At the dawn of the television broadcast era, Mary Hartline dazzled the nation as the star of the children's show Super Circus. With her vivacious, effervescent personality and blonde good looks, Hartline quickly became a network star; many would go so far as to contend that she was America's first female television star. Hailing from Illinois, Hartline was especially dear to Chicagoans, who were pleased to see one of their own succeeding on such a national stage.
More than 50 years later, Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) will be hosting an event Saturday, July 28, to celebrate Hartline's career and achievements. As one of the first female television personalities, as well as one of the first television stars to hail from Chicago, museum president Bruce DuMont told Windy City Times that Hartline has a special place in the museum and that Chicago is very proud of her iconic status.
Hartline herself will appear at the event. DuMont (perhaps most familiar to Chicagoans for his "Beyond the Beltway" radio show) will be conducting an interview where he promises "she'll talk about her career, about what she's doing now, and how her career was transformed through her early television stardom."
DuMont said, "We were delighted to reconnect with Mary." Not only did the museum reconnect with Hartline, but Hartline will be donating one of her iconic sequined dresses to the museum, where it will be displayed with other Super Circus-related items. According to DuMont, the museum has two collectible Mary Hartline dolls, several cut-out dolls and a pair of the boots she wore in costume.
The dolls, in particular, are also notable because Hartline attracted so much attention that she was one of the first network stars to have an entire line of merchandise modeled after her. DuMont said that "as one of the first network stars, she was one of the first stars to be merchandised, with the Mary Hartline dresses, dolls and cutouts."
The dolls, especially, are highly collectible today. Hartline fondly recalled that, "Marshall Field's used to carry my whole line, and they were completely sold out, at that time." The museum is fortunate to have amassed a collection of Mary Hartline artifacts, but DuMont said that the museum would love to have a Mary Hartline baton, which her character twirled on the show. He mentioned that if any Windy City Times readers have one to donate to the museum, the museum would be happy to have the addition for the Mary Hartline display.
Hartline said that she's greatly looking forward to the event and that some of her fans have already reached out to let her know they'll be coming. At 84, she stays in touch with her fans primarily through letters. DuMont said that Hartline was quite the gay icon in her time, and that a couple of previous Mary Hartline appearances at the MBC have resulted in many gay fans appearing.
According to DuMont, Hartline "was a diva before most people knew what a diva was," which some might say would make her an obvious candidate for gay-icon status. "She was an American princess who fell in love with a wealthy man, who whisked her away," DuMont said, speaking of Hartline's marriage to Woolworth store heir Woolworth Donahue and her subsequent move to Palm Beach, Fla. He also mentioned that once she left Chicago for Palm Beach, "she had a well-documented, high-profile, very flamboyant lifestyle as a queen of the social circuit there."
Tickets for the event "Meet Mary Hartline: TV's First Woman Superstar" are available online at www.museum.tv for $12 each. Tickets will also be available the day of the event, provided that they do not sell out online. The event will take place at 12 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at the Museum of Broadcast Communications at 360 N. State St.