Oscar Actors: McNamara, Maggie–Background, Career, Awards

Research in Progress (Jan 24, 2021)
Maggie McNamara Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class:

Nationality: US


Family: one of 4 children



Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role: The Moon Is Blue, 1954; aged 25 (reprised stage role)

Other Noms: 1

Other Awards: BAFTA nom

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image:

Last Film: Cardinal. 1963; aged 34

Career Output: small

Film Career Span: 1954-1963; 9 years

Marriage: actor and director David Swift; divorce


Death: 49; suicide

Marguerite “Maggie” McNamara, born June 18, 1928, died February 18, 1978, age 49.

McNamara began her career as a teenage fashion model.

She came to public attention in the controversial film The Moon Is Blue (1953) directed by Otto Preminger, reprising the role she played in the Chicago production of the play. She earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role in the film.

She appeared in only three films after The Moon Is Blue and made her final film in 1963.

After five guest-starring roles in TV series in the early 1960s, she retired from acting.

For the remainder of her life, she worked as a typist in New York City.

On February 18, 1978, McNamara died of a barbiturate overdose at the age of 49.

McNamara was born in New York City, one of four children of Timothy and Helen McNamara.

Her father was of Irish descent while her mother was born in England to Irish parents.

McNamara had two sisters, Helen and Cathleen, and a brother, Robert.

Her parents divorced when she was nine years old.

She attended Textile High School in New York.[6] As a teenager, McNamara was discovered when modeling agent John Robert Powers saw photos of her taken at a friend’s home. With her mother’s encouragement, McNamara signed with his agency and, while still in high school, began working as a teen model.

She was a successful teen model, appearing in Seventeen, Life, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. McNamara later commented on her modeling days: “I was terribly shy, and I used to work on myself to keep from showing it. When I was facing a camera, I pretended that neither it nor the photographer were there. I played a game with myself according to the clothes I was wearing…You have to feel right in what you are wearing, to have it look right. Just as each period has its own fashion, each person has his own style. When you find it, I think you should stay with it. When I was modeling I had to dress exactly as Vogue wanted the picture to be. But any good quality becomes something else when it is overdone, and I feel that this applies to being too clothes conscious. I don’t care what the fashion dictator says. I will not follow if it’s not right for me. But your overall impression consists of more than clothes. Your grooming, posture, the sound of your voice, and your perfume play a part in the total picture you create.”

In April 1950, McNamara appeared on the cover of Life magazine for a second time. After seeing her on the cover, producer David O. Selznick offered her a film contract, but she turned it down and continued to model while studying dance and acting.

In 1951, McNamara began her professional acting career when she was cast as Patty O’Neill in the Chicago stage production of “The Moon Is Blue.” Written by F. Hugh Herbert, the play was already a Broadway hit starring Barbara Bel Geddes. That same year, she starred on Broadway in “The King of Friday’s Men,” which ran for four performances.

In 1953, McNamara went to Hollywood to reprise her role in Otto Preminger’s film adaptation of The Moon Is Blue. The film was highly controversial at the time due to its sexual themes and frank dialogue (the play and the film contain the words “virgin”, “pregnant” and “seduce”). As a result, the film failed to secure the seal of approval from the MPAA. United Artists decided to release the film anyway, but it was banned in Kansas, Ohio, and Maryland and given a “Condemned” rating by the National Legion of Decency.

Despite the controversy, the film was a success and earned $3.5 million at the box office.

The Moon Is Blue received mixed reviews, but McNamara’s performance earned her a Best Actress Oscar and a BAFTA nomination for Most Promising Newcomer to Film.

After filming, McNamara signed with Fox and was cast in the 1954 romantic drama film Three Coins in the Fountain. The film was generally well received and helped to boost McNamara’s popularity.

The following year, she co-starred opposite Richard Burton in the biopic, Prince of Players. Although McNamara’s career started well, she made only one more film after Prince of Players. Part of the reason why her career stalled has been attributed to her refusal to move to Los Angeles.

She also refused to do publicity for her films or pose for the cheesecake shots that studios generally expected their female stars. Her career troubles were furthered by emotional problems. In his 1977 memoir, director Otto Preminger wrote that, “Maggie suffered greatly after becoming a star. Something went wrong with her marriage to director David Swift. She suffered a nervous breakdown.”

After 1955, McNamara did not accept any screen roles for the remainder of the decade. In 1962, she returned to acting in the Broadway play Step on a Crack. Later that year, she performed in a production of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn with Darren McGavin at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Florida. She had previously worked with McGavin on a one-night only performance of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

Otto Preminger cast her in a small role in The Cardinal, which became her final film role.

In 1963, McNamara turned to television, guest starring on episode of Ben Casey and starred as the title character in the Season 5 Twilight Zone episode “Ring-a-Ding Girl.”

McNamara’s last onscreen appearance was in the July 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour entitled “Body in the Barn”, opposite Lillian Gish.

In March 1951, McNamara married actor and director David Swift. The couple had no children and later divorced (Swift remarried in 1957).

McNamara never remarried. After her divorce, she had a relationship with screenwriter Walter Bernstein.

After her last onscreen role in 1964, McNamara fell out of public view. For the remaining 15 years of her life, she worked temp jobs as a typist to support herself. Her obituary noted she had been writing scripts, including one titled The Mighty Dandelion.

On February 18, 1978, McNamara was found dead on the couch of her apartment in New York City. She had taken a deliberate overdose of sleeping pills and tranquilizers and left a suicide note on her piano. According to police reports, she had history of mental illness, and friends reported that she had suffered from acute depression.