Margaret Lindsay in Public Enemy's Wife (1936)
September 19, 1910
Dubuque, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||May 9, 1981 (aged 70)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Domestic partner(s)||Mary McCarty|
Margaret Lindsay (September 19, 1910 - May 9, 1981) was an American film actress. Her time as a Warner Bros. contract player during the 1930s was particularly productive. She was noted for her supporting work in successful films of the 1930s and 1940s such as Jezebel (1938) and Scarlet Street (1945) and her leading roles in lower-budgeted B-movie films such as the Ellery Queen series at Columbia in the early 1940s. Critics regard her portrayal of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hepzibah Pyncheon in the 1940 film adaptation of The House of the Seven Gables as Lindsay's standout career role.
Born as Margaret Kies in Dubuque, Iowa, she was the oldest of five children of a pharmacist father who died in 1930 before her Hollywood career began. According to Tom Longden of the Des Moines Register, "Peg" was "a tomboy who liked to climb pear trees" and was a "roller-skating fiend". She graduated in 1930 from Visitation Academy in Dubuque.
After attending National Park Seminary in Washington, D.C., Lindsay convinced her parents to enroll her at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She then went abroad to England to make her stage debut. She appeared in plays such as Escape, Death Takes a Holiday, and The Romantic Age.
Lindsay was often mistaken as being British due to her convincing English accent, which impressed Universal Studios enough to sign her for their 1932 version of The Old Dark House. As James Robert Parish and William T. Leonard wrote in Hollywood Players: The Thirties (Arlington House, 1976), Lindsay returned to America and arrived in Hollywood, only to discover that Gloria Stuart had been cast in her role in the film.
After some minor roles in Pre-Code films such as Christopher Strong and the groundbreaking Baby Face, which starred Barbara Stanwyck, Lindsay was cast in the Fox Film Corporation's award-winning Cavalcade. Lindsay was selected for a small but memorable role as Edith Harris, a doomed English bride whose honeymoon voyage takes place on the Titanic. (Ironically Gloria Stuart also played a 101-year-old survivor in the 1997 movie Titanic for which she garnered her sole Academy Award nomination.)
Lindsay won the role by backing up her British accent with an elaborate "biography" that claimed she was born in a London suburb, the daughter of a London broker who sent her to a London convent for her education. "Although I looked and talked English ... to tell them I was actually from Iowa would have lost the assignment for me", she later explained.
Her work in Cavalcade earned her a contract at Warner Bros. where she became a reliable supporting player, working with Paul Muni, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Warren William, Leslie Howard, George Arliss, Humphrey Bogart, Boris Karloff and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Lindsay was cast four times as the love interest of James Cagney in Warner films from 1933-1935. She appeared with Cagney in four films: Frisco Kid, Devil Dogs of the Air, G-Men and Lady Killer.
Lindsay co-starred with Bette Davis in four Warners films: as Davis's sister in 1934's Fog Over Frisco; in 1935's Dangerous (for which Davis won her first Best Actress Academy Award); in Bordertown, co-starring Paul Muni, and, lastly, as Davis's rival for Henry Fonda's affections in Jezebel (1938), which earned Davis her second Best Actress Academy Award.
An example of her work in a leading role in lower budget films while at Warner Bros. was 1936's The Law in Her Hands, in which she played a mob lawyer. As film historian John McCarty wrote, it was "that rarity among gangster films to offer a female in the male-dominated mouthpiece role". Author Roger Dooley identified the film as "being the only film of the 1930s to concern itself with a pair of female legal partners". Made after the Motion Picture Production Code came into effect, however, The Law in Her Hands was forced into adopting "a reactionary stance towards the gender switch", and concluded with a plot twist that was the complete opposite of the Pre-Code period (1929-1934), when "female characters on the screen could say, do, and be whatever they wanted".
Perhaps Lindsay's finest film role was in The House of the Seven Gables in 1940, with George Sanders and Vincent Price. Directed by Joe May from a screenplay by Lester Cole, the film's musical score by Frank Skinner was nominated for an Academy Award. Price recalled that "Margaret Lindsay was a delight to work with and a very good actress." Michael Brunas, John Brunas and Tom Weaver wrote in Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-46 (McFarland, 1990), Lindsay, "...one of the loveliest and most talented of '30s leading ladies, contributes a fine, mature performance that's probably the best, certainly the most striking, in the picture....[h]ad a Bette Davis played Hepzibah, this same performance would be hailed as a classic..."
In a 2004 Classic Images article about cator and Lindsay's co-star Jon Hall, film historian Colin Briggs wrote that a letter he had received from Lindsay indicated that her part in The House of the Seven Gables was chosen as her "favorite role". Briggs also explained that the film she had the most fun with was 1947's The Vigilantes Return. "...[That] role was a complete departure from my usual parts and I grabbed it.... I even warbled a Mae West type ditty. As a man-chasing saloon singer after Jon Hall it was for me a totally extroverted style and I relished the opportunity.... I have a framed still from that film on a wall in my home."
Her 1940s film series work in Hollywood included Columbia's first entry in its Crime Doctor series, as well as her continuing role as Nikki Porter in Columbia's Ellery Queen series from 1940-1942. Author James Robert Parish wrote that "Columbia's one inspired touch in their Ellery Queen series was the addition of Nikki Porter ... as a freelance mystery writer who goes to work for Ellery as his secretary. She added a bubbling note of pretty distraction, since more often than not the plots called for her to do some amateur sleuthing to help out boss Ellery."
Author Jon Tuska's affection for the Ellery Queen series mystified its star Ralph Bellamy. During an interview by Tuska for his 1978 book, The Detective in Hollywood, he remarked, "I'm one of the few who does [like the series]." "I don't know how," Bellamy replied. "They were such quickie pictures." Tuska cited Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940) and Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery (1941) as the best of the Bellamy-Lindsay pairings. "The influence of The Thin Man series was apparent in reverse", Tuska noted about Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery. "Ellery and Nikki are unmarried but obviously in love with each other. Probably the biggest mystery... is how Ellery ever gets a book written. Not only is Nikki attractive and perfectly willing to show off her figure", Tuska wrote, "but she also likes to write her own stories on Queen's time, and gets carried away doing her own investigations." In Ellery Queen, Master Detective, "the amorous relationship between Ellery and Nikki Porter was given a dignity, and therefore integrity", Tuska wrote, "that was lacking in the two previous entries in the series", made at Republic Pictures before Bellamy and Lindsay were signed by Columbia.
Lindsay appeared in a supporting role in the 1942 film, The Spoilers, starring John Wayne, and in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street in 1945. While her work in the late 1940s would occasionally involve a supporting role in MGM films like Cass Timberlane with Spencer Tracy, her film career went into decline, with roles in films at Poverty Row studios like Monogram Pictures and PRC. She returned to the stage and co-starred with Franchot Tone in The Second Man.
She made her television debut in 1950 in The Importance of Being Earnest, which allowed her to once again display her finely-honed British accent. More television work followed. Lindsay appeared in only four films during the 1950s and two in the 1960s. Her final feature film was Tammy and the Doctor (1963).
Lindsay lived with her sister Helen in Hollywood. Despite being romantically linked to actors such as William Gargan and Edward Norris, she never married. Adding to the speculation regarding her sexual orientation was the fact that her public dating companions included Cesar Romero, Richard Deacon, and even Liberace, all of whom were gay. Lindsay's long-time companion was actress Mary McCarty.
Lindsay died at the age of 70 of emphysema in 1981 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, survived by her four sisters and one brother. Being a devout Roman Catholic, she was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.
Margaret Lindsay's sister, Jane Kies (1909-1985), was also an actress under the name of Jane Gilbert. In 1940, Jane married the son of Hedda Hopper, actor William Hopper, best known for his role as Paul Drake in the Perry Mason television series. Their daughter Joan was born in 1942, and the couple divorced in the early 1960s.