Honoring Mary Wickes, WU alum and actress


Mary Wickenhauser, WU student 1926-1930

Mary Wickes was born Mary Isabella Wickenhauser in St. Louis, Missouri on June 13, 1910.  She grew up in St. Louis and attended Washington University in St. Louis where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1930.  During her college years she performed in student theatre productions and with the St. Louis Little Theatre.

She became a well-known character actress with a long career in theatre, television, and film.  She performed in almost 200 theatre productions, more than 125 television shows, and over 50 films usually as nuns, nurses, housekeepers or other supporting roles.  You may recognize her in White Christmas, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Oklahoma!, Sister Act, or The Father Dowling Mysteries.  She died in Los Angeles, California on October 22, 1995.


Mary Wickes returns to campus, 1964 (#64-158B-3)

University Archives staff have installed an exhibit “In Character: The Life and Legacy of Mary Wickes” in the Olin Library Grand Staircase Lobby and Ginkgo Reading Room.  On display are selected materials from the Mary Wickes Papers, preserved in University Archives, including items from the actress’s childhood, her time as a Washington University undergraduate, her career, and her many contributions to the university over the years.

This exhibit coincides with the new biography Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before by Steve Taravella published in May 2013.  Taravella made extensive use of the Mary Wickes Papers as well as other archival sources and numerous interviews to write the biography.

For additional information on Mary Wickes please see our Research Guide.

There are several events relating to the exhibit:


Lecture, 4 p.m. Hurst Lounge in Duncker Hall

One of Wickes’ most successful movies was Sister Act (1992). She played the sarcastic aging choir director Sister Mary Lazarus and starred with Whoopi Goldberg. Bambi Haggins, an associate professor in Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University, will give a late-afternoon talk titled “Deconstructing Whoopi: Race, Gender and Persona Politics.” Sponsored by the Program in Film & Media Studies, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, African and African-American Studies and The Center for Humanities.

Exhibition Opening – In Character: The Life and Legacy of Mary Wickes
6 p.m. Olin Library’s Grand Staircase Lobby & Ginkgo Room (Level 1)

Drawing on University Archives’ Mary Wickes Papers, the exhibition includes materials from the actress’s childhood, her time as a student at Washington University, and her career in theater, television, and film. The display highlights Wickes’ legacy of giving back to the university and others. The opening includes a reception sponsored by Film & Media Studies and the University Libraries.

Film Screening, 7:30 p.m. Brown Hall 100
The Libraries and Film & Media Studies present a screening of one of Wickes’ later movies—Sister Act—at 7:30 p.m. Attendees may join Bambi Haggins, the author of Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona In Post-Soul America, and WUSTL Film & Media Studies faculty members Todd Decker and Gaylyn Studlar, for a discussion after the screening.

Exhibition Talk – Mary Wickes: How Washington University Launched an Actress of Character 4 p.m. Ginkgo Reading Room (Olin Library Level 1)

Steve Taravella, author of the new Mary Wickes biography Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before, will give a presentation in the same library space where the extensive Mary Wickes exhibition is on display. Taravella, a longtime journalist and award-winning writer based in Maryland, made extensive use of the Wickes collection in University Archives during his research for the book. A reception and book signing will follow the talk.

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