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Molly O'Day; Actress in 'Our Gang,' Films

Obituaries

October 21, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Molly O'Day, a silent screen actress who began her short but memorable career as a teenager in the "Our Gang" comedies, has died. She was 88.

O'Day, who had lived in Avila Beach, Calif., since 1980, died Thursday in Arroyo Grande, Calif.

The actress received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the storied corner of Hollywood and Vine in the late 1920s. Hired by director Hal Roach for the "Our Gang" shorts when she was a schoolgirl, O'Day worked in comedies with such stars as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Only 16, she defeated 2,000 contenders in an audition for the tough girl heroine in the 1927 prizefighter movie "The Patent Leather Kid." That role led to major roles in "The Lovelorn," "Hard-Boiled Haggerty," "Shepherd of the Hills," "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come," "Show of Shows," "Sisters," "Hired Wife," "Gigolettes of Paris," "Skull and Crown" and other features.

Born Suzanne Noonan, O'Day was the youngest of 11 children of Metropolitan Opera singer Hannah Kelly and Bayonne, N.J., Judge Thomas Francis Patrick Noonan. After their father's death, O'Day and her two sisters moved to Hollywood. One of the sisters became an equally successful actress, Sally O'Neil, who died in 1968.

O'Day suffered the rigors of early Hollywood--including a much-reported two-year fight with her weight. At 18, in 1928, she was threatened with the loss of her contract if she could not fit into a specified size dress. So she resorted to "an operation for the removal of surplus fat" at Los Angeles' Queen of Angels Hospital.

Two years later, a sympathetic Los Angeles Examiner reporter wrote that she had finally triumphed over her weight problem: "She fasted and she dieted. She took mud baths and spring cures. She racked and contorted her body in furious gymnastics. And once, she even went under the surgeon's knife in the hope of being able to lose a little of that plumpness which threatened to bring her film career to an untimely close."

Although she refused to divulge her diet secrets, the actress was appraised by the newsman: "Yesterday, however, a new Molly appeared on the scene--a Molly slim, sylphlike and joyous, a Molly whose weight had toppled from 140 horrible pounds to a more than bearable 120, where it remains."

O'Day largely abandoned her career after her Tijuana marriage in 1934 to comedian Jack Durant of the vaudeville team Mitchell & Durant. The couple had four children, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1951. O'Day married oilman James McGregor Kenaston in Las Vegas on Nov. 9, 1952, and divorced him four years later.

As a resident of San Obispo County, O'Day was active in the Old Mission Parish and worked with the homeless.

Survivors include her children, retired Col. John Durant, Suzanne Raymond Bromberg, Virginia Durant Robertson and Jackie Baker; eight grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Services are at 1 p.m. Thursday in St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Arroyo Grande.

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