Mary Astor

mary astor_restored

Prepared by Daniel B Miller

Mary Astor (born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke; May 3, 1906 – September 25, 1987) was an American actress.

She is best remembered for her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Astor began her long motion picture career as a teenager in the silent movies of the early 1920s. She eventually changed to talkies. At first her voice was considered too masculine and she was off the screen for a year. She appeared in a play with friend Florence Eldridge, and the film offers came in, so she was able to resume her career in talking films.


Four years later her career was nearly destroyed due to scandal. In 1936 Astor was later branded an adulterous wife by her ex-husband, in a custody fight over her daughter. Overcoming these stumbling blocks in her private life, Astor went on to greater success on screen, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Great Lie  (1941).

Astor was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player through most of the 1940s and continued to work in film, television and on stage until her retirement in 1964. Astor was the author of five novels.

Her autobiography was a bestseller, as was her later book, A Life on Film, which was about her career. Director Lindsay Anderson wrote of her in 1990 that “when two or three who love the cinema are gathered together, the name of Mary Astor always comes up, and everybody agrees that she was an actress of special attraction, whose qualities of depth and reality always seemed to illuminate the parts she played”.



Early life

Astor was born in Quincy, Illinois, the only child of Otto Ludwig Langhanke (October 2, 1871 – February 3, 1943) and Helen Marie de Vasconcellos (April 19, 1881 – January 18, 1947).

Both of her parents were teachers. Her father, a German man from Berlin, emigrated to the United States in 1891 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen; her American mother was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, and had Irish and Portuguese roots. They married on August 3, 1904 in Lyons, Kansas.

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Otto Ludwig Langhanke, Mary Astor’s father

Astor’s father taught German at Quincy High School until the U.S. entered World War I. Later on, he took up light farming. Astor’s mother, who had always wanted to be an actress, taught drama and elocution. Astor was home-schooled in academics and was taught to play the piano by her father, who insisted she practice daily. Her piano talents came in handy when she played piano in her films The Great Lie and Meet Me in St. Louis.


In 1919, Astor sent a photograph of herself to a beauty contest in Motion Picture Magazine, becoming a semifinalist. When Astor was 15, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, with her father teaching German in public schools. Astor took drama lessons and appeared in various amateur stage productions. The following year, she sent another photograph to Motion Picture Magazine, this time becoming a finalist and then runner-up in the national contest. Her father then moved the family to New York City, in order for his daughter to act in motion pictures. He managed her affairs from September 1920 to June 1930.


Manhattan photographer, Charles Albin, saw her photograph and asked the young girl with haunting eyes and long auburn hair, whose nickname was “Rusty”, to pose for him. The Albin photographs were seen by Harry Durant of Famous Players-Lasky and Astor was signed to a six-month contract with Paramount Pictures. Her name was changed to “Mary Astor” during a conference between Paramount Pictures chief Jesse Lasky, film producer Walter Wanger, and gossip columnist Louella Parsons.


Silent movie career


A 1924 publicity photo of Astor from Stars of the Photoplay

Astor’s first screen test was directed by Lillian Gish, who was so impressed with her recitation of Shakespeare that she shot a thousand feet of her.

She made her debut at age 14 in the 1921 film Sentimental Tommy, but her small part in a dream sequence wound up on the cutting room floor.



Sentimental Tommy (1921)  Dir: John S Robertson

Paramount let her contract lapse. She then appeared in some movie shorts with sequences based on famous paintings. She received critical recognition for the 1921 two-reeler The Beggar Maid. Her first feature-length movie was John Smith (1922), followed that same year by The Man Who Played God. In 1923, she and her parents moved to Hollywood.



The Beggar Maid (1921)  Dir: Herbert Blache

After appearing in several larger roles at various studios, she was again signed by Paramount, this time to a one-year contract at $500 a week.

After she appeared in several more movies, John Barrymore saw her photograph in a magazine and wanted her cast in his upcoming movie. On loan-out to Warner Bros., she starred with him in Beau Brummel (1924).


Beau Brummel (1924) Dir: Harry Beaumont 






Mary Astor and John Barrymore in Beau Brummel (1924) 

The older actor wooed the young actress, but their relationship was severely constrained by Astor’s parents’ unwillingness to let the couple spend time alone together; Mary was only seventeen and legally underage.

It was only after Barrymore convinced the Langhankes that his acting lessons required privacy that the couple managed to be alone at all. Their secret engagement ended largely because of the Langhankes’ interference and Astor’s inability to escape their heavy-handed authority, and because Barrymore became involved with Astor’s fellow WAMPAS Baby Star Dolores Costello, whom he later married.

In 1925, Astor’s parents bought a Moorish style mansion with 1 acre (4,000 m2) of land known as “Moorcrest” in the hills above Hollywood. The Langhankes not only lived lavishly off of Astor’s earnings, but kept her a virtual prisoner inside Moorcrest.

Moorcrest is notable not only for its ornate style, but its place as the most lavish residence associated with the Krotona Colony, a utopian society founded by the Theosophical Society in 1912.


Moorcrest Estate

The 6,432-square-foot gated estate was designed by philosophical architect Marie Russak Hotchener and built in 1921, combining Moorish, Gothic and Art Nouveau architectural influences to striking effect













Built by Marie Russak Hotchener, a Theosophist who had no formal architectural training, the house combines Moorish and Mission Revival styles and contains such Arts and Crafts features as art-glass windows (whose red lotus design Astor called “unfortunate”), and Batchelder tiles.

Moorcrest, which has since undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation, remains standing. Before the Langhankes bought it, it was rented by Charlie Chaplin, whose tenure is memorialized by an art glass window featuring the Little Tramp.


Astor’s parents were not Theosophists, though the family was friendly with both Marie Hotchener and her husband Harry, prominent TS members.

Marie Hotchener negotiated Astor’s right to a $5 a week allowance (at a time when she was making $2,500 a week) and the right to go to work unchaperoned by her mother.

The following year when she was 19, Astor, fed up with her father’s constant physical and psychological abuse as well as his control of her money, climbed from her second floor bedroom window and escaped to a hotel in Hollywood, as recounted in her memoirs.


Marie Rusak Hotchener (born Mary Ellen Barnard)

Hotchener facilitated her return by persuading Otto Langhanke to give Astor a savings account with $500 and the freedom to come and go as she pleased.

Nevertheless, she did not gain control of her salary until she was 26 years old, at which point her parents sued her for financial support. Astor settled the case by agreeing to pay her parents $100 a month. Otto Langhanke put Moorcrest up for auction in the early 1930s, hoping to realize more than the $80,000 he had been offered for it; it sold for $25,000.


Don Juan (1926)  Dir: Alan Crosland  



Mary Astor in Don Juan (1926)






Mary Astor and John Barrymore in Don Juan (1926)


Cast and crew of Don Juan (1926)

Astor continued to appear in movies at various studios. When her Paramount contract ended in 1925, she was signed at Warner Bros.

Among her assignments was another role with John Barrymore, this time in Don Juan (1926).

She was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1926, along with Mary BrianDolores CostelloJoan CrawfordDolores del RíoJanet Gaynor, and Fay Wray.

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WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926

On loan to Fox Film Corporation, Astor starred in Dressed To Kill (1928), which received good reviews.

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Dressed to Kill  (1928)



Edmund Lowe and Mary Astor in Dressed to Kill (1928)


Ben Bard in Dressed t o Kill (1928)

That same year, she starred in the sophisticated comedy Dry Martini at Fox. She later said that, while working on the latter, she “absorbed and assumed something of the atmosphere and emotional climate of the picture.”

She said it offered “a new and exciting point of view; with its specious doctrine of self-indulgence, it rushed into the vacuum of my moral sense and captivated me completely.”

When her Warner Bros. contract ended, she signed a contract with Fox for $3,750 a week. In 1928, she married director Kenneth Hawks at her family home, Moorcrest.


Dry Martini (1928)  Dir: Harry D’Arrast  


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Mary Astor and Albert Conti in Dry Martini (1928)


Mary Astor and Matt Moore in Dry Martini (1928)

He gave her a Packard automobile as a wedding present and the couple moved into a home high up on Appian Way, a small hilltop street in Laurel Canyon above the Sunset Strip. Their address was 8803 Appian Way.

Other celebrities who lived at different times on this short street include Errol Flynn and his French wife Lili Damita (8946 Appian Way); Ida Lupino (8761); fashion designer Jean Louis [Berthault] (8761); Ginger Rogers(8782); German composer Rudolf Friml (8782); Gypsy Rose Lee (8815 Appian Way); Carole King (8815); Courteney Cox (8815).

As the film industry made the transition to talkies, Fox gave her a sound test, which she failed because the studio found her voice to be too deep. Though this was probably due to early sound equipment and the inexperience of technicians, the studio released her from her contract and she found herself out of work for eight months in 1929.


Mary Astor and Kenneth Hawks on their Wedding Day

New beginnings

Astor took voice training and singing lessons in her time off, but no roles were offered. Her acting career was then given a boost by her friend, Florence Eldridge (wife of Fredric March), in whom she confided.

Eldridge, who was to star in the stage play Among the Married at the Majestic Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles, recommended Astor for the second female lead. The play was a success and her voice was deemed suitable, being described as low and vibrant.

She was happy to work again, but her happiness soon ended. On January 2, 1930, while filming sequences for the Fox movie Such Men Are Dangerous, Kenneth Hawks was killed in a mid-air plane crash over the Pacific.

Astor had just finished a matinee performance at the Majestic when Florence Eldridge gave her the news. She was rushed from the theatre to Eldridge’s apartment; a replacement, Doris Lloyd, stepped in for the next show. Astor remained with Eldridge at her apartment for some time, then soon returned to work.


Newspaper article on Kenneth Hawks’ death

Shortly after her husband’s death, she debuted in her first “talkie”, Ladies Love Brutes (1930) at Paramount, which co-starred friend Fredric March. 


Ladies Love Brutes  Dir: Rowland W Lee  (1930)  

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George Bancroft and Mary Astor in Ladies Love Brutes (1930)


Ladies Love Brutes - 1930
Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock (5858852a) Fredric March, Mary Astor Ladies Love Brutes – 1930 Director: Rowland V. Lee Paramount USA Film Portrait

Mary Astor and Fredric March in Ladies Love Brutes (1930)

While her career picked up, her private life remained difficult. After working on several more movies, she suffered delayed shock over her husband’s death and had a nervous breakdown.

During the months of her illness, she was attended to by Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, whom she married on June 29, 1931.


Mary Astor and Dr Franklyn Thorpe

That year, she starred as Nancy Gibson in Smart Woman, playing a woman determined to retrieve her husband from a gold-digging flirtation.

The clever dialogue, played against the trappings of a lavish mansion, involves another man who is obviously in love with Astor’s character.

This wealthy lord, at the behest of Gibson, attracts the attention of the gold-digger during lazy days at the manor. The husband, initially set upon divorcing Nancy and marrying the intruder “Peggy Preston”, is dismayed to find Peggy attracted to the newcomer because of his extraordinary wealth. All done in a civil, but cunning, manner.


Smart Woman  Dir: Gregory La Cava  (1931)  



Mary Astor and Johnny Halliday in Smart Woman (1931)


Mary Astor in Smart Woman (1931) 

In May 1932, the Thorpes purchased a yacht and sailed to Hawaii. Astor was expecting a baby in August, but gave birth in June in Honolulu. The child, a daughter, was named Marylyn Hauoli Thorpe: her first name combined her parents’ names and her middle name is Hawaiian. When they returned to Southern California,


Mary Astor with her baby Marylin Hauoli Thorpe in 1932

Astor freelanced and gained the pivotal role of Barbara Willis in MGM‘s Red Dust (1932) with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.


Red Dust  Dir: Victor Fleming  (1932)  





Clark Gable and Mary Astor in Red Dust (1932)


Jean Harlow and Mary Astor in Red Dust (1932)

In late 1932, Astor signed a featured player contract with Warner Bros. Meanwhile, besides spending lavishly, her parents invested in the stock market, which often turned out unprofitable.

While they remained in Moorcrest, Astor dubbed it a “white elephant”, and she refused to maintain the house. She had to turn to the Motion Picture Relief Fund in 1933 to pay her bills. In 1933, she appeared as the female lead, Hilda Lake, niece of the murder victims, in The Kennel Murder Case, co-starring with William Powell as detective Philo Vance.


The Kennel Murder Case  Dir: Michael Curtiz  (1933)






Mary Astor and William Powell in The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

Film critic William K. Everson pronounced it a “masterpiece” in the August 1984 issue of Films in Review.

Unhappy with her marriage, she took a break from movie-making in 1933 and went to New York alone. While there, enjoying a whirlwind social life, she met the playwright George Kaufman and they had an affair, which she documented in her diary.

George_S._Kaufman              George S Kauffman

scandals120409_1936_560  Mary Astor Diary


A legal battle drew press attention to Astor in 1936. Dr. Franklyn Thorpe divorced Astor in April 1935, and a custody battle resulted over their four-year-old daughter, Marylyn.


Los Angeles Examiner 14/07/1936

Thorpe threatened to use Astor’s diary in the proceedings, which told of her affairs with many celebrities, including George S. Kaufman. The diary was never formally offered as evidence during the trial, but Thorpe and his lawyers constantly referred to it, and its notoriety grew. Astor admitted that the diary existed and that she had documented her affair with Kaufman, but maintained that many of the parts that had been referred to were forgeries, following the theft of the diary from her desk.

THE_DIARY_of_MARY_ASTOR__35190 (1)

The diary was deemed inadmissible as a mutilated document, and the trial judge, Goodwin J. Knight, ordered it sealed and impounded. In 1952, by court order, Astor’s diary was removed from the bank vault where it had been sequestered for 16 years and destroyed.

Astor had just begun work as Edith Cortwright, opposite Walter Huston in the title role of Dodsworth as news of the diary became public. Producer Samuel Goldwyn was urged to fire her, as her contract included a morality clause, but Goldwyn refused and the movie was a hit.


Dodsworth  (1936)  Dir: William Wyler  


DODSWORTH, Walter Huston, Mary Astor, 1936



Dodsworth (1936) Directed by William Wyler Shown from left: Walter Huston, Mary Astor

Mary Astor and Walter Huston in Dodsworth (1936)


Ultimately, the scandals caused no harm to Astor’s career, which was actually revitalized because of the custody fight and the wide publicity it generated; Dodsworth (1936), with Walter Huston, was released to rave reviews, and the public’s acceptance assured the studios that she remained a viable commercial property.

In 1937, she returned to the stage in well-received productions of Noël Coward‘s Tonight at 8:30The Astonished Heart, and Still Life. She also began performing regularly on radio.

Some of her best movies were yet to come, including The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), John Ford‘s The Hurricane (1937), Midnight (1939) and Brigham Young (1940).


The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)  Dir: John Cromwell  


Mary Astor in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)



Mary Astor and Raymond Massey n The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)


Mary Astor and Ronald Colman in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)


The Hurricane (1937)  Dir: John Ford – Poster


C Aubrey Smith and Mary Astor in The Hurricane (1937)


Raymond Massay and Mary Astor in The Hurricane (1937)


Brigham Young: Frontiersman (1940)  Dir: Henry Hathaway 


Mary Astor in Brigham Young: Frontiersman (1940) 


Midnight (1939)  Dir: Mitchell Leisen

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Mary Astor and John Barrymore in Midnight (1939)


Claudette Colbert, Francis Lederer, Mary Astor and John Barrymore in Midnight (1939)


Francis Lederer and Mary Astor in Midnight (1939)

In John Huston‘s The Maltese Falcon (1941), Astor played scheming temptress Brigid O’Shaughnessy. The film also starred Humphrey Bogart and featured Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. This was to become her most memorable role.


The Maltese Falcon (1941)  Dir: John Huston


Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon (1941) 


John Huston, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart – publicity shot for The Maltese Falcon (1941) 


Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941) 

51wiRYad6eL._AC_Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon (1941) 


Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941) 

Medium shot of Mary Astor as Bridgid O’Shaughnessy/Miss. Wonderly/Miss. LaBlanc and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, who wears hat/fedora.

Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941) 

Another noteworthy performance was her Oscar-winning role as Sandra Kovak, the selfish, self-centered concert pianist, who willingly gives up her child, in The Great Lie (1941). George Brent played her intermittent love interest, but the film’s star was Bette Davis.


The Great Lie (1941)  Dir: Edmund Goulding


Bette Davis and Mary Astor in  The Great Lie (1941)  


Mary Astor in The Great Lie (1941)  


Bette Davis and Mary Astor in  The Great Lie (1941)  


Mary Astor in The Great Lie (1941)

Davis wanted Astor cast in the role after watching her screen test and seeing her play Tchaikovsky‘s Piano Concerto No. 1. She then recruited Astor to collaborate on rewriting the script, which Davis felt was mediocre and needed work to make it more interesting. Astor further followed Davis’s advice and sported a brazenly bobbed hairdo for the role.

The soundtrack of the movie in the scenes where she plays the concerto, with violent hand movements on the piano keyboard, was dubbed by pianist Max Rabinovitch. Davis deliberately stepped back to allow Astor to shine in her key scenes. As a result of her performance, Astor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, thanking Bette Davis and Tchaikovsky in her acceptance speech. Astor and Davis became good friends.


Bette Davis and Mary Astor in  The Great Lie (1941)  

Astor was not propelled into the upper echelon of movie stars by these successes, however.

She always declined offers of starring in her own right. Not wanting the responsibility of top billing and having to “carry the picture,” she preferred the security of being a featured player.

In 1942, she reunited with Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet in John Huston‘s Across the Pacific.


Across the Pacific (1942)  Dir: John Huston






Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in Across the Pacific (1942)  

Though usually cast in dramatic or melodramatic roles, Astor showed a flair for comedy as The Princess Centimillia in the Preston Sturges film, The Palm Beach Story (1942) for Paramount.


The Palm Beach Story (1942)  Dir: Preston Sturges 


Mary Astor in The Palm Beach Story (1942)  


Mary Astor and Joel McCrea in The Palm Beach Story (1942)  


Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert and Rudy Vallee in The Palm Beach Story (1942)  


Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert an Rudy Vallee in The Palm Beach Story (1942)   


Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert an Rudy Vallee in The Palm Beach Story (1942)   

In February 1943, Astor’s father, Otto Langhanke, died in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital as a result of a heart attack complicated by influenza. His wife and daughter were at his bedside.

That same year, Astor signed a seven-year contract with MGM, a regrettable mistake.

She was kept busy playing what she considered mediocre roles she called “Mothers for Metro.”

After Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), the studio allowed her to debut on Broadway in Many Happy Returns (1945). The play was a failure, but Astor received good reviews. On loan-out to 20th Century Fox, she played a wealthy widow in Claudia and David (1946).


Meet Me in St Louis (1944)  Dir: Vincente Minelli


Tom Drake, Mary Astor and Leon Ames in Meet Me in St Louis (1944)  


Mary Astor and Margaret O’Brien in Meet Me in St Louis (1944)  


Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor and Judy Garland in Meet Me in St Louis (1944) 


Mary Astor on the set of Meet Me in St Louis (1944)  


Claudia and David (1946)  Dir: Walter Lang


Mary Astor in Claudia and David (1946)  


Mary Astor and Dorothy McGuire in Claudia and David (1946)  

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Mary Astor and Robert Taylor in Claudia and David (1946)  

She was also loaned to Paramount to play Fritzi Haller in Desert Fury (1947) playing the tough owner of a saloon and casino in a small mining town.


Desert Fury (1947)  Dir: Lewis Allen


Lisabeth Scott and Mary Astor in Desert Fury (1947) 


Burt Lancaster, Lisbeth Scott, John Hodiak and Mary Astor in Desert Fury (1947)  

desert fury mary astor and company

Lisbeth Scott, John Hodiak and Mary Astor in Desert Fury (1947)  


Mary Astor in Desert Fury (1947)  


Burt Lancaster, Mary Astor and Lisbeth Scott in Desert Fury (1947)  

Before Helen Langhanke died of a heart ailment in January 1947, Astor said she sat in the hospital room with her mother, who was delirious and did not know her, and listened quietly as Helen told her all about terrible, selfish Lucile.

After her death, Astor said she spent countless hours copying her mother’s diary so she could read it and was surprised to learn how much she was hated. Back at MGM, Astor continued being cast in undistinguished, colorless mother roles. One exception was when she played a prostitute in the film noir Act of Violence (1948).

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Act of Violence (1948)  Dir: Fred Zinnemann


Van Heflin and Mary Astor in Act of Violence (1948) 


Act of Violence (1948)  Lobby Card

Act of Violence  - 1948
Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (2389494a) ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Mary Astor, Van Heflin Act of Violence – 1948
Act Of Violence - 1948
Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mgm/Kobal/Shutterstock (5876856a) Mary Astor, Van Heflin Act Of Violence – 1948 Director: Fred Zinnemann MGM USA Scene Still Acte de violence


Mary Astor and Berry Kroeger in Act of Violence (1948) 

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Act of Violence (1948)  Dir: Fred Zinnemann

The last straw came when she was cast as Marmee March in Little Women (1949).

