Maxine Hicks; Career Spanned Silents, TV


She arrived in Hollywoodland as a child, and heard her first profanity shouted between Cecil B. Demille and an unnamed actress on the set of the silent “Ben Hur.”

Nearly seven decades later, after dropping out of the business to raise three sons and earn what one called her “star on the Walk of Life,” she entertained new generations as the scatterbrained nun Sister Ethel on television’s “The Ten of Us.”

Maxine Elliott Hicks, billed in recent years as Maxine Elliott, died Jan. 10 in San Clemente, said her son Walt Dodge. She was 95.


Born in Denver to a wannabe stage mother, Hicks began acting at the age of 5. She performed in “The Things That Count” in Colorado Springs and then moved with the show to Broadway. The little girl appeared in several plays in New York before she was discovered by the early filmmaker Preston Kendall, and the family was talked into moving west.

Hicks made her film debut in “The Borrowed Finery” and went on to make more than 200 silent films, starring with such performers as Mary Pickford, Constance Binney, Wallace Reid, Tom Mix, Jackie Coogan, W.C. Fields and the entire Barrymore family.

She became one of the busiest juveniles in the silents, playing such plum roles as the daughter of Ethel Barrymore in “The Eternal Mother” and the bratty Susie May Squoggs, nemesis of America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford, in “Poor Little Rich Girl.”

When Hicks slapped Pickford in the “Rich Girl” film, its 1917 audiences were shocked. But off camera, the two remained fast friends until Pickford’s death. When Filmex presented an award to Pickford in 1976 for her “unparalleled contribution to the art form of this century,” it was Hicks who accepted the award for the ailing heroine.

Hicks moved successfully into talkies, but dropped out of Hollywood in the 1930s because, her son said, of a run-in between her controlling stage mother and Warner Bros.’ Jack Warner.

Years later, after her brood was grown, Hicks encountered Fields’ grandsons, who helped put her back in front of cameras. The medium was new--television--but her acting talent endured. Hicks did commercials on the small screen and plays on Los Angeles area stages, appearing in such standards as “The Miracle Worker,” “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Dinner at 8.”

She was well into her 80s when she landed the regular role as the sprightly Sister Ethel on the ABC sitcom “The Ten of Us,” involving a coach’s family (mostly girls) at a Catholic all-boys’ school.

The role opened up more opportunities, including parts in such motion pictures as “Defending Your Life” and “Beethoven” and the popular current television series “Frasier.” By then a bona fide old woman, Hicks played, well, an old woman. No matter. As she said in a recent interview, looking back at her serial career in the old silents and modern television: “I had a great time--I loved every minute of it.”

She is survived by her three sons, George and Walt Dodge and Dennis Evans, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They have requested that any memorial donations be made to the Starlight Foundation.