The mesmorizing and tragic true story of the iconic Mary Small, a child prodigy, radio singer and Broadway star whose moxie and resilience made her a defining symbol of the Greatest Generation. Despite her success as one of the most recognizable performers of the Golden Age and a fifty year career in show business, she disappeared into obscurity, died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave. This revealing biography by her long lost grandson breathes life into the obituary she never received yet so richly deserved.
Winner of Best Short Documentary at the Burbank International Film Festival (2015), Official Selection Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival (2015) and Official Selection of the New York Independent Film Festival (2015).
As we get ready to share the story of Mary Small with the world via iTunes and Amazon, I wanted to share a fictionalized story about my late discovery adoption that led to this production. Here is the story in its entirety. Enjoy!
The naiveté of the roaring twenties was fresh in the minds of most Americans in the first years of the Great Depression. That’s why the sudden slip into economic calamity following the stock market crash became such a transformational event in the evolution of our national character. It is juxtapositions like these on a grand scale that can force entire societies into circumspection, to question what is important in life and that journey has the power to define entire generations. This is the true story of how the character of one little girl was shaped by these uncertain times, how she matured into one of America’s biggest stars and ow time somehow forgot her… until a few years ago when I discovered that I was adopted and that she was my grandmother!
The secret of my adoption blew wide open one morning while my wife and I were at a prenatal center for an ultrasound and genetic testing. My parents had come along and as I sat between them, filling out family history paperwork I could sense something was bothering them. They realized that for the health of my unborn child they had to be honest about my birth and confessed that I was adopted. It came as a complete surprise. At 32, as I was just beginning to start a new family, I suddenly had to come to grips the revelation that I had never known my biological ancestors.
My research led me to Manhattan where I continued to hunt for the truth. Unfortunately, every road was a dead end. My biological mother had died and my father was a retired undercover officer in what amounted to witness protection. I was close to giving up. The one clue I had left was an address in midtown copied from an old phonebook in the public library. With my flight back to Los Angeles departing in a few hours, I had just enough time to check it out. After a few knocks, a nonagenarian once known as “the little girl with the big voice” answered her door and asked my name. I hesitated for some reason and said I was reporter. She kindly invited me in for a ginger ale and told me this story. Continue reading The Little Girl With The Big Voice
One of the great things about producing The Little Girl With the Big Voice is that it seems to be a gift that keeps on giving. One aspect of Mary’s life that we didn’t devote as much time as we probably should have was her career as a vocal instructor. She worked with and developed many great voices. As they Google Mary, wondering what happened to her, they’re delighted to know that we’ve tried to tell her incredibly surreal and wonderful story. Below are just a few testimonials that have come in since we made the film…
VINCENZA D. – I loved Mary like my musical mother and I was heartbroken for her that when she was ill, she felt no family was willing to help her. I was honored to fill the gap while I could. I am so pleased to see that you are honoring her memory. She so deserved it. Mary was a strong lady but she suffered a great deal of loss as you know. I fell in love with her from the first phone call. She was spunky and confident and said she had just come from buying up all the shoes in town.Being with Mary was like entering a time machine. She transported you to a magical world of yesteryear. It was a great place to be. Mary loved Nancy LaMott by the way who is now one of my favorite performers (died tragically of cancer). She also loved Streisand. She liked Sinatra’s storytelling in his songs but felt he was overrated.
DONNA S. – My name is Donna S. Your grandmother was my voice teacher when I was21 years old for about a year. She lived uptown on the west side in the 70-80 streets. She was quite the fireball!! She had a tough Broadway voice. I loved her! My favorite song that she taught me was, The best in the world, which I just shared today with my 16 year old daughter. I just started looking up your grandmother and I found your wonderful story. Mary had so much sheet music in her apartment!! She had me rehearsing weekly so I could be on the Joe Franklin show and after a few months your grandmother and I got on a bus and went to the live Joe Franklin show! I was petrified. She looked great! She had her high heel pumps on and a dress, she did her hair and her makeup nice ! She was so excited to bring one of her students with her to his show. I didn’t ge to sing that day but we had a blast!
LAURA C. –
I was delighted to find all this wonderful information about Mary. Mary was my vocal coach in the 80’s when she lived across the street from Julliard. I have nothing but fond memories of my time with Mary and the lessons we had together. I look forward to seeing the completed work when
The lovely Eleanor Vallee gave me this interview about Rudy Vallee earier this year. Below is a recent photo of her with Byron Clark, an actor and also a great guy.
Very sorry to update this post with notice of the death of Eleanor Vallee, author, entertainer and partner of Byron Clark and widow of Rudy Valle. This post includes outtakes of my first interview with her in 2013. Rest in peace Mrs. Vallee.
Big thanks to H. Kevin Miserocchi of the Tee and Charles Addams Family foundation for this nice gift, a limited edition reissue of the Addams Family television soundtrack, and also for the nod to Mary Small on the liner notes!!! A great way to begin wrapping up a great journey, and nice to know the story of these talented entertainers continues to live on!
Took a while, but thank you Stanford UniversityStanford Copyright & Fair Use Center for listing our work on your site, we couldn’t have done it without the Center’s documentary film program! The only way Mary Small’s story could ever have been told! ://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2015/11/little-girl-big-voice