She later described her disappointment with her cast members and the shoot in her memoir My Story: An Autobiography: “The girls all giggled and chattered and made a game of every scene. Taylor was engaged, and in love, and talking on the telephone most of the time (which is fine normally, but not when the production clock is ticking away the company’s money). June Allyson chewed gum constantly and irritatingly, and Maggie O’Brien looked at me as though she were planning something very unpleasant.”


Little Women (1949)  Dir: Mervyn LeRoy

MaryAstor Little Women 1949 Costume Test

Mary Astor in Little Women (1949)  

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Margaret O’Brien, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, June Alyson and Elisabeth Taylor in Little Women (1949)  

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June Alyson and Mary Astor in Little Women (1949) 


June Alyson and Mary Astor in Little Women (1949) 


Margaret O’Brien, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, June Alyson and Elisabeth Taylor in Little Women (1949)  

Astor found no redemption in playing what she considered another humdrum mother and grew despondent. The studio wanted to renew her contract, promising better roles, but she declined the offer.

Middle years

At the same time, Astor’s drinking was growing troublesome. She admitted to alcoholism as far back as the 1930s, but it had never interfered with her work schedule or performance. She hit bottom in 1949 and went into a sanitarium for alcoholics.

In 1951, she made a frantic call to her doctor and said that she had taken too many sleeping pills. She was taken to a hospital and the police reported that she had attempted suicide, this being her third overdose in two years, and the story made headline news. She maintained it had been an accident.


Mary Astor and Sandra Dee in Stranger in My Arms (1959)

That same year, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and converted to Roman Catholicism. She credited her recovery to a priest, Peter Ciklic, also a practicing psychologist, who encouraged her to write about her experiences as part of therapy. She also separated from her fourth husband, Thomas Wheelock (a stockbroker she married on Christmas Day 1945), but did not actually divorce him until 1955.

In 1952, she was cast in the leading role of the stage play The Time of the Cuckoo, which was later made into the movie Summertime (1955), and subsequently toured with it. After the tour, Astor lived in New York for four years and worked in the theater and on television.


Her TV debut was in The Missing Years (1954) for Kraft Television Theatre. She acted frequently in TV during the ensuing years and appeared on many big shows of the time, including The United States Steel HourAlfred Hitchcock PresentsRawhideDr. KildareBurke’s Law, and Ben Casey.


Mary Astor and Doro Merande in Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Episode: Mrs Herman and Mrs Fenimore (1958)


Mary Astor in Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Episode: Mrs Herman and Mrs Fenimore (1958)


Mary Astor and Franchot Tone in Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Episode: The Impossible Dream (1959)


Mary Astor in Dr Kildare “Operation Lazarus” (Season 1 Episode 33)


Mary Astor in Rawhide – Episode: Incident Near the Promised Land (1961)

In 1954, she appeared in the episode “Fearful Hour” of the Gary Merrill NBC series Justice in the role of a desperately poor and aging film star who attempts suicide to avoid exposure as a thief. She also played an ex-film star on the Boris Karloff-hosted Thriller, in an episode titled “Rose’s Last Summer.”


Mary Astor signed still from Thriler – Episode: Rose’s Last Summer (1960)

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Mary Astor in Thriler – Episode: Rose’s Last Summer (1960)


Mary Astor signed still from Thriler – Episode: Rose’s Last Summer (1960)

She starred on Broadway again in The Starcross Story (1954), another failure and returned to Southern California in 1956. She then went on a successful theatre tour of Don Juan in Hell directed by Agnes Moorehead and co-starring Ricardo Montalban.

Astor’s memoirMy Story: An Autobiography, was published in 1959, becoming a sensation in its day and a bestseller. It was the result of Father Ciklic urging her to write. Though she spoke of her troubled personal life, her parents, her marriages, the scandals, her battle with alcoholism, and other areas of her life, she did not mention the movie industry or her career in detail.


Mary Astor autobiography – My Story: An Autobiography (1959)

In 1971, a second book was published, A Life on Film, where she discussed her career. It too became a bestseller. Astor also tried her hand at fiction, writing the novels The Incredible Charley Carewe (1960), The Image of Kate (1962), which was published in 1964 in a German translation as Jahre und TageThe O’Conners (1964), Goodbye, Darling, be Happy (1965), and A Place Called Saturday (1968).


Mary Astor – My Life on Film (1971)

She appeared in several movies during this time, including A Stranger in My Arms (1959). She made a comeback in Return to Peyton Place (1961) playing Roberta Carter, the domineering mother who insists the “shocking” novel written by Allison Mackenzie should be banned from the school library, and received good reviews for her performance. According to film scholar Gavin Lambert, Astor invented memorable bits of business in her last scene of that film, where Roberta’s vindictive motives are exposed.







Mary Astor in Return to Peyton Place (1961)

Final years and death

After a trip around the world in 1964, Astor was lured away from her Malibu, California home, where she was gardening and working on her third novel, to make what she decided would be her final film.


Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)

She was offered the small role as a key figure, Jewel Mayhew, in the murder mystery Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, starring her friend Bette Davis. She filmed her final scene with Cecil Kellaway at Oak Alley Plantation in southern Louisiana. In A Life on Film, she described her character as “a little old lady, waiting to die.” Astor decided it would serve as her swan song in the movie business. After 109 movies in a career spanning 45 years, she turned in her Screen Actors Guild card and retired.



Olivia De Havilland, Mary Astor and William Walker in  Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Astor later moved to Fountain Valley, California, where she lived near her son, Tono del Campo (from her third marriage to Mexican film editor Manuel del Campo), and his family, until 1971.

That same year, suffering from a chronic heart condition, she moved to a small cottage on the grounds of the Motion Picture & Television Country House, the industry’s retirement facility in Woodland Hills, California, where she had a private table when she chose to eat in the resident dining room.

She appeared in the television documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980), produced by Kevin Brownlow, in which she discussed her roles during the silent film period. After years of retirement she had been urged to appear in Brownlow’s documentary by a former sister-in-law Bessie Love who also appeared in the series.


Astor died on September 25, 1987, at age 81, of respiratory failure due to pulmonary emphysema while in the hospital at the Motion Picture House complex.


Grave of Mary Astor at Holy Cross Cemetery

She is interred in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Astor has a star for motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6701 Hollywood Boulevard.


She has been quoted as saying, “There are five stages in the life of an actor: who’s Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who’s Mary Astor?” Several other actors, among them Jack Elam and Ricardo Montalban, have been quoted as saying this.

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1941 Gulf Screen Guild Theatre No Time for Comedy[17]




  1. Jump up to:a b Thomas, Bob (September 26, 1987). “‘Maltese Falcon’ star Astor dies at 81”. Kansas, Salina. The Salina Journal. p. 8. Retrieved February 20, 2016 – via open access publication – free to read
  2. Jump up to:a b c d “Mary Astor Not Actress by Accident; Career Planned”. Montana, Butte. The Montana Standard. August 24, 1936. p. 5. Retrieved February 20, 2016 – via open access publication – free to read
  3. Jump up^ Lindsay Anderson “Mary Astor”, Sight and Sound, Autumn 1990, reprinted in Paul Ryan (ed) Never Apologise: The Collected Writings, 2004, London: Plexus, pp. 431–36, 431
  4. Jump up^ Distinguished Americans & Canadians of Portuguese Descent
  5. Jump up^ [1]
  6. Jump up to:a b c “Mary Astor Dies at 81 – A ‘Maltese Falcon’ Star”. Los Angeles Times. (September 26, 1987) Accessed on August 14, 2007.
  7. Jump up^ Mary Astor, 81, Is Dead; Star of ‘Maltese Falcon’
  8. Jump up to:a b Mary Astor Profile
  9. Jump up^ Trivia – Mary Astor scandal
  10. Jump up^ Mary Astor, “A Life on Film”, Dell Publishing 1967, New York pp. 125–127
  11. Jump up^ Sorel, Edward (September 14, 2016). “Inside the Trial of Actress Mary Astor, Old Hollywood’s Juiciest Sex ScandalVanity Fair, September 2016, retrieved December 6, 2016.
  12. Jump up^ Justice. The Classic TV Archive. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  13. Jump up^ Brownlow, Kevin; Gill, David (1980). Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film. (video). Thames Video Production.
  14. Jump up^ Mary Astor at Find a Grave
  15. Jump up^ “Walk of Fame Stars, Mary Astor” Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved December 1,2016.
  16. Jump up^ Astor, Mary. A Life on FilmDell Publishing Company, 1969
  17. Jump up^ “Abel, Walter”radioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  18. Jump up^ “Woody Allen Reviews a Graphic Tale of a Scandalous Starlet” by Woody AllenThe New York Times, December 22, 2016


External links









Daniel B Miller

This month we celebrate our 7th year anniversary, and I would like to thank all of our readers, followers, members and participants for a wonderful and truly overwhelming support received so far.

Film Dialogue had began as a hub for the latest film history and industry related news on twitter, and in its seven years it evolved into a fully developed on line film history magazine.

I am delighted to see that we are attracting new members and followers every day across all platforms, with twitter and Film Dialogue Cinematheque on You Tube being the most popular.

Our blog had received a lot of support from cinephiles around the world, and it was simply astonishing to learn that more than 20 000 film loving souls have read our illustrated biographies of film directors and stars.

Our original collection of silent film documentaries and audio files, has by now been replaced by the On Line Cinematheque Playlists. This has been our most successful introduction to date, as so many of you enjoyed finding some very rare films of all genres in our collection.

Silent and experimental films appear to be amongst the most popular.

Our instagram and pinterest pages have provided the readers with photographs, posters and other memorabilia, while facebook gave us a selection of articles on filmmakers from the best magazines and industry publications.

As we grow, we carefully consider all of the feedback received, and believe that now is the time to make our film loving hub even more interactive.

So here are the changes that we are planning to introduce.

Our daily recommendations will be provided in a different format from today, focusing on a greater variety of films and genres. However, it is our intention to continue recommending the films from the BFI Archive, BFI Mediatheque and BFI Player.

Many of those are rare and not accessible through any other on line forums.

All of you who are London based, will know that a great deal of investment has been made over the years by the BFI in order to create its own Mediatheque and live streaming services.

BFI Mediatheque provides us with a variety of films and documentaries of all lengths, and is based at the BFI Southbank. I feel privileged to have been able to use it from its very first day. One of my early explorations of its catalogue brought a delightful discovery of the early Graham Cutts films from 1920s that featured Alfred Hitchcock in the role of his main assistant.

