OBITUARY: Esther Muir

In A Day at the Races (1937), the villains seek to discredit Dr Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) in the eyes of his adoring patroness Mrs Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) by arranging for her to discover him in the arms of another woman. The siren chosen for this entrapment is a statuesque blonde called Flo Marlowe (Esther Muir), who coolly assures the head villain, "Don't worry, Toots - when you knock on the door, I'll have that moth- eaten Romeo playing the balcony scene!"

Flo's confidence is misplaced; by the end of her tryst, she's been verbally abused by Groucho ("Why, I've never been so insulted in my life!" "Well, it's early yet"), physically abused by Harpo and Chico, stuffed into a couch and sat on, had face-powder blown all over her, and wallpaper slapped on to her retreating posterior.

Although Races is the film for which Esther Muir is best remembered, she made over 70 features and comedy two-reelers during her 11-year Hollywood career, appearing with such stars as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor, Lionel and John Barrymore, William Powell, Melvyn Douglas, Wallace Beery, George Raft, Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

With no training other than in high-school plays, Esther Muir was cast in the Broadway revue The Greenwich Village Follies of 1922, her performance leading to roles in the musical comedies Battling Butler (1923), Queen High, Honeymoon Lane (both 1926) and Lady Fingers (1929). After a triumph in the play My Girl Friday (1929), she returned to the musical theatre in Lew Leslie's International Revue (1930), which ran for only 95 performances, despite such co-artists as Gertrude Lawrence, Harry Richman and Anton Dolin, and such Dorothy Fields/Jimmy McHugh songs as "Exactly Like You" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street".

Contributing dances to the International Revue was the choreographer Busby Berkeley. He and Muir were married and went to Hollywood after he was signed to direct the musical numbers in Samuel Goldwyn's Whoopee (1930). The marriage was short-lived and she turned to the screen to support herself, making her film debut in the Buster Keaton comedy Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1932). She also played comic foil to Fannie Brice in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), to Wheeler and Woolsey in So This is Africa (1933) and On Again - Off Again (1937) and to Andy Clyde in a series of two-reelers (1932- 33).

Because she eschewed long-term studio contracts, Muir made far more films as a freelance than most players. Generally, she played leading roles in such "B" features as Western Jamboree (1938), Misbehaving Husbands (1940) and Stolen Paradise (1941), whereas the size of her roles in the "A" features The Gilded Lily, Fury (both 1936) and Honky Tonk (1941) can be guessed by the credit titles, which tell us she played respectively: "Divorcee", "Girl in Nightclub" and "Blonde on Train".

By the end of the 1930s, her career began to lose much of its momentum; she had become increasingly disenchanted after losing the role of Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind (1939) to Ona Munson. In 1943, after the birth of her daughter Jaqualine, she retired from the screen. Five years later, her 15-year marriage to the songwriter Sam Coslow ended, and in 1952 she contracted polio. After an intensive period of therapy, she made such a dramatic recovery that she was able to begin a new career - in real estate. Until her retirement in the 1970s, Esther Muir supervised the construction of hundreds of new homes.

Dick Vosburgh

Esther Muir, actress: born Andes, New York 11 March 1903; married 1930 Busby Berkeley (marriage dissolved 1931), 1933 Sam Coslow (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1948); died Mount Kisco, New York 1 August 1995.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines