May McAvoy Poster


Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (8) | Personal Quotes (5) | Salary (4)

Overview (3)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Died in Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart attack)
Height 4' 11" (1.5 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Silent-screen star May McAvoy was born in an upscale area of New York City. Her well-to-do family owned and operated a large livery stable situated where the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel now stands. She initially wanted to be a teacher but became intrigued with show business after watching a friend rehearse a show at a nearby vaudeville theater. A model whose first job was a commercial for Domino Sugar, she moved into extra work in films and received her first major break with The Devil's Garden (1920) co-starring Lionel Barrymore. Stardom was hers, however, as the lead in Sentimental Tommy (1921), which led to a Paramount contract.

McAvoy later stated that she was not content to play whatever part the studio might choose for her and she demanded quality. She claimed that Cecil B. DeMille wanted her as the leading lady for _Adam's Rib (1923)_ but she balked at bobbing her hair and wearing the required pelt for the caveman sequence. She believed that he was able to have her unofficially suspended because of her refusal. Whatever her reasons for leaving Paramount, May bought out her contract and freelanced for the next six years. McAvoy wound up flourishing in such movies as The Enchanted Cottage (1924), Tessie (1925) and Lady Windermere's Fan (1925), while replacing Gertrude Olmstead as Esther in her best known silent film, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). Mostly forgotten today except by more devoted film enthusiasts, May nevertheless holds a steadfast position in film history thanks to her co-starring role in Hollywood's first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927) opposite Al Jolson, which is actually a silent film with several sound musical and speaking sequences; she herself had no talking scenes. Coincidentally, May also starred in England's first all-talking picture The Terror (1928). She retired after her marriage in 1929 and bore one son, Patrick. She returned to films for a decade and a half in the 1940s for MGM but never received any screen credit for these parts (her final role was as an extra in Ben-Hur (1959). She was widowed in 1973 and died a decade later of a heart attack.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

Maurice Cleary (1929 - 1973) (his death) (1 child)

Trivia (8)

She bought herself out of her Paramount contract for $10,000 when the roles she wanted--Babbie in The Little Minister (1922) and the lead in Peter Pan (1924)--went to Betty Compson and the then unknown Betty Bronson, respectively. McAvoy also claimed that Cecil B. DeMille prevented her from getting more parts at Paramount after she refused the lead role in Adam's Rib (1923), as she would have been required to cut her hair and wear a skimpy costume.
She felt the scripts she was given by Warners after The Jazz Singer (1927) were awful, so when she married in 1929 she decided to retire. Warners gave out the story that her voice was unsuited for talkies because she had a lisp, which was untrue. When film historians began using Warners' face-saving statement as fact, she considered suing the studio but ultimately did not.
Never weighed more than 100 pounds.
Her first film was a promotional commercial short for Domino Sugar filmed at Metro.
Treasurer for the Catholic Motion Picture Guild of America (per the 1931 Motion Picture Almanac).
Profiled in "Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen" by William Drew, 1997.
Played a leading role in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) and later finished her career as an extra in the subsequent adaptation, Ben-Hur (1959).
Sometimes referred to as the least-talented of American silent leading ladies, though this has come under dispute as more of her films have become available for viewing.

Personal Quotes (5)

I soon realized I was not cut out to be a schoolteacher, which is what it was assumed I would be. Every time I saw Ruth Wells I longed to be, like her, "in the profession". Finally, Mother saw I was making myself and everybody else miserable so she told me I could try my luck and at least get it out of my system.
I wanted to be somebody and was utterly miserable at high school. I had nothing in common with the other girls. All they thought about were good times, pretty clothes and boys. I was there to work. I left high school in my third year and decided I was going to succeed in pictures.
Madge Kennedy was absolutely marvelous to me [on A Perfect Lady (1918)]. It was the first and only time a star deliberately turned her back to the camera and gave me the scene. Miss Kennedy did it not once but several times, until the director [Clarence G. Badger] reminded her that she was the star audiences paid money to see.
[on New York] I was born here, but I like California so much better that I want to get back to the Coast as fast as I can. I hate New York.
I think shopping is a bore. I'm always delighted when I have a character part to do so I don't have to bother with clothes.

Salary (4)

Her Reputation (1923) $500 @ week
West of the Water Tower (1923) $1,500 @ week
Tarnish (1924) $3,000 @ week
Three Women (1924) $3,000 @ week

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