Needless to say, exploring those service’s is truly a must.

BFI Player, the Institute’s live streaming service has been in operation for a few years by now, and it certainly delivers, with many feature films and documentaries on its lists. Britain on Film section is always of a particular interest as many of its titles are unavailable elsewhere and in many cases have not been seen since their original release date.

We have been recommending quite a number of films from its Forgotten Features and Unavailable on DVD collections, and will continue to explore some of their less well known titles.

It is tremendous, that we can now access previously unseen materials with such ease on line, compared to not so distant past, when they could be viewed only in film museums and cinematheques.

I would strongly encourage everyone to use and thoroughly explore those services.

In addition, our recommendations will also focus on cinema releases and tv programmes. We have been supporting Talking Pictures from their early days, and will continue to do so. We relish their daily screenings of long forgotten classics, and always look forward to their remarkable display of previously unseen features and rare titles.

There are many more articles to come your way on our blog, with illustrated biographies of Charles Chaplin, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, King Vidor, Clarence Brown, Michael Curtiz to name only a few.

We also have a podcast planned for the future months, and if successful, we may also run a live discussion forum on you tube and twitch, dedicated to cinephilia, film history and industry news.

Personally, I have found the new means of on line live interaction through twitch and you tube to be unparalleled with anything witnessed in the past. No longer do we need to go to our favourite haunts to meet the like minded souls who share our interests. Now we can do it from the comfort of our own home and even on a fully global level.

Film lovers from around the world can now join us at any time, from any place, with our discussions becoming more diverse and fertile than ever before. Seeing and hearing another viewpoint, that may be linked to a different geographical location does make all of our debates richer in content and significantly more educational.

Discussing films has now been promoted to the remarkable, thoroughly enjoyable, and truly dizzying new heights.

Let’s explore those new methods of communication, make new friends, share our deep seated film passions with others, remain kind and attentive, and by doing so make this world a better place for us all.

Joan Blondell

Joan Blondell 3

Prepared by Daniel B Miller

Rose Joan Blondell (August 30, 1906 – December 25, 1979) was an American actress who performed in movies and on television for half a century.

After winning a beauty pageant, Blondell embarked upon a film career. Establishing herself as a sexy, wisecracking blonde, she was a Pre-Code staple of Warner Bros. pictures and appeared in more than 100 movies and television productions. She was most active in films during the 1930s, and during this time, she co-starred with Glenda Farrell in nine films, in which the duo portrayed gold-diggers. Blondell continued acting in major film roles for the rest of her life, often in small character roles or supporting television roles. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Blue Veil (1951).

Blondell was seen in featured roles in two films — Grease (1978) and The Champ (1979) — released shortly before her death from leukemia.

Joan Blondell 4


Early life

Rose Joan Blondell was born in New York to a vaudeville family; she gave her birthdate as August 30, 1909. Her father, Levi Bluestein, a vaudeville comedian known as Ed Blondell, was born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1866.

He toured for many years starring in Blondell and Fennessy’s stage version of The Katzenjammer Kids. Blondell’s mother was Catherine (known as “Kathryn” or “Katie”) Caine, born in BrooklynKings County, New York (later Brooklyn, New York City) on April 13, 1884, to Irish-American parents. Joan’s younger sister, Gloria Blondell, also an actress, was briefly married to film producer Albert R. Broccoli. The Blondell sisters had a brother, Ed Blondell, Jr.

Joan’s cradle was a property trunk as her parents moved from place to place and she made her first appearance on stage at the age of four months when she was carried on in a cradle as the daughter of Peggy Astaire in The Greatest Love. Her family comprised a vaudeville troupe, the “Bouncing Blondells”.


Joan had spent a year in Honolulu (1914–15) and six years in Australia and had seen much of the world by the time her family, who had been on tour, settled in DallasTexas, when she was a teenager.

Under the name Rosebud Blondell, she won the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant, was a finalist in an early version of the Miss Universe pageant in May 1926, and placed fourth for Miss America 1926 in Atlantic CityNew Jersey, in September of that same year.

She attended Santa Monica High School, where she acted in school plays and worked as an editor on the yearbook staff. While there (and after high school), she gave her name as Rosebud Blondell, such as when she attended North Texas State Teacher’s College (1926–1927), now the University of North Texas in Denton, where her mother was a local stage actress.



Around 1927, she returned to New York, worked as a fashion model, a circus hand, a clerk in a store, joined a stock company to become an actress, and performed on Broadway.

In 1927, the actress made her Broadway debut with a small role in “The Trial of Mary Dugan.” 

In 1930, she starred with James Cagney in her third play, Penny Arcade on Broadway. Penny Arcade lasted only three weeks, but Al Jolson saw it and bought the rights to the play for $20,000. He then sold the rights to Warner Bros., with the proviso that Blondell and Cagney be cast in the film version, then renamed Sinners’ Holiday (1930).





Penny Arcade (1930)

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Sinner’s Holiday (1930)

Placed under contract by Warner Bros., she moved to Hollywood, where studio boss Jack L. Warner wanted her to change her name to “Inez Holmes”, but Blondell refused. She began to appear in short subjects and was named as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1931.


1931 WAMPAS Baby Stars- L to R - Mae Madison, Evelyn Knapp, Marian Marsh, Polly Waters, Joan Blondell, Lilian Bond

Wampas Baby Stars  (1931)

Blondell was paired several more times with James Cagney in films, including The Public Enemy (1931), and she was one-half of a gold-digging duo with Glenda Farrell in nine films.

During the Great Depression, Blondell was one of the highest-paid individuals in the United States. Her stirring rendition of “Remember My Forgotten Man” in the Busby Berkeley production of Gold Diggers of 1933, in which she co-starred with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, became an anthem for the frustrations of unemployed people and the government’s failed economic policies.

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The Public Enemy (1931)








Gold Diggers of 1933

In the years that folowed, Joan Blondell made almost 50 films, with  1930s being the most productive period of her career. Some of the most successful included Night Nurse (1931),  The Greeks had a Word for Them (1932), The Crowd Roars (1932), Three on a Match (1932), Footlight Parade (1933), We’re in the Money (1935), Bullets or Ballots (1936), Three Men on a Horse (1936),  and Stand‐In (1937).

In most of these films she appeared as the wisecracking working girl who was the lead’s best friend. In gangster films and musicals she was mostly the second lead.

Often cast opposite the era’s leading male stars, she appeared  frequently opposite Mr. Cagney (seven times) and Dick Powell (also seven times)


Night Nurse (1931)


The Greeks had a Word for Them (1932)

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The Crowd Roars (1932)


Three on a Match (1932)


Footlight Parade (1933)


We’re in the Money (1935)

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Bullets or Ballots (1936)

In 1937, she starred opposite Errol Flynn in The Perfect Specimen. By the end of the decade, she had made nearly 50 films. She left Warner Bros. in 1939.

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Perfect SpecimenFlynn

The Perfect Specimen (1937)

In 1943, Blondell returned to Broadway as the star of Mike Todd’s short-lived production of The Naked Genius, a comedy written by Gypsy Rose Lee.

She was well received in her later films, despite being relegated to character and supporting roles after 1945, when she was billed below the title for the first time in 14 years in Adventure, which starred Clark Gable and Greer Garson.




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The Naked Genius (1943)






Adventure (1945)

She was also featured prominently in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and Nightmare Alley (1947).

In 1948, she left the screen for three years and concentrated on theater, performing in summer stock and touring with Cole Porter‘s musical, Something for the Boys. She later reprised her role of Aunt Sissy in the musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the national tour, starred opposite Tallulah Bankhead in the play Crazy October (which closed on the road) and played the nagging mother, Mae Peterson, in the national tour of Bye Bye Birdie.







A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)







Nightmare Alley (1947)





Crazy October (1948) with Tallullah Bankhead and Estelle Winwood





Bye Bye Birdie (1949)

Blondell returned to Hollywood in 1950. Her performance in her next film, The Blue Veil (1951), earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.  She played supporting roles in The Opposite Sex (1956), Desk Set (1957), and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957).

She received considerable acclaim for her performance as Lady Fingers in Norman Jewison‘s The Cincinnati Kid (1965), garnering a Golden Globe nomination and National Board of Review win for Best Supporting Actress. John Cassavetes cast her as a cynical, aging playwright in his film Opening Night (1977).






The Blue Veil (1951)

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The Opposite Sex (1956)

Blondell was widely seen in two films released not long before her death – Grease (1978), and the remake of The Champ (1979) with Jon Voight and Rick Schroder. She also appeared in two films released after her death – The Glove (1979), and The Woman Inside (1981).


Blondell also guest-starred in various television programs, including three 1963 episodes as the character Aunt Win in the CBS sitcom The Real McCoys, starring Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna.



Grease (1978)


THE CHAMP, Joan Blondell, 1979, (c) MGM

The Champ (1979)


The Glove (1979)


The Woman Inside (1981)

Also in 1963, Blondell was cast as the widowed Lucy Tutaine in the episode, “The Train and Lucy Tutaine”, on the syndicated anthology seriesDeath Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. In the story line, Lucy sues a railroad company, against great odds, for causing the death of her cow. Noah Beery Jr., was cast as Abel.

In 1964, she appeared in the episode “What’s in the Box?” of The Twilight Zone. She guest-starred in the episode “You’re All Right, Ivy” on Jack Palance‘s circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth, which aired on ABC in the 1963–64 television season. Her co-stars in the segment were Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton.



What is in the Box – Twilight Zone (1964)

In 1965, she was in the running to replace Vivian Vance as Lucille Ball’s sidekick on the hit CBS television comedy series The Lucy Show. Unfortunately, after filming her second guest appearance as Joan Brenner (Lucy’s new friend from California), Blondell walked off the set right after the episode had completed filming when Ball humiliated her by harshly criticizing her performance in front of the studio audience and technicians.


The Lucy Show (1965)

Blondell continued working on television. In 1968, she guest-starred on the CBS sitcom Family Affair, starring Brian Keith. She replaced Bea Benaderet, who was ill, for one episode on the CBS series Petticoat Junction. In that installment, Blondell played FloraBelle Campbell, a lady visitor to Hooterville, who had once dated Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) and Sam Drucker (Frank Cady).

That same year, Blondell co-starred in all 52 episodes of the ABC Western series Here Come the Brides, set in the Pacific Northwest of the 19th century. Her co-stars included singer Bobby Sherman and actor-singer David Soul. Blondell received two consecutive Emmy nominations for outstanding continued performance by an actress in a dramatic series for her role as Lottie Hatfield.




