Marion MacDougall was born on August 12, 1883, in West Pittson, Pennsylvania. Marion was the daughter of Scottish and English immigrants who made a home in the small mining town that was situated half way between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, PA. Despite her greatest success being later in life as Aunt Clara on Bewitched, Marion always wanted to be an actress. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York (which was also a training ground for Agnes Moorehead in the 1920s and Elizabeth Montgomery in the late 1940s). She found her calling in stock theater in Connecticut. Surely, none would've guessed she'd be one of the famous witches of Westport back then. By 1905, Marion was performing on the famed Broadway stage.
Marion Lorne in the 1920s
It is not clear when Marion changed her surname from MacDougall to Lorne. When she married playwright Walter C. Hackett she had already established herself as Marion Lorne and retained the stage name throughout her long-standing career. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Lorne starred in many of Hackett's plays and the couple lived in England. Together, they founded the Whitehall Theater in London's West End. Even in these plays, Lorne had developed her niche as a ditzy, lovable klutz. Their theater, which still features live plays, was designed by Edward Stone and has a seating capacity of 646. In addition to Hackett's numerous comedic plays, such as Captain Applejack (1931) and The White Sisters (1933), the Whitehall Theater also featured the West End's first stripper, Phyllis Dixey. Each day between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m., the Whitehall Follies entertained the people of England during World War II. Unfortunately, Hackett passed away in 1942. In 1944, Brian Rix took over the theater, but kept the same type of farcical productions that Hackett and Lorne had maintained during their comedic reign of the British stage. By the 1970s, the theater housed a museum specializing in war memorabilia from both WWI and WWII. The Whitehall Theater is still active today.
Lorne the Legendary Stage Actress
Lorne moved back to the United States after her husband's passing. She toyed with retiring, but continued to work on the stage in plays such as Harvey. In 1951, Hitchcock tagged her as Mrs. Antony in Strangers on a Train (which also starred Bewitched cast mate Kasey Rogers). Hitchcock was so impressed with Lorne he once said, "She was more than an actress in England; she was an institution."
Lorne Eyeing Up Another Doorknob, No Doubt
By 1952, Lorne took her first step into the wonderful world of situation comedies by playing Mrs. Gurney in the TV series Mr. Peepers, about a high school science teacher, which ran until 1955. That same year, Lorne won the role of Aunt Clara in the movie The Girl Rush with Rosalind Russell. As fate would have it, that character's name would pop up again in Lorne's career with her most famous of roles.
Lorne went back to another TV series in 1958. The show, entitled Sally, ran for one year. After that she became a regular on the Gary Moore Show, which required physical comedy that involved Lorne doing such things as a Mexican hat dance with Carol Burnett, who was also a regular on the show. Lorne appeared in the variety show skits from 1958 to 1962.
Marion Lorne and Carol Burnett on a TV Guide Cover from October 1960
Lorne made her first appearance in the 7th episode of Bewitched, in which she played Samantha's clumsy and forgetful Aunt Clara, who helped convince one of Darrin's clients to stop negatively stereotyping witches . While the other witches zapped up picket signs for their cause, Clara was the lone witch lost to the true meaning of their protest and stood with her "Vote for Coolidge" sign engaging the hearts of the viewing audience forever. This is also the first episode where viewers learned of Clara's doorknob fetish, which quite often relied on Lorne's own collection of antique doorknobs as props on the set.
Lorne in The Witches Are Out, #7
Despite Lorne's age, she was able to do the physical comedy that Bewitched required just as she had done throughout her career. Quite often Lorne would be seen bouncing into walls instead of walking through them like the other witches or would land in the fireplace or broom closet with her fine millinery and fur covered in soot. She had perfected Clara's stammering and stuttering to the point that she would want to redo her scenes again if she didn't get them quite right, despite the fact that she was supposed to "witch" up the delivery.
Lorne with the Stephens Family in #119
Lorne went on to appear in 27 episodes of Bewitched, and was certainly one of the most memorable character actresses of the 1900s with her role as the often perplexed Aunt Clara. This character was one of the few relatives of Samantha's that Darrin actually liked and she was frequently on the show as a babysitter for the Stephen's budding witchlet after Tabitha's birth. Lorne made her final appearance as Clara in #137 where she accidentally zapped one of Tabitha's toys into an actual flying saucer with aliens. This episode aired in April of 1968. Lorne passed away of a heart attack on May 9, 1968.
Lorne with Montgomery in #136
Lorne was loved by her colleagues and fans of the show. She posthumously won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Aunt Clara in 1968 for Best Supporting Role in a Comedy Series. She had been nominated for this role the year before, as well. In 1967 Lorne made a brief appearance in the movie The Graduate where she can be spotted at the wedding reception with Alice Ghostley.
Ghostley and Lorne in The Graduate
This is quite ironic because Ghostley's Bewitched character, Esmeralda, assumed the role of the bumbling witch who couldn't quite handle her powers, but often watched over the Stephens children. Watching this scene from the movie, fans of Bewitched can almost sense that Lorne was passing her torch on for another fine character actress to carry on with a similar characteristics on show.
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Herbie J Pilato The Bewitched Book: The Cosmic Companion to TV's Most Magical Supernatural Situation Comedy. Dell Publishing, 1992.
Rogers, Kasey and Mark Wood. The Bewitched Cookbook: Magic in the Kitchen. Kensington Publishing Corp. 1996.