On the anniversary of Jean Harlow’s death, I thought it might be interesting to spotlight the stand-in, Mary Dees, who filled in for her in completing “Saratoga.” In this 1933 photo, Dees is photographed as a Busby Berkeley show girl trying hard NOT to look like Harlow.
Following Harlow’s death, M-G-M made the decision to complete the film. Dees was taught to walk and move like Harlow and the camera crew filmed her in long shots and with her back to the camera. There is at least one shot of her from the front, hidden behind a pair of binoculars. Meanwhile, M-G-M made no secret that a stand-in was used to complete the film, and Mary Dees received quite a bit of press, however, getting her name in newspapers did her little good, since the notices always had a hint of negativity.
The following is an example, taken from an article called, “Monte Blue Has 2 Stories Behind Act; Federation Sponsors Fine New Film,” by W. Ward Marsh, published in January of 1938.
"All of us have seen Miss [Mary] Dees perhaps a hundred times without realizing that she was the late Jean Harlow’s stand-in. When not standing-in she was away at various times with most of the companies in Hollywood making musicals, for she is a dancer and a ‘show girl’….
"Only rarely does a stand-in ever rise above the status of stand-in. She is doomed to follow the unheralded and unsung road by closely resembling the star she works for in the studio.
"Miss Dees is arriving through a different route. The illness and death of Jean Harlow, whom she closely resembles, are giving her the breaks she never had during her five years in Hollywood.
"She left Alabama five years ago and went to Hollywood, determined to make good. Her first opportunity came when she had a chance to appear in one of those gigantic Busby Berkeley production numbers for Warners.
"But she didn’t know how to dance!
"She told Berkeley she was a show girl and then the other girls who were also hired taught her to dance before they went to the studio. Maybe this would work!
"The life of a Hollywood show girl if she is pretty and shapely, is a life of hard work. After Miss Dees was spotted in a tune-show as a good stand-in for Miss Harlow, she worked at M.-G.-M. during all Miss Harlow’s pictures. When the star wasn’t working, Miss Dees was off to Paramount dancing in the Bing Crosby films or over at Warners in "Gold Diggers," "42nd Street" or "Footlight Parade." She did, as you know, do several scenes in "Saratoga," left incomplete by Miss Harlow’s death.
And now she’s under contract to M.G.M., and she’s hoping for that big break in films she sought five years ago when she came out of the deep south with nothing more than an idea that some day she’d make a name for herself in the show world.”
Sadly, she didn’t. M-G-M did nothing with her. Her last known film appearance was “A Night in Casablanca” in 1946. ~ Craig Owens