Here Come the Brides (1968)

In 1971, she followed Sada Thompson in the off-Broadway hit The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, with a young Swoosie Kurtz playing one of her daughters.


In 1972, she had an ongoing supporting role in the NBC series Banyon as Peggy Revere, who operated a secretarial school in the same building as Banyon’s detective agency. This was a 1930s period action drama starring Robert Forster in the title role. Her students worked in Banyon’s office, providing fresh faces for the show weekly. The series was replaced midseason.



Banyon (1972)

In 1974, Blondell played the wife of Tom D’Andrea‘s character in the television film, Bobby Parker and Company, with Ted Bessell in the starring role as the son of Blondell and D’Andrea. Coincidentally, D’Andrea had earlier played Jim Gillis, the television husband of Blondell’s younger sister, Gloria Blondell, in the NBC sitcom The Life of Riley.

Blondell has a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the film industry. Her star is located at 6311 Hollywood Boulevard. In December 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a retrospective of Blondell’s films in connection with a new biography by film professor Matthew Kennedy, and theatrical revival houses such as Film Forum in Manhattan have also projected many of her films recently.


She wrote a novel titled Center Door Fancy (New York: Delacorte Press, 1972), which was a thinly disguised autobiography with veiled references to June Allyson and Dick Powell.


Center Door Fancy – Joan Blondell Novel (1972)

Personal life

Joan Blondell
circa 1934: Joan Blondell (1903 – 1979), the Hollywood actress signed by Warner Brothers and First National. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Blondell was married three times, first to cinematographer George Barnes in a private wedding ceremony on January 4, 1933, at the First Presbyterian Church in PhoenixArizona. They had one child, Norman Scott Barnes, who became an accomplished producer, director, and television executive known as Norman Powell. Joan and George divorced in 1936.




Joan Blondell and George Barnes

On September 19, 1936, she married her second husband Dick Powell, an actor, director, and singer. They had a daughter, Ellen Powell, who became a studio hair stylist, and Powell adopted her son by her previous marriage under the name Norman Scott Powell. Blondell and Powell were divorced on July 14, 1944. Blondell was less than friendly with Powell’s next wife, June Allyson, although the two women would later appear together in The Opposite Sex (1956).




Joan Blondell and Dick Powell


Dick Powell, Ellen Powell and Joan Blondell

Joan Blondell and Dick Powell in Stage Struck (1936)

On July 5, 1947, Blondell married her third husband, producer Mike Todd, whom she divorced in 1950. Her marriage to Todd was an emotional and financial disaster.

She once accused him of holding her outside a hotel window by her ankles. He was also a heavy spender who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling (high-stakes bridge was one of his weaknesses) and went through a controversial bankruptcy during their marriage.




Joan Blondell and Mike Todd

An often-repeated myth is that Mike Todd left Blondell for Elizabeth Taylor, when in fact, she had left Todd of her own accord years before he met Taylor.


Blondell died of leukemia in Santa Monica, California, on Christmas Day, 1979, with her children and her sister at her bedside. She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Joan Blondell Plate, Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetary, Glendale, California


Feature films

Year Title Role Notes
1930 The Office Wife Katherine Mudcock [19]
1930 Sinners’ Holiday Myrtle [19]
1931 Other Men’s Women Marie [19]
1931 Millie Angie Wickerstaff [19]
1931 Illicit Helen Dukie Childers [19]
1931 God’s Gift to Women Fifi [19]
1931 The Public Enemy Mamie [19]
1931 My Past Marian Moore [19]
1931 Big Business Girl Pearl [19]
1931 Night Nurse Maloney [19]
1931 The Reckless Hour Myrtle Nichols [19]
1931 Blonde Crazy Ann Roberts [19]
1932 Union Depot Ruth Collins [19]
1932 The Greeks Had a Word for Them Schatze Citroux [19]
1932 The Crowd Roars Anne Scott [19]
1932 The Famous Ferguson Case Maizie Dickson [19]
1932 Make Me a Star Flips Montague [19]
1932 Miss Pinkerton Miss Adams [19]
1932 Big City Blues Vida Fleet [19]
1932 Three on a Match Mary Keaton [19]
1932 Central Park Dot [19]
1933 Lawyer Man Olga Michaels [19]
1933 Broadway Bad Tony Landers [19]
1933 Blondie Johnson Blondie Johnson [19]
1933 Gold Diggers of 1933 Carol King [19]
1933 Goodbye Again Anne Rogers [19]
1933 Footlight Parade Nan Prescott [19]
1933 Havana Widows Mae Knight [19]
1933 Convention City Nancy Lorraine Lost film[19]
1934 I’ve Got Your Number Marie Lawson [19]
1934 He Was Her Man Rose Lawrence [19]
1934 Smarty Vickie Wallace [19]
1934 Dames Mabel Anderson [19]
1934 Kansas City Princess Rosie Sturges [19]
1935 Traveling Saleslady Angela Twitchell [19]
1935 Broadway Gondolier Alice Hughes [19]
1935 We’re in the Money Ginger Stewart [19]
1935 Miss Pacific Fleet Gloria Fay [19]
1936 Colleen Minnie Hawkins [19]
1936 Sons o’ Guns Yvonne [19]
1936 Bullets or Ballots Lee Morgan [19]
1936 Stage Struck Peggy Revere [19]
1936 Three Men on a Horse Mabel [19]
1936 Gold Diggers of 1937 Norma Perry [19]
1937 The King and the Chorus Girl Dorothy Ellis [19]
1937 Back in Circulation Timmy Blake [19]
1937 The Perfect Specimen Mona Carter [19]
1937 Stand-In Lester Plum [19]
1938 There’s Always a Woman Sally Reardon [19]
1939 Off the Record Jane Morgan [19]
1939 East Side of Heaven Mary Wilson [19]
1939 The Kid from Kokomo Doris Harvey [19]
1939 Good Girls Go to Paris Jenny Swanson [19]
1939 The Amazing Mr. Williams Maxine Carroll [19]
1940 Two Girls on Broadway Molly Mahoney [19]
1940 I Want a Divorce Geraldine Brokaw [19]
1941 Topper Returns Gail Richards [19]
1941 Model Wife Joan Keathing Chambers [19]
1941 Three Girls About Town Hope Banner [19]
1942 Lady for a Night Jenny Blake [19]
1942 Cry ‘Havoc’ Grace Lambert [19]
1945 A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Aunt Sissy [19]
1945 Don Juan Quilligan Margie Mossrock [19]
1945 Adventure Helen Melohn [19]
1947 The Corpse Came C.O.D. Rosemary Durant [19]
1947 Nightmare Alley Zeena [19]
1947 Christmas Eve Ann Nelson [19]
1950 For Heaven’s Sake Daphne [19]
1951 The Blue Veil Annie Rawlins Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress[19]
1956 The Opposite Sex Edith Potter [19]
1957 Lizzie Aunt Morgan [19]
1957 Desk Set Peg Costello [19]
1957 This Could Be the Night Crystal [19]
1957 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Violet [19]
1961 Angel Baby Mollie Hays [19]
1964 Advance to the Rear Easy Jenny [19]
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Lady Fingers National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture[19]
1966 Ride Beyond Vengeance Mrs. Lavender [19]
1967 Waterhole #3 Lavinia [19]
1967 Winchester ’73 Larouge TV movie
1967 The Spy in the Green Hat Mrs. “Fingers” Steletto  
1968 Stay Away, Joe Glenda Callahan [19]
1968 Kona Coast Kittibelle Lightfoot [19]
1969 Big Daddy   [19]
1970 The Phynx Ruby [19]
1971 Support Your Local Gunfighter! Jenny [19]
1975 The Dead Don’t Die Levinia TV movie
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Landlady [19]
1976 Death at Love House Marcella Geffenhart  
1977 The Baron    
1977 Opening Night Sarah Goode Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture[19]
1978 Grease Vi [19]
1979 Battered Edna Thompson NBC TV movie
1979 The Champ Dolly Kenyon [19]
1979 The Glove Mrs. Fitzgerald  
1981 Feud Aunt Coll  

Short films

Year Title Notes
1929 Broadway’s Like That Vitaphone Varieties release 960 (December 1929)
Cast: Ruth EttingHumphrey BogartMary Philips[20]:50
1930 The Devil’s Parade Vitaphone Varieties release 992 (February 1930)
Cast: Sidney Toler[20]:52
1930 The Heart Breaker Vitaphone Varieties release 1012–1013 (March 1930)
Cast: Eddie Foy, Jr.[20]:53
1930 An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee  
1931 How I Play Golf, number 10, “Trouble Shots” Vitaphone release 4801
Cast: Bobby JonesJoe E. BrownEdward G. RobinsonDouglas Fairbanks, Jr.[20]:226
1933 Just Around the Corner  
1934 Hollywood Newsreel  
1941 Meet the Stars #2: Baby Stars  
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Plays According to Hoyle  


Year Title Role Notes
1961 The Untouchables Hannah ‘Lucy’ Wagnall Episode: “The Underground Court”
1963 The Virginian Rosanna Dobie Episode: “To Make This Place Remember”
1963 Wagon Train Ma Bleecker Episode: “The Bleecker Story”
1964 The Twilight Zone Phyllis Britt Episode: “What’s in the Box”
1964 Bonanza Lillian Manfred Episode: “The Pressure Game”
1965 Petticoat Junction season 5 episode 22 Florabelle Campbell
1965 My Three Sons Harriet Blanchard Episode: “Office Mother”
1968–70 Here Come the Brides Lottie Hatfield 52 episodes[21][22]
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1969–70)
1971 McCloud – ″Top of the World, Ma!″ Ernestine White Episode: “Top of the World, Ma”
1972–73 Banyon Peggy Revere 8 episodes
1979 The Rebels Mrs. Brumple TV movie

Radio broadcasts

Year Program Episode/source
1946 Hollywood Star Time The Lady Eve[23]




