Mary Charles Ap-purrs on WABC Columbia

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It has been a while since I purchased and shared a press photo, although I do find them a splendid category of their own. (I think the most recent one prior to this can be found at this link, my post for Old Tom, the Washington Post Office Cat, which goes back aways.) I especially like press photos because I generally learn something while they take me down tributaries of history and information. This one proved a bit challenging, but before I go down that road, let’s spend a moment with the photo which I really like regardless of the ultimate success of Mary’s career.

Of course I purchased this photograph because of this splendid white puss being held up to that really great WABC Columbia-branded microphone, adorably set up just for his cat height! He is long-haired without quite appearing Persian to me – but check out those tufts of hair around his toes. Kitty, Nazir is his name, does not look especially happy about the proceedings, I must say, although they did get a shot with him looking right at the mic. Mary has a fairly plain Jane sort of look for a famous personality, but I like that and I also like her happily patterned dress, shoes, couch and odd tapestry on the wall. It feels like this is really her apartment and is homey.

As you have gathered by now, this image is of radio singer and impersonator Mary Charles and her cat Nazir. Pasted on the back there is a scrap of typed paper that reads as follows:

For Release Sat. P.M.’s, Feb. 28 and Sun. A.M.’s Mar. 1st
COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM PHOTO
BEDTIME STORY FOR THE MICE
IT “AP-PURRS” MARY CHARLES, COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM SONGSTRESS, IS ENCOUNTERING DIFFICULTIES IN TRAINING HER PRIZE-WINNING PERSIAN CAT, “NAZIR”, IN THE PROPER MICROPHONE TECHNIQUE. MARY AND “NAZIR”SEEM TO HAVE DIFFERENT IDEAS ON WHAT “TALKING ON THE AIR” MEANS.

Mary Charles proved to be an extraordinarily common name which slowed the Google search, before landing on a singer who sang with Al Bowlly on Let’s Put out the Lights and All of Me with Ambrose. I am on the fence, but I have been slowly won over to thinking it is that Mary Charles. However, the evidence built slowly.

First, I was able to find some text from the Brooklyn Beagle in (I think) 1931 which tells her story roughly as follows:

MARY CHARLES Your Ear paraphrased advice of Horace Greeley, “Go West young lady, go West,” Mary turned up in one of the leading roles of the Chicago presentation of “Sweet Adeline.” The star fell ill and the show never went on the boards. Mary was seeing the world, but ill-luck was taking all the fun out of it. To Talkie Short! And Radio Songs Back in New York, Mary went to work in the Cazanova Club with Jack Buchanan, British musical comedy satellite. From supper club work she went to the Paramount studios to make some talkie shorts with Charles Ruggles. Shortly after this Paramount decided to make use of her talents on its Paramount on Parade program. After being on any number of programs as a guest artist, she is at present featured in a weekly Saturday night W A B C broadcast listed quietly, Mary Charles. She is best known for her popular and character songs as well at her impersonations of stage personalities. Was born in Philadelphia in 1907. Her father was Irish and her mother English. Keeps a beautiful white cat in her apartment. Her uncle is Dean Charles of Westminster Abbey. At the age of 17 she was trundled off the Berlin to study voice. Her parents desired her to be a concert singer. And were they mad when some years later she announced her intention of going on the stage? Over 99 percent of the Mary Charles fan mail is from men. Claims that she is not especially partial to men but when she is, it’s Englishmen who have the inside track. Admits that she is inordinately fond of gossip. Once she was the feature of the La Palina hour, and when that program terminated President W. P. Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting Company had an inspiration for a broadcast to be built around her talents. His idea was to dramatize songs. It was a good one. Doesn’t speak a word of French, but is the possessor of a dialect that sounds just like any one of fifty million Frenchmen on his second English lesson. Songs in this flood her with fan mall from Montreal. Most of the time she wears sports clothes tweed. For years she had the idea that she was one redheaded damself who could wear red. Her friends laughed at her and they were right. Is very fond of the theater. Travel ‘Makes Her Appreciate New York’ Thinks that the biggest advantage her years of travel have given her ‘Is that she now knows ‘Just how indispensable New York Is.’ (Chamber of Commerce copy, if you wish.) When she was a kid could execute a buck and wing that was nobody’s business. Gave it up as the lessons were too strenuous. Was she ever In vaudeville? Yes. Mary is one of those vaudevillians who has played the Palace Theater, too. She was somebody’s French maid there for a week. Her pet peeve is those music publishers who try to get her to “plug” their this and thats. Positively refuses to sing songs for friendship. Thinks Morton Downey and Rudy Vallee are two very nice persons. Likes the former’s sense of the funny. Her favorite songs are those deep, deep blues but, darn it all, a soprano can’t sing those. 

I found a few other references to her – appearances and snippets of information, but sadly nothing else about her charming cat. (Which I am very curious about – how does a cat become famous when living with a radio singer?) When she is written about, she is frequently called out for being a red head and another newspaper snippet mentioned her red-headed self as having recently returned from England, another clue which gave me pause. Radio Digest magazine, June 1931, included her in an article round up of how performers had been discovered and they site her as having applied for an audition and winning out over 149 other aspirants trying out at the same time. She is also called out frequently as an impersonator – evidently of other stars although I know not who.

So, if any of you knowledgable types about all things early 20th century music can weigh in I would appreciate it. For now I will include a Youtube link – an Al Bowlly tune where Mary Charles’s American accent is definitely on display, Let’s Put Out the Lights (and go to bed). I believe this is indeed the Mary Charles who was mom to cat Nazir and shown here.

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