CHICAGO TV LEGENDS: Mary Hartline

We are in the next-to-last post in KALEIDOSCOPE’s very special series on the legends that have helped shaped Chicago TV over the past 60 years, and today we are going to once more shine the spotlight on a model and actress who would become one of television’s early stars, a woman by the name of…

Mary Hartline…

She was born Mary Pauline Hartline in Hillsboro, Illinois on October 29th, 1926, and she was the second child as well as the second daughter of Paul and Dorothy Crowder Hartline; Her father had been involved in local politics and would become chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

Following the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States, Paul became the Hillsboro postmaster. While Mary was at Hillsboro High School, she was elected the “Queen of Love and Beauty”, which was then the equivalent of a term in which was used now as a prom queen; She would later graduate from that school.

Meanwhile, a man by the name of Harold Stokes was a native of Montgomery County who had been gaining success as a band leader as well as a personality on the radio; While at a period that he was out of broadcasting, he had been living near Hillsboro and began persuaded to produce a local amateur show fundraiser, in which Mary Hartline was a dancer there.

Upon her graduation from high school, and with Stokes’ encouragement, Mary Hartline moved to Chicago intending to become a model; she became cast in an ABC radio show called Teen Town in 1946; Produced by Harold Stokes himself, the cast included Dick York as a mayor of a town that is only inhabited by teenagers. During her time on the show, Hartline was struck with a severe case of polio, but was quickly recovered; And then shortly after, Hartline and Stokes were married, she at age 21, he at age 42.

Harold Stokes had also produced a show called Super Circus, and by this time in 1949, the ABC television network had picked up the local show; Mary Hartline would move to that show in which her figure and looks would make her a national sensation, not to mention to fantasy of thousands of boys both young and old! Super Circus was hosted by a former real-life Chicago World’s Fair barker, Big Band announcer as well as radio host Claude Kirchner, and it featured Hartline as the band leader as well as circus clowns Cliffy, Scampy and Nicky, and a then-unknown Mike Wallace.

Super Circus became a smash hit; it was then put on the cover of a certain magazine called TV Guide and had been produced in the Windy City of Chicago throughout 1955. However, when the show moved to New York later, Mary Hartline had been replaced by Sandy Wirth and Claude Kirchner had been replaced by…Jerry Colonna?! (ahhh, yes!!!) That retooled show in which it had been produced would turn out to be the show’s final season.

Mary Hartline had since made the best of her years on that show, marketing her own line of dolls (for little girls as well as for lonely bachelors), as well as clothes and even boots; she even had her very own self-titled show on ABC-TV, but was short-lived due to the lack of finding a sponsor.

Hartline would return to Chicago TV with a show entitled Princess Mary’s Magic Castle in 1957, but that aired for a year and a half. She has since retired from show business and has resided in her hometown of Hillsboro.

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