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The forgotten Australian actress

In the 1930s when the movie industry was exploding in the United States, a young Australian-born actress was one of the few antipodeans attempting to make her mark in the dazzling world of fame, fortune and fantasy. Mary Maguire, born Helene Teresa Maguire in February 1919 in Melbourne, was the second of five sisters to Mickey Maguire and Mary Jane (nee Carroll).

The family moved to Brisbane and the pretty young actress was cast in her first film at the age of 16 by director Charles Chauvel in the movie Heritage. A movie about a 'fifty year tale of Australian settlement that shaped a nation' was to help catapult the young Mary, also known as Peggy, to a career in Hollywood.

The pretty young Australian actress Mary Maguire was expected to become a major star in Hollywood.

"Now storming the heights of Hollywood...Seventeen years of age and a native of Brisbane, she is heading for a successful screen career." said The Newcastle Sun as she prepared to travel overseas.

Contracted to Warner Bros Mary made her US debut in That Man's Here Again with comedian Hugh Herbert. Work continued with Confession, then Alcatraz Island and Sergeant Murphy with Hollywood star Ronald Reagan.

By 1938 Mary had left Warners and moved to 20th Century Fox. After appearing in Mysterious Mr Moto, she moved to Great Britain. Her career continued with Keep Smiling, a Gracie Fields comedy and British dramas including The Outsider, Black Eyes, An Englishman's Home and This was Paris.

Her married life to Robert Gordon-Canning MC, was short-lived. Older than Mary by 30 years, he was a First World War veteran and had been active in far-right British politics, including organisations the British Union of Fascists and The Link.

She was keen to show her 'Bobby' the land of her birth, planning a trip back to Australia in 1940, saying their relationship was love at first sight, when interviewed by The Australian Women's Weekly. While she told the magazine she didn't believe in divorce, the marriage broke down only a few years later after the couple lost their child as a baby.

In 1945 Mary married Philip Henry Legarra and she returned to the US, where he worked as an engineer. Despite an attempt to re-establish her movie career, Mary didn't work in films again.

She died in 1974 of tuberculosis. This was three years after her husband died and she is buried a long way from her Australian home at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.


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