poor helpless stranger. In a film with that starred Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and peppered with such great supporting stars as Ralph Bellamy, John Qualen, Regis Toomey, Gene Lockhart and Cliff Edwards, the stand-out performance is given by Helen Mack. She barely has even ten minutes total on screen and yet her short performance is imprinted on your brain forever.

Except for a handful of starring roles in minor films, it seems like making the most out of a mere ten minutes screen time was Helen Mack's specialty. After seeing her recently in the 1933 film, Sweepings, I just had to do this post. Again, she is given a scant 5-10 minutes on screen, and yet her performance is brilliant. I really wish her character had been built up in this film-- she would have given a nice splash of spunk and energy to a film that was starting to drag by the time she made her entrance.

Though I only really discovered the name behind the talent recently, I've always been taken aback by her performance in His Girl Friday, stunned that this powerhouse performance didn't kick-start a more luminous career. She had something that many major stars didn't have: screen presence. Her words come flying out of her mouth as if there was no script behind them. Her emotions are real and raw, and in a film that, at its core, is a romantic screwball comedy, Helen Mack gives an Oscar-worthy performance that temporarily knocks you off the edge of your seat.

Helen started acting in films when she was a little girl, (10 years old according to imdb) and her filmography stops in 1945... I'm not an authority on Helen Mack's life, so I don't know if she made a conscious decision to leave film and raise a family, or if playing characters named "secretary" wasn't exactly the career she had in mind. Whatever the reason, Helen only made five films after that performance in His Girl Friday. And I think that's a darn shame.


elena-lu said...

oh i saw that again recently and when i read mollie malloy yep i knew exactly who that was now great portrait of her! she did have a lovely presence

Terence Towles Canote said...

I remember her from Son of Kong, as the love interest of Carl Denham. She also made a big impact as Harold Lloyd's sister in The Milky Way. I always thought she should have had a much bigger career than she had.

Gowan said...

I’m her grandson. In 1944 Helen Mack (aka Helen McAvity) began producing the radio show “A Date with Judy” with an all woman production crew. She went on to be the only female director/ producer in radio in the 1940’s/50’s with such hits as “The Saint” w/Vincent Price, “Richard Diamond: Private Detective” w/Duck Powell, “Meet Corliss Archer”, “ The Alan Young Show and “Beulah”. She was recognized be Radio Life with a Distinguished Achievement Award in 1946. In 1949 RKO rereleased “She” and film producers started calling again, but they were too late. Helen liked directing and telling the men what to do.

All the best,

Gowan McAvity