The MGM Starlet from Muncie

The MGM Starlet from Muncie

Posted by: Karen Vincent on Thursday, August 24, 2017 at 9:00:00 am


Karen M. Vincent
Minnetrista Director of Collections  

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Since the old Warner Gear building was sold recently, I thought that I’d write about it or some of the products made there. We’ve received several collections lately that include Warner Gear materials—newsletters, correspondence, photos, etc. I love to read the old newsletters, so I pulled out a Gear-O-Gram from September 1946, and the first thing I noticed was an article titled Ellen Ross Now MGM Starlet: Former Traffic Clerk on Road to Movie Fame. The heck with transmissions; let’s talk about a movie starlet from Muncie.

Mary Ellen Nelson, born and raised in Muncie, was one of six children born to Claude and Elsie Nelson. She graduated from Muncie Central High School in 1941, attended Ball State Teachers College and worked in the traffic department at Warner Gear during the war. Her father operated a grinding machine and her mother was an inspector.

How did Mary Ellen Nelson become Ellen Ross, one of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer’s young starlets? First, she dreamed of becoming a top model, then she packed her bags, went to New York and applied at the Harry Conover Agency in July 1944. If you’re as lucky as Mary Ellen, you’re told by Mr. Conover “You’re just what we want.” Along the way, Mary Ellen married Jack Ross and dropped the “Mary” from her name. She’s now Ellen Ross, the model.

Mary Ellen's parents

In December 1944, Ellen was approached about being in the movies and taken to meet Marvin Schenck, vice president of M.G.M. Fast forward about eight months, and Ellen lands in California. Soon she had small parts, mostly uncredited, in the movies Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, Lady in the Lake, The Pirate, and Undercurrent. Ellen wasn’t a star, but she was working with them, including Katharine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, Robert Montgomery, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Van Johnson. She was even photographed dancing with Jimmy Stewart at the Chanteclair.

When asked about her day on set, Ellen says, “When I’m working on a picture, I report to the studio at 7 o-clock and go to the make-up department . . . Then I go to the stage where the picture is being made . . . The wardrobe lady helps me dress; then I’m all ready for the cameras at 9:30. We usually work until six.” On her off days, Ellen played tennis, swam, and painted, “which,” she said, “is what I like the most.”

Apparently, being an artist was what Ellen wanted the most. While she continued to play bit parts in movies and television occasionally, she concentrated on painting. She was, according to a Muncie friend, popular with Japanese collectors. A wealthy Louisiana collector purchased quite a few of her paintings, and actress Debbie Reynolds owned at least one. When she appeared in a bit part on the television show Hotel, the producers purchased five of her paintings to feature in the show. After Ellen divorced her first husband, she married Bob Anderson and continued to paint under the name Ellen Anderson until her death in 2014.

Maybe the next time that I pull out a Gear-O-Gram, I won’t get distracted so easily. Don’t bet on it.

Mary Ellen Nelson

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