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Vail, Myrtle (1888–1978)

Vail, Myrtle (1888–1978)

American actress who co-starred with her daughter on the long-running radio show "Myrt and Marge." Born on January 7, 1888, in Joliet, Illinois; died on September 18, 1978, in Kansas City, Missouri; married George Damerel (an actor), in 1907 (died 1936); children: Donna Damerel (1908–1941, an actress); George.

Selected roles:

"Myrt and Marge" (radio serial, 1931–42); Bucket of Blood (1959); Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

Born in Joliet, Illinois, in 1888, Myrtle Vail became a screen, vaudeville, and radio actress. By age 17, she was already on stage as one of Ned Washburn's "broilers," another name for the chorus line that appeared in his show The Umpire. In 1907, Vail married George Damerel, a well-known actor who was the show's star. They had a daughter, Donna Damerel , the following year.

In 1924, the couple, known as "Damerel & Vail & Co.," changed the name of their act to "The Three of Us" when Donna joined her parents on stage. They traveled the Orpheum and Keith vaudeville circuits until 1925, when vaudeville began a sharp, irreversible decline and silent movies soared in popularity. They moved to Chicago where George entered real estate; but by 1929, when the stock market crashed, they were financially ruined.

The next summer, Vail devised the idea of a radio show about two show-business sisters and their backstage adventures. She would be the older sister, Myrt, a tough but good-hearted woman who watched over the well-being of her younger sister, Marge, played by Donna. Vail wrote ten scripts, showed them to sponsors from the Wrigley chewing gum company, and secured a deal for the show. With the strains of its theme song "Poor Butterfly," it debuted on November 2, 1931. "Myrt and Marge" was a hit, and became the most popular dramatic program on radio. The show ran opposite "Amos 'n' Andy" at 7 pm until 1937, when it was moved to daytime. For awhile, "Myrt and Marge" was so popular that it aired twice a day in order to cover the different time zones.

After Donna Damerel died in childbirth in 1941, Helen Mack played Marge for the rest of the season, but in 1942 the show was dropped despite outcries from loyal fans. In 1946, Vail brought it back in a syndicated version, but it lasted for less than a year. An unsuccessful television pilot was made in 1949, but did not sell. She later had bit parts in several films by B-movie king Roger Corman, including the beatnik horror-spoof A Bucket of Blood (1959) and the original, now-classic Little Shop of Horrors (1960), co-starring Audrey the flesh-eating plant. She died in Kansas City in 1978.

sources:

DeLong, Thomas A. Radio Stars. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1966.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of …? NY: Crown, 1970.

Truitt, Evelyn Mack. Who Was Who on Screen. 3rd ed. NY: R.R. Bowker, 1983.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer

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