  1. ^ Obituary Variety, December 26, 1979.
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e “Joan Blondell, Actress, Dies at 70; Often Played Wisecracking Blonde”The New York Times. December 26, 1979. Archived from the original on November 20, 2015. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  3. ^ “[Unknown]”The Republic. Columbus, Indiana. October 7, 1971. p. 26. Archived from the original on February 16, 2018. The Katzenjammer Kids will be presented in Franklin this evening, the company having passed through here this morning on the way to that place. “Eddie Blondell’s true name is Levi Bluestein, and he was a resident of Columbus many years ago, living with his father at the foot of Washington street
  4. ^ “[Unknown]”The Republic. Columbus, Indiana. January 29, 1906. p. 1. Archived from the original on February 16, 2018. No allowance was made for alimony, but Mrs. Blondell seemed to be satisfied. The Blondells, who in private life were Mr. and Mrs. Levi Bluestein, have been annoyed by a case of incompatibility of temper for a long time. They were formerly a member of Katzenjammer Kids’ company….
  5. ^ “Blondell and Fennessy’s hurricane of fun and frolic, The Katzenjammer Kids” United States Library of Congress. Archived from the original on February 16, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  6. ^ “[Unknown]”Variety. November 1916. Archived from the original on March 18, 2017. Rowland & Clifford, a western producing firm, have also a production in preparation under the title of ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’, securing the rights from Blondell & Fennessy. Both shows are scheduled to play over the International, with the Hill production to be ready by Jan. 1.
  7. Jump up to:a b c d Kennedy, Matthew (September 28, 2009). “Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes”University Press of MississippiISBN 9781628461817 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ “Grave Spotlight – Joan Blondell”cemeteryguide.comArchived from the original on January 2, 2016. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  9. ^ Rathbun, Joe (December 10, 1944). “Joe’s Radio Parade”. Sunday Times Signal. p. 23. Archived from the original on May 4, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2015 – via open access
  10. ^ Punahou School Alumni Directory, 1841–1991. White Plains, New York: Harris Publishing Company, 1991.
  11. ^ Santa Monica High School Yearbook, 1925
  12. ^ “Page 68”The Yucca. North Texas State Teacher’s College. 1927. Retrieved December 2, 2019 – via
  13. ^ “Lights! Camera! University of North Texas!: Joan Blondell (1906 – 1979)” University of North Texas. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Joan Blondell at the Internet Broadway Database
  15. ^ “The Train and Lucy Tutaine on Death Valley Days. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  16. ^ “Joan Blondell”
  17. ^ “Hollywood Walk of Fame – Joan Blondell” Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  18. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-7864-7992-4. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  19. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao apaq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bubv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj “Joan Blondell”AFI Catalog of Feature FilmsAmerican Film Institute. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  20. Jump up to:a b c d Liebman, Roy (2003). Vitaphone Films: A Catalogue of the Features and Shorts. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0786446971.
  21. ^ Here Come the Brides – ‘The Complete 2nd Season’: Shout!’s Street Date, Cost, Packaging Archived November 12, 2011, at the Wayback November 7, 2001
  22. ^ Here Come the Brides – Official Press Release, Plus Rear Box Art & Revised Front Art Archived November 14, 2011, at the Wayback March 7, 2006
  23. ^ “Joan Blondell In ‘Lady Eve’ On WHP ‘Star Time. Harrisburg Telegraph. September 21, 1946. p. 17. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2015 – via open access

Further reading

  • Oderman, Stuart. Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 1-59393-320-7
  • Grabman, Sandra. Plain Beautiful: The Life of Peggy Ann Garner. BearManor Media, 2005. ISBN 1-59393-017-8

External links

Powder and Smoke (1924) and its forgotten stars

Powder and Smoke (1924)

Dir: James Parrott

Cast: Charley Chase, Blanche Mehaffey, Jack Gavin, Eddie Baker, Leo Willis, Chet Brandenburg, Lyle Tayo

Prepared by Daniel B Miller

Powder and Smoke (1924) is a Charley Chase one reeler produced by Hal Roach for the popular Jimmy Jump series.

Charley Chase made 104 films for Hal Roach, many of which were directed and written by his brother James Parrott.

In addition to its highly entertaining content, this film is a true archive gem, full of long forgotten personalities, events, facts and trivia from the golden era of silent cinema.

In this delightful little comedy, Chase was joined by the usual suspects of many Hal Roach Studio comedies. Those were fronted by Blanche Mehaffey who played the daughter and his love interest, followed by Jack Gavin as the Sheriff, Eddie Baker in the role of the Real Estate Agent, and with Leo Willis as the Bandit Chief.

Mehaffey and Gavin are hardly remembered by the filmgoers of today, but their lives and careers are certainly of interest.

Blanche Mehaffey

In her early years, Blanche Mehaffey was considered a huge potential, and began her career as a dancer with the Ziegfeld Foillies,

Mehaffey’s presence was described as “truly mesmerising” by many theater lovers of the day who watched her on stage. Those dedicated fans enchanted her boss Florenz Ziegfeld with so many endless compliments, that in return she began describing Mehaffey as “the girl with the most beautiful eyes in the whole world”.

Such great publicity opened the whole world of possibilities for the young performer.

Blanche Mehaffey

In no time she spearheaded the Baby Stars of 1924, where she was joined by Clara Bow, Dorothy Mackaill and Hazel Keneer.

Her film debut was in Hal Roach Studios one reeler Fully Insured (1923) directed by George Jeske and featuring two other silent comedy heavyweights, Snub Pollard and James Finlayson.

The success of this film had led to her pairing with Charley Chase and later Glenn Tyron. With Chase she made a selection of films in addition to Power and Smoke. Those included April Fool (1924), Just a Minute (1924), At First Sight (1924), One of the Family (1924) and Position Wanted (1924).

Blanche Mehaffey in The Samaritan (1931)

Her films with Tyron included Meet the Missus (1924), The Wages of Tin (1925), Tell it to the Policeman (1925), and The Haunted Honeymoon (1925).

Her comedy talent flourished when playing the love interest for those two leading men. Her biggest success of this period was in Malcolm St. Clair’s comedy A Woman of the World (1925), where she joined Paula Negri and Charles Emmet Mack.

Her persona in Powder and Smoke gave a contemporary touch to the female characters of 1920s westerns, also paving the way to prominent parts in a number of bigger productions.

Some of those films performed badly at the box office, and in 1927 she decided to use the name of Joan Alden to detach from those pictures. In 1928 she married a sound engineer and producer Ralph M Like hoping to rescue her career.

Unlike many other silent films stars, she prepared for the transition to sound in advance. She took a decision to depart from the industry for a full year, in order to study languages and enhance her voice techniques.

It is likely that being absent at the height of her silent film career, coupled with some box office failures affected her relationships with the leading producers and directors.

Blanche Mehaffey

She returned to silver screen two years later, with her first sound feature, again a western called The Sunrise Trail (1931), where she joined Bob Steele and Jack Rube Clifford.

Her presence in westerns continued, mainly in B productions, that supported other major features. Those never brought back the early successes of her silent comedies.

Similar to other actors of the silent and early sound periods, she drifted into obscurity. Her last film was made in 1938 and she died in 1968.

Jack Gavin

Another person of interest in Powder and Smoke was the film director and actor Jack Gavin (born John Francis Henry Gavin) who played the Sheriff.

Gavin came to Hollywood from Australia.

He was one of the early filmmakers of the 1910s, and a true pioneer of Australian cinema. Gavin’s versatility, coupled with the multitude of talents and highly developed entrepreneurial skills, enabled his early rise to prominence.

Jack Gavin in His Convict Bride (1918)

He is remembered for making films in Australia about bushrangers such as Thunderbolt (1910), Moonlite (1910), Ben Hall and His Gang (1911) and Frank Gardiner, the King of the Road (1911).

He was known by the nickname “Jack” and worked in collaboration with his wife Agnes who wrote many of his films. Most of those have not survived.

Everyones Magazine remarked in 1920: “although Gavin was prolific his later surviving work shows that his entrepreneurial talent outweighed any he might have had as director.”

He displayed a variety of talents and was never afraid to take up any role offered, if it guaranteed success or career enhancement. His life was eventful and highly productive but also full of difficult challenges.

Jack Gavin in Thunderbolt (1910)

He was accredited with Australia’s first animated short, an advertising film which featured a koala taking cough syrup.

Gavin was born in Sydney and described himself as busy since his early childhood, claiming that he worked for the circus company already at age ten.

He moved to the country and worked as cattle drover, being involved in a record cattle drive from Camooweal to Adelaide. He served for a time in the Sydney Lancers as the captain of a squadron. During his service he became interested in acting and received an offer to join the touring company of Bland Holt.

He stayed with them for a number of seasons, then travelled to the USA where he worked with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He married Agnes in 1898.

Gavin returned to Australia and organised his own Wild West Show which was successful at the Melbourne Cyclorama, although plagued by a number of legal troubles. Gavin eventually had a company of 150 before moving into filmmaking. In 1908 he started managing theatres which he did for the next few years, displaying versatility with entrepreneurial knowledge and skill.

His debut feature film was about Thunderbolt in 1910, produced by H A Forsyth, and its success launched his career.

Jack Gavin filming Moonlite (1910)

He followed this up with Moonlite  in the same year. He directed and starred in both films which was well noted. By February 1911 The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People described:”more film has been used over Jack Gavin than over any other Australian biograph actor.” They described him as “the beauteous bushranger”.

Overall success of Gavin’s bushranging films was attributed to two main factors: the quality of horsemanship in them, and the fact they were normally shot on the actual locations where the events occurred.

General Gossip: The Referee stated in 1911 that “The pictures already turned out by Mr. Gavin demonstrates that in biographic art Australian producers are in no way behind their European and American brothers. Clearness in detail and execution, with the cleverly-constructed stories by Agnes Gavin enable Mr. Gavin to offer attractive films.”

Gavin’s films were also often accompanied by popular lecturer Charles Woods, whose tales would delight the audiences country wide.

Jack Gavin in He Forgot to Remember (1926)

His first two movies were made for H.A. Forsyth at Southern Cross Motion Pictures but he and Forsyth had a falling out and Gavin went his separate way, publicly announcing the fact in January 1911.

In July 1911 he set up his own company, the Gavin Photo Play Company, based out of Waverley.

He was involved in the formation of the Australian Photo-Play Company, but then established his own production company in October 1911. When bushranging films were banned in Australia in 1912, he turned to dramatising other true characters, such as Edith Cavell and Charles Fryatt.

In 1912 Gavin was arrested for owing money to a business associate though he was later released.

In January 1917 he took out a lease on a studio at North Sydney and announced plans for make four feature films over a year, starting with The Murder of Captain Fryatt. He also started up a film school and spoke of offers from America.

As making movies in Australia became increasingly difficult for him, Gavin moved to Hollywood, where he lived for eight years.

Jack Gavin in Looking for Sally (1925)

He told reporters from The Film Trade: Maitland Weekly Mercury NSW in 1927, that he appeared in over 300 films. Claimed he was a good friend of Lon Chaney, Rudolph Valentino and Lon Chaney.

In Hollywood he also worked with harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard.

Gavin always stated that he was particularly pleased with his public efforts to popularise the drinking of tea in Hollywood.

