Marion Aye (1903-1951) is a forgotten silent film player with a tragic story.
She was born Maryon Eloise Aye in Chicago, Illinois, in 1903. Her father, James, was an attorney and her mother, Eloise, was a homemaker. She also had one younger brother named James Jr. In 1911, the Ayes moved to Los Angeles and lived in a house on Ivar Street. Her father worked as an agricultural supply salesman.
According to her own press, when Aye was around 14-years-old and on a “school vacation,” she was “discovered” by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who got her into the Balboa Film Studio in Long Beach, CA. (Another variation of the “discovery” story maintains that Mack Sennett had seen her walking on the beach and had offered her a job at his studio. Neither version makes complete sense because the details are hazy.) What IS known is that she worked as an extra at the Balboa Film Studio in 1917 and/or 1918. While there, she romanced a motion picture cameraman named Sherman William Plaskett, who was 10 years older than her. On March 11, 1918, a month before her 15th birthday, the couple filed for a marriage certificate in Santa Ana, CA. On the license, she claimed that she was 18.
Their marriage, however, was short lived. Plaskett joined the Army and died on October 5, 1918. One report claimed that he had succumbed to Spanish influenza. Another report claimed that he had fallen to his death from an airplane.
Aye, now a shapely, 16-year-old widow, signed a short term contract with the Mack Sennett Studios as a bathing beauty. However, she was not specifically hired to appear in films. She was mostly consigned to making personal appearances in Midwest and Eastern Coast movie houses. In 1920, she left Sennett to work in New York as a chorus girl on the Orpheum theatre circuit and in a vaudeville revue called the Bothwell Browne’s Bathing Beauties. While at Bothwell Browne’s, she met and married a dynamic press agent named Harry D. Wilson, who worked for the vaudeville company. Wilson was known for his high energy and quick wit. He also knew how to build beautiful women into stars. He began to heavily promote his bride as a former Sennett Bathing Beauty and “Follies” girl, which secured her a short contract with Fox Sunshine Comedies. When the couple moved to Los Angeles, she immediately found film work as comedian Larry Semon’s romantic lead in The Hick (1921).
In early 1922, Aye indicated that she no longer wanted to work in comedy and that she wanted to put her Mack Sennett and vaudeville days behind her. Wilson may not have liked her decision to stop making comedies because he concocted an odd publicity piece that showed a cartoon psychologist peering into her empty head with a telescope. The copy also used the word “temperament” in determining what roles she should play. (Note: Wilson would use the psycho-analysis to belittle her intelligence years later.)
While Aye spent most of 1922 appearing in Westerns. Wilson presided over the newly established Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS). He then made sure that Aye became one of its first WAMPAS Baby Stars, a title given to up-and-comers that are predicted to become major screen personalities. As part of the publicity, she drove a fancy car with her name emblazoned on the sides. She also starred in a a comedy short opposite Stan Laurel and directed by Broncho Billy Anderson.
Aye soon graduated from lead roles in B Westerns and comedy shorts to supporting roles in higher quality, more serious pictures. She appeared as a maid in Marshall Neilan‘s The Eternal Three, and as Bryant Washburn‘s love interest in The Meanest Man in the World. She also signed a five-year contract with Hollywood Productions, a branch of the Truart Film Corporation.
And then the bottom slowly fell out…
In the summer of 1923, shortly after signing with Hollywood Productions, Wilson left her. Her contract also yielded no new films. After her contract expired, she signed with Fox Studios in early 1924, thanks to her friendship with director John G. Blystone.
While it is not clear why Wilson left, Aye hinted that she had grown tired of his publicity spins and that he had lost romantic interest in her:
“Give me a non-professional husband!” she wrote. “Nothing is so wearing as too much of the same thing, and I believe an actor or director would give one no rest from shop talk. Besides, a man outside the studio is far more apt to remain the lover, for to him you can preserve the glamour of the screen. Nothing destroys his illusion of you, for he is unlike the man inside who knows all about illusions!”
That summer, she divorced Wilson on grounds of desertion. As part of their settlement, she agreed to “receive $50 a week from her former husband…and to have all the publicity Wilson can give her.”
After making three films at Fox (as a supporting character), she found herself once again without a studio contract. To keep her name in lights, she turned to the Los Angeles stage and scored a huge hit as a flapper in the comedy “White Collars,” a play that ran from 1924 to 1925. Her film career, however, fizzled. Her final screen credit was Irene (1926), a comedy starring Colleen Moore. Afterwards, she worked uncredited…if she worked at all.
“Friends console me by talking about what I used to be,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “But I’m sick of living in the past.”
Her mother Eloise was more optimistic, saying, “She was just discouraged. Everything will come out all right. I know.”
On September 22, 1936, she married Ross Wilson Forrester, a character actor who had also been in the “White Collars” theatrical cast many years ago. At some point after their marriage, he left the acting field to work for the Hughes Aircraft Company while Aye continued in vain to make a “comeback.”
After mother Eloise died in February 1951, Aye once again fell into a deep depression and began to express suicidal thoughts. Forrester, her husband, did not take her threats seriously. Then on July 10, 1951, after failing to get a role on a television play, she consumed a fatal dosage of bichloride of mercury while staying in a Culver City motel. When her husband discovered what she had done, Aye was “in a semi-conscious state.” Her last words were, “I dropped one of the tablets on the floor and I’m afraid the dog will get it.” Forrester called the medics and Aye was rushed to a hospital. By this time, she had slipped into a coma.
She passed away on July 21 (11 days later) and was quietly buried next to her mother at Forest Lawn Glendale. In 1953, Forrester married Pauline Garon, another forgotten silent film star, who happened to be one of Aye‘s closer friends. They stayed married until his death in 1964.