|Mamaw (in the hat) with her sisters at a family reunion.|
Ma Kettle is the role that came to define Main's career; she played the character in ten movies, from The Egg and I (1947) to The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm (1957). It's that Ma Kettle image that most strongly resembles my grandmother, always in turmoil but truly big-hearted, holding the family together with grits, glue, and gumption. Main inhabits similar types in many of her other films; she's a rough maternal force that we can't help but love, even if her antics sometimes embarrass her offspring. You'll find her playing the same type in Heaven Can Wait (1943) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).
1) Stella Dallas (1937) - Main plays the mother of Barbara Stanwyck's working-class heroine in this film destined to wring tears from every tender-hearted viewer who has ever wept at Dumbo.
2) The Women (1939) - In this all-female drama, Main appears as the proprietor of a divorce ranch in Reno, making her the mother hen to a coterie of unhappy heroines, including Norma Shearer, Paulette Goddard, and Rosalind Russell.
3) A Woman's Face (1941) - Main is almost unrecognizable as the white-haired, sour-faced housekeeper in this Joan Crawford melodrama. If you want to see a different side of the actress, this is the movie to watch.
5) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) - Even though she's technically the family's maid, Main still exudes crusty maternal devotion to the Smith clan, watching over Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, and the rest of the household.
6) The Harvey Girls (1946) - Once again appearing with Judy Garland, Main provides maternal guidance for a group of young ladies hired to tend a Harvey House, including Garland, Cyd Charisse, and Virginia O'Brien.
7) The Egg and I (1947) - In her first appearance as Ma Kettle, Main steals the picture from Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, with some help from Percy Kilbride as the shiftless Pa.
9) Summer Stock (1950) - Here's a third pairing of Main with Garland, this time with Main as the housekeeper to Garland's beleaguered heroine. Gene Kelly also stars.
10) The Long, Long Trailer (1953) - Main has a brief but memorable role in this comedy with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
This post is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Maudie Garlen, who was born in 1912 and died, too soon, in 1992. She was a great character, a good woman, and a glorious cook. The secrets of her butter roll have never been unraveled, and her chocolate pie has yet no equal. I will miss her for the rest of my life.