The less famous, but still undeniably talented, of the “Marilyn” sex symbols of the 1940s and 1950s was born Marvel Marilyn Maxwell in Clarinda, Iowa on August 3, 1921 (she later began using her middle name professionally at the suggestion of Louis B. Mayer). As a teenager, she worked as an usher at the Rialto Theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and later as a radio singer.
In 1942, Maxwell signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, appearing on such radio shows as “The Abbott and Costello Show”, “Beat the Band”, and “Stars Over Hollywood”. That same year, she made her movie debut in the star-studded World War II propaganda film Stand by for Action (1942). Maxwell went on to star in numerous popular movies of the 1940s and ’50s, among them Thousands Cheer (1943), Lost in a Harem (1944), Champion (1949), Key to the City (1950), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) (in which she introduced the carol “Silver Bells”), and Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958). Throughout the Second World War and later the Korean War, Maxwell also accompanied three-time co-star – and long-time lover – Bob Hope on USO tours to entertain troops.
Throughout the 1950s, Maxwell directed her focus to television, with guest appearances on such series as The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950), General Electric Theater (1953), Marilyn Maxwell, Marilyn Maxwell, The Red Skelton Hour (1951), The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show (1956), and Playhouse 90 (1956). This continued into the ’60s, as Maxwell appeared on Wagon Train (1957), The Danny Thomas Show (1953), Burke’s Law (1963), The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) and The Bob Hope Show (1950), and even game shows such as I’ve Got a Secret (1952) and Stump the Stars (1947). Her most prominent part in this period was that of diner owner Grace Sherwood on Bus Stop (1961), a series she left after one season after becoming bored of “doing nothing but pour a second cup of coffee and point the way to the men’s room”.
Maxwell was married three times – to actor John Conte, restaurateur Anders Nylund McIntyre, and producer Jerry Davis – each marriage ending in divorce. She had one son with Davis, Matthew (b. 1956). On March 20, 1972, 15 year-old Matthew returned home from school, only to find his mother dead from an apparent heart attack. Maxwell was 50 at the time of her death.