Jack Gavin in Official Officers (1925)

He returned to Australia in February 1922 to make several outback films, including a serial based on notorious criminal Ned Kelly. He also set up a new company in Brisbane, but faced serious censorship problems and could not raise enough capital for what was to be his major project.

Disappointed, he went back to Hollywood in May 1923, where he faced further challenges with casting and overall working conditions, then returned to Australia in 1925.

As a great supporter of the domestic production and the Australian cinema overall, he gave evidence at the 1928 Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia.

He passionately argued for a regular and easily verifiable quota for Australian films.

Agnes Gavin ( formerly Wangnheim, Kurtz ) in The Assigned Servant (1911) directed by her husband Jack Gavin

His contemporaries described Gavin as “a big man with a generous and naive personality… more enthusiasm and stubborn persistence than talent.”

Towards the end of his life he lived in a flat in Neutral Bay and suffered from rheumatism.

He died in 1938 survived by his wife Agnes and their daughters.

His personality, highly cinematic presence in so many one and two reelers as well as versatility, drive us to futher research and strongly stimulate further learning about his contemporaries from the 1920s.

Eddie Baker

Eddie Baker, who played the Real Estate Agent, is another actor and director from the golden age of silent cinema. He made more than 300 films.

Eddie Baker

Baker played supporting roles in many silent comedies with Gale Henry, Snub Pollard, Jobyna Ralston, James Parrott, Stan Laurel, Katherine Grant, Charlie Chase, Harry Langdon, Bobby Vernon, Bill Dooley and Jimmie Adams. He was also one of the original Keystone Cops.

Sadly he is only remembered for his presence in Laurel and Hardy films, and for his uncredited role as a boxing referee in Charles Chaplin’s City Lights (1931).

Eddie Baker in Get Busy (1924)

He represented those early cinema actors who subscribed to the Hollywood assembly line of mass production, men and women who would embrace any opportunity offered.

Baker would play any given role from cafe owner, laundry worker, german agent, stable hand, cop, prospector, boss, to detective, train official and plantation owner.

His talent for slapstick and situational comedy thrived when in some of the films he joined the biggest stars of that period.

With Stan Laurel he excelled in Oranges and Lemons (1923), A Man About Town (1923), Short Orders (1923) Gas and Air (1923) and Smithy (1924). With Charley Chase in addition to Powder and Smoke he was in Hard Knocks (1924), and Publicity Pays (1924). With Harry Langdon he was in Sea Squawk (1925), Tied for Life (1933), Knight Duty (1933) and Tired Feet (1933).

Eddie Baker in A Man About Town (1923)

With the onset of sound in pictures, he was demoted to minor, episodic roles for which he was rarely credited. Baker died in 1968 from emphysema.

Leo Willis

Leo Willis was also a veteran of early silent years, whose career began in films of Thomas Ince with William S Hart.

Leo Willis

Similar to Edie Baker he played tough characters on either side of the law and a selection of comic villains in films with Chase, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy.

He was a Hal Roach Studios regular and is best remembered for The Bulls Eye (1917), The Rent Collector (1921), Timber Queen ,(1922), Wild Bill Hickok (1923), Isn’t Life Terrible (1925), and The Kid Brother (1927).

Leo Willis in Sittin’Pretty (1924)

Similar to Baker, in sound pictures he was given insignificant parts and worked as an extra. He died in 1952.

Charles Chaplin

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Charles Chaplin

Prepared by Daniel B Miller

Sir Charles Spencer ChaplinKBE (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. Chaplin became a worldwide icon through his screen persona “the Tramp” and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry.  

His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, and encompassed both adulation and controversy.


The Tramp – Charles Chaplin

Chaplin’s childhood in London was one of poverty and hardship. As his father was absent and his mother struggled financially, he was sent to a workhouse twice before the age of nine.

When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum. Chaplin began performing at an early age, touring music halls and later working as a stage actor and comedian. At 19, he was signed to the prestigious Fred Karno company, which took him to America. Chaplin was scouted for the film industry and began appearing in 1914 for Keystone Studios.

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Charles Chaplin and Stan Jefferson Laurel with Fred Karno Company c.1913

He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. Chaplin directed his own films from an early stage and continued to hone his craft as he moved to the EssanayMutual, and First National corporations. By 1918, he was one of the best-known figures in the world.

In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. His first feature-length was The Kid (1921), followed by A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus(1928).

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The Kid (Charles Chaplin, 1921) Poster

He refused to move to sound films in the 1930s, instead producing City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) without dialogue. Chaplin became increasingly political, and his next film, The Great Dictator (1940), satirised Adolf Hitler.

The 1940s were a decade marked with controversy for Chaplin, and his popularity declined rapidly. He was accused of communist sympathies, while his involvement in a paternity suit and marriages to much younger women caused scandal.

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The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, 1940) Poster

An FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland. He abandoned the Tramp in his later films, which include Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), A King in New York(1957), and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967).

Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. He was a perfectionist, and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a picture.

His films are characterised by slapstick combined with pathos, typified in the Tramp’s struggles against adversity. Many contain social and political themes, as well as autobiographical elements. In 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work, Chaplin received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”.

He continues to be held in high regard, with The Gold RushCity LightsModern Times, and The Great Dictator often ranked on industry lists of the greatest films of all time.

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Charlie Chaplin receives an Honorary Academy Award (1972)


1889–1913: Early years

Background and childhood hardship

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889 to Hannah Chaplin (born Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill) and Charles Chaplin Sr.

There is no official record of his birth, although Chaplin believed he was born at East StreetWalworth, in South London. His mother and father had married four years previously, at which time Charles Sr. became the legal carer of Hannah’s illegitimate son, Sydney John Hill.

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Charles Chaplin Sr

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Hannah Chaplin

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Sidney Chaplin

At the time of his birth, Chaplin’s parents were both music hall entertainers. Hannah, the daughter of a shoemaker, had a brief and unsuccessful career under the stage name Lily Harley, while Charles Sr., a butcher’s son,  was a popular singer.

Although they never divorced, Chaplin’s parents were estranged by around 1891. The following year, Hannah gave birth to a third son – George Wheeler Dryden – fathered by the music hall entertainer Leo Dryden. The child was taken by Dryden at six months old, and did not re-enter Chaplin’s life for 30 years.

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George Wheeler Dryden


Chaplin’s childhood was fraught with poverty and hardship, making his eventual trajectory “the most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told” according to his authorised biographer David Robinson.

Chaplin’s early years were spent with his mother and brother Sydney in the London district of Kennington; Hannah had no means of income, other than occasional nursing and dressmaking, and Chaplin Sr. provided no financial support.

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Young Charles Chaplin c 1901

As the situation deteriorated, Chaplin was sent to Lambeth Workhouse when he was seven years old. The council housed him at the Central London District School for paupers, which Chaplin remembered as “a forlorn existence”.

He was briefly reunited with his mother 18 months later, before Hannah was forced to readmit her family to the workhouse in July 1898. The boys were promptly sent to Norwood Schools, another institution for destitute children.

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Young Charlie as Billy, the page boy, in Sherlock Holmes, 1903

“I was hardly aware of a crisis because we lived in a continual crisis; and, being a boy, I dismissed our troubles with gracious forgetfulness.”

– Chaplin on his childhood

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Lambeth Workhouse – The Cinema Museum is located there today

In September 1898, Hannah was committed to Cane Hill mental asylum – she had developed a psychosis seemingly brought on by an infection of syphilis and malnutrition. For the two months she was there, Chaplin and his brother Sydney were sent to live with their father, whom the young boys scarcely knew.

Charles Sr. was by then a severe alcoholic, and life there was bad enough to provoke a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Chaplin’s father died two years later, at 38 years old, from cirrhosis of the liver.

Hannah entered a period of remission but, in May 1903, became ill again. Chaplin, then 14, had the task of taking his mother to the infirmary, from where she was sent back to Cane Hill.

He lived alone for several days, searching for food and occasionally sleeping rough, until Sydney – who had enrolled in the Navy two years earlier – returned. Hannah was released from the asylum eight months later, but in March 1905, her illness returned, this time permanently. “There was nothing we could do but accept poor mother’s fate”, Chaplin later wrote, and she remained in care until her death in 1928.

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Cane Hill Hospital

Young performer

Between his time in the poor schools and his mother
succumbing to mental illness, Chaplin began to perform on stage. He later recalled making his first amateur appearance at the age of five years, when he took over from Hannah one night in Aldershot.
This was an isolated occurrence, but by the time he was nine Chaplin had, with his mother’s encouragement, grown interested in performing.
He later wrote: “[she] imbued me with the feeling that I had some sort of talent”. Through his father’s connections, Chaplin became a member of the Eight Lancashire Ladsclog-dancing troupe, with whom he toured English music halls throughout 1899 and 1900. Chaplin worked hard, and the act was popular with audiences, but he was not satisfied with dancing and wished to form a comedy act.
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Charlie Chaplin performed with The Eight Yorkshire Lads
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The Eight Lancashire Lads pictured in 1899 and featuring a young Charlie Chaplin

In the years Chaplin was touring with the Eight Lancashire Lads, his mother ensured that he still attended school but, by age 13, he had abandoned education. He supported himself with a range of jobs, while nursing his ambition to become an actor.

At 14, shortly after his mother’s relapse, he registered with a theatrical agency in London’s West End. The manager sensed potential in Chaplin, who was promptly given his first role as a newsboy in Harry Arthur Saintsbury‘s Jim, a Romance of Cockayne. It opened in July 1903, but the show was unsuccessful and closed after two weeks. Chaplin’s comic performance, however, was singled out for praise in many of the reviews.

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Charles Chaplin as Sammy in Jim A Romance of Cockayne c 1903

Saintsbury secured a role for Chaplin in Charles Frohman‘s production of Sherlock Holmes, where he played Billy the pageboy in three nationwide tours. His performance was so well received that he was called to London to play the role alongside William Gillette, the original Holmes.

“It was like tidings from heaven”, Chaplin recalled. At 16 years old, Chaplin starred in the play’s West End production at the Duke of York’s Theatre from October to December 1905. He completed one final tour of Sherlock Holmes in early 1906, before leaving the play after more than two-and-a-half years.

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Charlie Chaplin 1903. Sherlock Holmes poster

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Young Charlie as Billy, the page boy, in Sherlock Holmes, 1903

Stage comedy and vaudeville

Chaplin soon found work with a new company, and went on tour with his brother – who was also pursuing an acting career – in a comedy sketch called Repairs.

In May 1906, Chaplin joined the juvenile act Casey’s Circus, where he developed popular burlesque pieces and was soon the star of the show. By the time the act finished touring in July 1907, the 18-year-old had become an accomplished comedic performer. He struggled to find more work, however, and a brief attempt at a solo act was a failure.

