Mary Hartline Donahue, 92


One of the first superstars of television, Mary Hartline Donahue of Hillsboro died at her home in Hillsboro on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.

Final arrangements are incomplete at Hough and Sons Funeral Home in Hillsboro.

Mrs. Donahue was born on Oct. 29, 1927, the daughter of Paul and Dorothy (Crowder) Hartline. She graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1945 where she was a cheerleader for four years and a trumpet player in the band. From the time she was grade school age, her dream was to be a band leader.

After graduation, she spent a year in Chicago modeling, taking trumpet and voice lessons, and attending classes at Northwestern University. She began her show business career on a radio program call Junior Junction, later renamed Teen Town.

She became a household name as the star band leader of Super Circus, which began airing on ABC in January 1949 from the Civic Center in Chicago.  The show would typically open with the glamorous platinum blonde star, costumed in her signature short red dress with a white sequinned heart across the front, leading the band with a waving and twirling baton. While Super Circus was running, she also hosted The Mary Hartline Show for two years.

After Super Circus ended in 1956, she was the star of another ABC program, Princess Mary's Castle, in 1957-1958. At the height of her career, she returned to Hillsboro with the Super Circus band to appear in the Old Settlers parade in 1951.

She appeared on numerous television directory covers and was a pioneer merchandiser. Her celebrity appeal to both children and adults made her a coveted commercial spokesperson. She appeared on Kellogg's cereal boxes and in the 1950s was the face of Canada Dry ginger ale.

Her first marriage was to Nokomis native and retired NBC radio musician Harold Stokes. She had also married George Barnard and George Carlson. She married Woolworth Donahue of Woolworth five-and-dime stores on Dec. 26, 1964, and they lived happily in Palm Beach, FL, until his death on April 5, 1972.  The Donahues would typically spend summer in South Hampton, fall in New York, and winter in their Palm Beach estate.

In 1997, she helped open a permanent exhibit in her honor at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in downtown Chicago.  In 2004, she led the Old Settlers parade as grand marshal, and in 2010 earned the Hillsboro Education Foundation Distinguished Alumni award.

She was an active member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hillsboro. In Palm Beach, she had been a member of the Everglade Club, the Bath and Tennis Club and the Sailfish Club. She was also a member of the Chicago Yacht Club and Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) in Nassau, Bahamas.

She bought a 98-foot Feadship yacht in 1975 and christened it "Hartline" in memory of her father.  The yacht was used for trips to the Bahamas until she donated it to Greenpeace.

She took up tennis at age 37 and committed herself to it, practicing six hours a day. She won over 30 tournaments, and once played with U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew at his invitation.

Not only was Mrs. Donahue comfortable in the presence of heads of state, Hollywood elite, and British royalty, she was just as gracious in her hometown among family and friends.

She is survived by three nieces, Jan (Bob) Marcott of Effingham, Kim (Richard) Spencer of Sandpoint, ID, and Ann Coderko of Omaha, NE.

In addition to her husband and parents, she was preceded in death by a sister, Dorothy Jane Coderko of Hillsboro, and a nephew, Paul H. Coderko of Burbank, CA.