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Marion Mack; Keaton Co-Star in 'The General'

May 14, 1989|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Times Staff Writer

Marion Mack, a film actress best remembered as Buster Keaton's leading lady in the 1926 silent film classic "The General," has died, it was learned last week.

Miss Mack was 87 when she died May 1 in Costa Mesa, where she had lived since 1949. She died of heart failure after a lingering heart condition and was buried Saturday in a private service.

Born Joey Marion McCreery in the tiny town of Mammoth, Utah, the budding actress came to Hollywood in April, 1920. "I went over to Mack Sennett's studio and they gave me a job right away at $25 a week," she said in a 1987 interview with The Times.

As one of Sennett's now legendary "Bathing Beauties," she appeared in a number of the slapstick king's short subjects. She later made comedies for Mermaid Pictures and briefly appeared in Westerns for Universal before writing and starring in "Mary of the Movies," based loosely on her experiences in Hollywood.

It was then that she took the name Marion Mack; it was also the first time she worked with the man whom she later married, producer Louis Lewyn. As Marion Mack, she starred in the features "Carnival Girl" and "One of the Bravest" before landing the role of Annabelle Lee, Keaton's love interest in "The General."

In the film, based loosely on a Civil War incident, Keaton played Confederate railroad engineer Johnnie Gray, who crosses enemy lines to recapture The General locomotive, which has been stolen with Annabelle Lee aboard. With its long, breathtaking chase scenes, elaborate stunts and visual sweep, "The General" is often counted alongside Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" as one of the silent era's great comic epics.

Miss Mack appeared in "Alice in Movieland," her last film, and retired to write scripts for her husband, who produced "magazines of the screen"--short humorous vignettes built around popular stars of the day. In 1949, after short-subject films declined in popularity, the former actress entered the real estate business and moved to booming Orange County. Louis Lewyn died in 1969.

In the early '70s, interest in "The General" began to revive and Miss Mack traveled extensively with the film, appearing at showings organized by film collector Raymond Rohauer.

"I enjoyed going back to traveling with the movie and being an actress again," she said in 1987. In contrast to his stone-faced screen persona, she remembered Keaton as a great practical joker.

"Everybody loved Buster," she said.

Miss Mack continued traveling with the film into the early '80s, but finally stopped because of her heart condition.

The continuing popularity of "The General" was gratifying, she said in 1987. "I used to say in my appearances that it was an international language, that everybody could understand the comedy in this movie."

She is survived by her son, Dr. Lannie Lewyn of Laguna Beach, a stepsister and three grandchildren.

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