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Image of the vaudeville troupe Casey’s Court Circus, with a young Charlie Chaplin

Meanwhile, Sydney Chaplin had joined Fred Karno‘s prestigious comedy company in 1906 and, by 1908, he was one of their key performers.
In February, he managed to secure a two-week trial for his younger brother. Karno was initially wary, and considered Chaplin a “pale, puny, sullen-looking youngster” who “looked much too shy to do any good in the theatre.”
However, the teenager made an impact on his first night at the London Coliseum and he was quickly signed to a contract. Chaplin began by playing a series of minor parts, eventually progressing to starring roles in 1909.
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Poster for Fred Karno’s Comedy Company with Charles Chaplin
In April 1910, he was given the lead in a new sketch, Jimmy the Fearless. It was a big success, and Chaplin received considerable press attention.

Karno selected his new star to join the section of the company, one that also included Stan Laurel, that toured North America’s vaudeville circuit.

The young comedian headed the show and impressed reviewers, being described as “one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here”.

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Fred Karno Comedy Company Poster – The London Coliseum

His most successful role was a drunk called the “Inebriate Swell”, which drew him significant recognition. The tour lasted 21 months, and the troupe returned to England in June 1912.

Chaplin recalled that he “had a disquieting feeling of sinking back into a depressing commonplaceness” and was, therefore, delighted when a new tour began in October.

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Fred Karno’s A Night In A London Club with Charles Chaplin

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Charles Chaplin with Fred Karno’s Comedy Company

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Charles Chaplin with Fred Karno’s Comedy Company

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Fred Karno, Jr., Chaplin, Arthur Dando, Albert Austin, and Stan Laurel

1914–1917: Entering films


Six months into the second American tour, Chaplin was invited to join the New York Motion Picture Company. A representative who had seen his performances thought he could replace Fred Mace, a star of their Keystone Studios who intended to leave.

Chaplin thought the Keystone comedies “a crude mélange of rough and rumble”, but liked the idea of working in films and rationalised: “Besides, it would mean a new life.”

He met with the company and signed a $150-per-week ($3,714 in 2017 dollars) contract in September 1913.

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Chaplin’s first on-screen appearance in Making A Living (Henry Lehrman, 1914)

Chaplin arrived in Los Angeles, home of the Keystone studio, in early December 1913. His boss was Mack Sennett, who initially expressed concern that the 24-year-old looked too young.

He was not used in a picture until late January, during which time Chaplin attempted to learn the processes of filmmaking. The one-reeler Making a Living marked his film acting debut and was released on 2 February 1914. Chaplin strongly disliked the picture, but one review picked him out as “a comedian of the first water”. For his second appearance in front of the camera, Chaplin selected the costume with which he became identified. He described the process in his autobiography:

“I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large … I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.”

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Charles Chaplin and Mabel Normand in Mabel’s Strange Predicament (Mabel Normand, 1914)

The film was Mabel’s Strange Predicament, but “the Tramp” character, as it became known, debuted to audiences in Kid Auto Races at Venice – shot later than Mabel’s Strange Predicament but released two days earlier.

Chaplin adopted the character as his screen persona and attempted to make suggestions for the films he appeared in. These ideas were dismissed by his directors. During the filming of his eleventh picture, Mabel at the Wheel, he clashed with director Mabel Normand and was almost released from his contract.

Sennett kept him on, however, when he received orders from exhibitors for more Chaplin films. Sennett also allowed Chaplin to direct his next film himself after Chaplin promised to pay $1,500 ($37,141 in 2017 dollars) if the film was unsuccessful.

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Charles Chaplin in Kid Auto Races at Venice (Henry Lehrman, 1914) The Tramp’s first screen appearance

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Charles Chaplin in Mabel at the Wheel (Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett, 1914)

Caught in the Rain, issued 4 May 1914, was Chaplin’s directorial debut and was highly successful.

Thereafter he directed almost every short film in which he appeared for Keystone, at the rate of approximately one per week, a period which he later remembered as the most exciting time of his career. Chaplin’s films introduced a slower form of comedy than the typical Keystone farce, and he developed a large fan base.

In November 1914, he had a supporting role in the first feature length comedy film, Tillie’s Punctured Romance, directed by Sennett and starring Marie Dressler, which was a commercial success and increased his popularity.  When Chaplin’s contract came up for renewal at the end of the year, he asked for $1,000 a week ($24,761 in 2017 dollars) – an amount Sennett refused as too large.

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Charles Chaplin in Caught in the Rain (Charles Chaplin, 1914) – Chaplin’s Directorial Debut

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Charles Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Mack Sennett, Charles Bennett, 1914) – Chaplin’s First Feature Film

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Poster for Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Mack Sennett, Charles Bennett, 1914) – Chaplin’s First Feature Film



The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago sent Chaplin an offer of $1,250 a week with a signing bonus of $10,000.

He joined the studio in late December 1914, where he began forming a stock company of regular players, including Leo WhiteBud Jamison, Paddy McGuire and Billy Armstrong. He soon recruited a leading lady – Edna Purviance, whom Chaplin met in a cafe and hired on account of her beauty.

She went on to appear in 35 films with Chaplin over eight years;  the pair also formed a romantic relationship that lasted into 1917.

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Edna Purviance

Chaplin asserted a high level of control over his pictures and started to put more time and care into each film.

There was a month-long interval between the release of his second production, A Night Out, and his third, The Champion. The final seven of Chaplin’s 14 Essanay films were all produced at this slower pace.

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Charles Chaplin in A Night Out (Charles Chaplin, 1915)

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Poster for The Champion (Charles Chaplin, 1915)

Chaplin also began to alter his screen persona, which had attracted some criticism at Keystone for its “mean, crude, and brutish” nature. The character became more gentle and romantic; The Tramp (April 1915) was considered a particular turning point in his development.

The use of pathos was developed further with The Bank, in which Chaplin created a sad ending. Robinson notes that this was an innovation in comedy films, and marked the time when serious critics began to appreciate Chaplin’s work. At Essanay, writes film scholar Simon Louvish, Chaplin “found the themes and the settings that would define the Tramp’s world.”

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Charles Chaplin and Edna Purviance in The Tramp (Charles Chaplin, 1915)

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Charles Chaplin in The Bank (Charles Chaplin, 1915)

During 1915, Chaplin became a cultural phenomenon. Shops were stocked with Chaplin merchandise, he was featured in cartoons and comic strips, and several songs were written about him. In July, a journalist for Motion Picture Magazine wrote that “Chaplinitis” had spread across America.

As his fame grew worldwide, he became the film industry’s first international star. When the Essanay contract ended in December 1915, Chaplin – fully aware of his popularity – requested a $150,000 signing bonus from his next studio. He received several offers, including UniversalFox, and Vitagraph, the best of which came from the Mutual Film Corporation at $10,000 a week.

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Charles Chaplin on the cover of Motion Pictures Magazine


A contract was negotiated with Mutual that amounted to $670,000 a year, which Robinson says made Chaplin – at 26 years old – one of the highest paid people in the world.

The high salary shocked the public and was widely reported in the press. John R. Freuler, the studio president, explained: “We can afford to pay Mr. Chaplin this large sum annually because the public wants Chaplin and will pay for him.”

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Albert Austin and Charles Chaplin in The Adventurer (Charles Chaplin, 1917)

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Eric Campbell and Charles Chaplin in The Adventurer (Charles Chaplin, 1917)

Mutual gave Chaplin his own Los Angeles studio to work in, which opened in March 1916. He added two key members to his stock company, Albert Austin and Eric Campbell, and produced a series of elaborate two-reelers: The FloorwalkerThe FiremanThe VagabondOne A.M., and The Count. For The Pawnshop, he recruited the actor Henry Bergman, who was to work with Chaplin for 30 years.

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Charles Chaplin and Eric Campbell in The Floorwalker (Charles Chaplin, 1916)

Behind the Screen and The Rink completed Chaplin’s releases for 1916. The Mutual contract stipulated that he release a two-reel film every four weeks, which he had managed to achieve. With the new year, however, Chaplin began to demand more time. He made only four more films for Mutual over the first ten months of 1917: Easy StreetThe CureThe Immigrant, and The Adventurer.



Charles Chaplin in Easy Street (1917)



Charles Chaplin in The Cure (1917)


Charles Chaplin in The Immigrant (1917)


Charles Chaplin in The Adventurer (1917)

With their careful construction, these films are considered by Chaplin scholars to be among his finest work. Later in life, Chaplin referred to his Mutual years as the happiest period of his career. However, Chaplin also felt that those films became increasingly formulaic over the period of the contract and he was increasingly dissatisfied with the working conditions encouraging that. 

Chaplin was attacked in the British media for not fighting in the First World War. He defended himself, revealing that he would fight for Britain if called and had registered for the American draft, but he was not summoned by either country.

Despite this criticism Chaplin was a favourite with the troops, and his popularity continued to grow worldwide. Harper’s Weekly reported that the name of Charlie Chaplin was “a part of the common language of almost every country”, and that the Tramp image was “universally familiar”.


Charles Chaplin in Shoulder Arms (1918)

In 1917, professional Chaplin imitators were so widespread that he took legal action,  and it was reported that nine out of ten men who attended costume parties dressed as the Tramp. The same year, a study by the Boston Society for Psychical Research concluded that Chaplin was “an American obsession”.

The actress Minnie Maddern Fiske wrote that “a constantly increasing body of cultured, artistic people are beginning to regard the young English buffoon, Charles Chaplin, as an extraordinary artist, as well as a comic genius”.

1918–1922: First National


Mutual were patient with Chaplin’s decreased rate of output, and the contract ended amicably. With his aforementioned concern about the declining quality of his films because of contract scheduling stipulations, Chaplin’s primary concern in finding a new distributor was independence; Sydney Chaplin, then his business manager, told the press, “Charlie [must] be allowed all the time he needs and all the money for producing [films] the way he wants … It is quality, not quantity, we are after.”


Sidney and Charles Chaplin

In June 1917, Chaplin signed to complete eight films for First National Exhibitors’ Circuit in return for $1 million. He chose to build his own studio, situated on five acres of land off Sunset Boulevard, with production facilities of the highest order. It was completed in January 1918,  and Chaplin was given freedom over the making of his pictures.

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Chaplin built this English cottage-style studio in three months beginning in November 1917

A Dog’s Life, released April 1918, was the first film under the new contract. In it, Chaplin demonstrated his increasing concern with story construction and his treatment of the Tramp as “a sort of Pierrot