During the early 1900s she became a major vaudeville star and it was in 1902 that she met fellow Canadian, Mack Sennett, and helped him get a job in the theater. In addition to her stage work, Dressler recorded for Edison Records in 1909 and 1910. After Sennett became the owner his namesake motion picture studio, he convinced Dressler to star in his 1914 film Tillie's Punctured Romance opposite Sennett’s newly discovered actor, Charlie Chaplin. Dressler appeared in two more "Tillie" sequels plus other comedies until 1918 when she returned to work in vaudeville.
In 1927, after she had been secretly blacklisted by the theater production companies due to her strong stance in a labor dispute, a friend at MGM studios worked to get her a job and it would turn out to be another Canadian who gave her the opportunity to return to motion pictures. That Canadian was MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer who referred to her as the most adored person ever to set foot in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.
A robust woman of very plain features, Marie Dressler’s comedy films proved to be very popular with the movie-going public and an equally lucrative investment for MGM. Although past sixty years of age, she quickly became Hollywood’s number one box office attraction and stayed on top for four straight years. In addition to her comedic genius, she also demonstrated her considerable talents by taking on serious roles. For her starring portrayal in Min and Bill she won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Actress and was nominated again for Best Actress for her 1932 role in Emma.
Dressler followed these successes with more hits in 1933 but her career came to an abrupt end when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In all, Marie Dressler appeared in more than 40 films. Always seeing herself as physically unattractive, she authored an autobiography, The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling.
Marie Dressler died in Santa Barbara, California and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1731 Vine Street.. Each year the Marie Dressler Film Festival is held in her home town of Cobourg, Ontario.
See also: Other Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood