Mary Jane Saunders

Active - 1949 - 1964  |   Born - Oct 12, 1943   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Mary Jane Saunders was one of the more promising child actors of the post-World War II period, alongside such slightly older contemporaries as Beau Bridges and Gigi Perreau. Despite a good start in a major Bob Hope vehicle, however, she failed to sustain her career into adulthood. Born Mary Jayne Saunders in Pasadena, CA, in 1943, she was the only child of an auto parts and machinery dealer and his homemaker wife. Saunders was thrust into a film career at age five when her parents sent in her photo, in response to a casting call from Paramount. The studio was looking for a five-year-old girl to play in Sorrowful Jones, a remake of Little Miss Marker, a 1930s Shirley Temple vehicle (based on a Damon Runyon story) about a little girl who is left with a bookmaker as security for a bet . Saunders won the part and the film was a success in the output of Bob Hope, if not one of his more enduring classics. She next turned up in a major role in Columbia Pictures' A Woman of Distinction, playing alongside Rosalind Russell, Ray Milland, and Edmund Gwenn. She worked in two more good romantic comedies, Father Is a Bachelor at Columbia, starring William Holden, and The Girl Next Door at Fox, with Dan Dailey and June Haver, both of which had her working with her fellow child actor Billy Gray. After that flurry of activity, Saunders was absent from the big screen until the end of the decade when she re-emerged as a teenager, playing one of 17 children of Clifton Webb's title character in The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker at 20th Century-Fox. Saunders turned up in one more movie, an uncredited role in Billy Wilder's Kiss Me Stupid (1964), but was most visible on television, playing the teenager Mary Gee in the 1961-62 season of Tales of Wells Fargo; two of her episodes were later intercut to form the feature film Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon. A pert blonde with an irrepressible manner, she seemed younger than her 17 years and was still playing teenagers in the mid-'60s on programs like My Three Sons and I Spy. In late 1967, she married major league baseball player Jay Johnstone and retired from acting.

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