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Marvel Rea: 1919

Marvel Rea: 1919

"Mack Sennett Girl," circa 1919. Actress Marvel Rea, one of film producer Mack Sennett's well-rounded "bathing girls," in somewhat moldy National Photo glass negative. From a series of pictures using cars and tires as props. View full size.


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Researching Marvel Rea

I'm researching her life and death for an upcoming book of mine. If anyone has new info or a way I could contact living relatives, please let me know at my email:

Great Aunt Marvel

Heard lots of stories about Marvel from my aunts and grandmother. She was one of Mack's bathing beauties and a mermaid. One of her marriages was not listed. Wells was a banker. The missing husband was a very famous world class violinist. Do recall his name but she traveled with him on tour. The Wilkinson listed as her last husband Eddie was the brother of Dorothy Wilkinson. Who was married to her brother Tom. Marvel and Clyde where both drinking together at her time of death. Made a suicide pact together. She carried it out. He passed out.

She had a trail of bad marriages.
She thought she had nothing to live for.
She could not have kids.
She had a miscarriage while filming with a real Gorilla in a cage. She could not get pregnant after that.

New Shorpy addict here...

The almost exact same bathing suit was seen here a couple of months before, but no one deemed it worthy of comment. Perhaps it isn't? Both are 1919 bathing beauties, but while Miss Rea is identified as a Sennett girl, the other is one of Sidney Lust's chorus girls. Is the similarity just a coincidence?

Marvel Rea Wilkinson, 1901-1937

This is a great site, and I'm glad to see that other people remember Marvel Rea!

I've done a bit of research on her over the last few years, along with other Mack Sennett alumni, for my upcoming book "Mack Sennett's Fun Factory" (for McFarland), and I can provide a few more details about Marvel.

She was born on November 9, 1901 in Ainsworth, Nebraska, and came to California with her family by 1910.

A couple of years ago I looked up her death certificate, which is under her last married name (no mention of Rea). In August 1936, just a few weeks before the unfortunate events involving her being assaulted, she became engaged to an Edwin J. Wilkinson. Apparently they did marry, though I don't have the date.

However, sadly, Marvel L. Wilkinson died on June 17, 1937, at age 35 in Los Angeles. The cause of death on her death certificate is suicide by poison (ingestion of ant paste). Its hard to fathom what torment she must have gone through to lead to that end.

Her death certificate lists her occupation as actress, and that her last work in that profession was for the Fox Film Company in 1932.

In 1939, the three men convicted of Marvel's assault were released from San Quentin because of technicalities regarding their trial.

Brent Walker

Up too late

Obviously up too late. Tom Rea lived until 1956. Or it could be another relative.

134 West 117th

I wonder if her house is still there. I had a look and perhaps it still is. Thanks so much all for supplying information on Marvel she certainly did not have a happy life which is very sad indeed.

Go Clyde!

If Clyde died in 1943, it would be quite a trick for him to have had a daughter in 1949. Pretty sad though. Lots of early deaths there -- and pretty close together too.

Marvel Luciel Rea 1901-1937

Pacific Crest Cemetery, Redondo Beach, California

Eva Gay Rea 1895-1936
Clyde D.W. Rea 1907-1943
Marvel Luciel Rea 1901-1937

There is also an infant Mary Rea, 1949-1950, perhaps Clyde's daughter? California was not kind to this Midwestern family.

[Thank you, Anonymous Tipster! (How could Mary be Clyde's daughter if he died in 1943?) In any case now I'm really curious as to what happened to Marvel. I can think of all kinds of sad scenarios relating to that assault. - Dave]


According to a family tree I found Marvel died in 1937 and is buried in California. I have contacted the author to try and get more information.

Runnin' Wild!

Marvel Rea appears to have had a complicated life after she left Sennett. The lurid news details of her divorce and the later abduction reminded me of an antique saying used in my family to describe a girl who had Been Around: "She's seen more lighthouses than I've seen streetlamps!"

Nellie May Rea

I found Thomas's draft registration card from WWI. His occupation is listed as "film industry" and next of kin is Nellie May Rea -- so Marvel's mom went by the name Nellie May (Mae).

I'm on a roll!

Here's a biography of what appears to be Marvel's brother Thomas Rea:

The bio was written by Kevin Scott Rea. Might be able to find out about Marvel from him.

Marvel's Mom

The 1920 census has a Nellie. The 1930 has Mae. They are about the same age but are listed with different birthplaces. Could one be a stepmother? Or a mistake by the census taker? Or maybe her name was Nellie Mae. In 1920 Nellie is the wife of John Rea, so we don't know for sure she is Marvel's mother. In the 1910 census Nellie Rea is listed as the householders' daughter-in-law. Where John is we don't know.

Marvel in the Census

A Marvel Rea appears in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses, which all show her living in Los Angeles. In 1910, she is 9 years old and living with grandparents David and Mary, daughter Grace Conlin and daughter-in-law Nellie Rea. David's occupation is at City Hall and Marvel is listed as being born in Nebraska. There are four children in the house - Gay, Lramas (maybe Thomas?), Marvel and Clyde.

In the 1920 census, she is still in Los Angeles living with her parents at age 19, and listed as married. Parents are John and Nellie. John works as a building contractor. Siblings are Eva, Clyde and Thomas, plus two lodgers. Eva and Marvel's occupations are given as "actress, film industry" and Thomas's is "photographer, film industry."

In 1930 Marvel is still in Los Angeles, living in in a house valued at $3,000, which she owns. Listed as widowed and born in Nebraska and living with mother Mae (also listed as widowed) and brother Clyde (age 22), who works as a plasterer. She is listed as unemployed. They are not listed as having a radio set. The address is 134 West 117th Street, Los Angeles.

[Fascinating, thank you. So is her mother Nellie or Mae? [The answer: Nellie Mae.] If she was 9 in 1910 that means she was born in 1900 or 1901. - Dave]

More Marvel

Regarding Marvel's alleged 1903 birth date, we might take that with a grain of salt. It seems to have been calculated from the age given for her at the time of the 1936 assault trial. Age-fudging was pretty common for movie stars back then. (Although at least one news account did call her the "baby star" of silent films.) It would be nice to know what eventually became of her.



Marvel's life

Her page in Internet Movie Database lists 27 films, all between 1917 and 1921, and most with "come hither" titles (such as "Why Beaches are Popular"). Her marriage to Henry Page Wells in 1918 was eventful, according to the divorce petition she filed in 1922, which accused him of standing her on her head two weeks after the wedding, spending his salary on narcotics, and certain acts of impulsiveness and violence. Fast forward to September 1936, when the newspapers reported that the "33-year old blue-eyed blonde" was kidnapped by three youths in a red truck in south Los Angeles, subjected to a "night of terror" in a eucalyptus grove where she was "repeatedly mistreated," then released in Compton. Three suspects were quickly caught, then convicted by a jury that November and sent to San Quentin in January 1937. After that event, her name disappears from the papers.

Marvel Mystery Girl

So what ever happened to Marvel? I only find the films she was in and a short blurb about her being kidnapped and assaulted in L.A. near her home. Any further details about this lovely lady?

I don't know which I like better...

...the name "Marvel" or those wickedly cool shoes!

Bathing Beauty

They were called Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties. Several famous actresses got their start with Mack.

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