Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Betty Compson

Well, another one of those instances when I think I covered someone and I find out that I have not. Case in point: Betty Compson. I have always loved Betty, she had the face and the attitude of a true flapper. So, I am gonna give her the recognition she deserves on here...for real this time! 

Betty Compson was born Eleanor Luicime Compson on March 19, 1897 in Beaver, Utah. She was the only child born to Virgil Compson, a miner, and his wife, Mary Rauscher. 

When Betty was only a few months old, Virgil Compson left his family to seek his fortune during the gold rush happening in the Klondike. He eventually returned to his family a much richer man. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1912 after a long illness.

Mary and Betty Compson

During the years of her father's absence, Betty helped supported herself and her mother by playing violin at the local vaudeville house. When she was asked to put together a solo act, she and her mother were a  bit nervous since they couldn't afford a lavish outfit for her solo debut. Mary Compson eventually came up with the idea that she would dress her daughter in rags and that would be her act. And so, this is how Betty became known as the 'Vagabond Violinist.' 

Soon after her solo debut Betty and her mother began traveling up and down the West coast performing in various vaudeville houses and theaters. To make extra money, mother and daughter also worked as domestics. 

In 1915, Betty was spotted on stage at the Pantages theater in Los Angeles by director, Al Christie. It was he who told the young starlet to begin using the name Betty Compson as her stage name. Later that year she made her film debut in the short, Wanted: A Leading Lady.

After three years with Christie, he fired her after she refused to make a personal appearance. Her career didn't end there, however. She continued to appear in a number of films, the best known being The Enemy Sex and White Shadows (both in 1924) and The Great Gabbo (1929) which was directed by and starred Erich von Stroheim. 

During the 1920s, Betty worked with an up and coming writer and director named Alfred Hitchcock. She appeared in his early films, Woman to Woman (1923), Dangerous Virtue (1924), and White Shadows (1924). Here's a fun fact! Alfred met his wife, Alma while making the film, Dangerous Virtue.

In 1929, Betty was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film The Docks of New York. Unfortunately, she lost the award to Mary Pickford. Tough competition. 

Like many silent film stars at the dawn of the talkies, meaty film roles weren't really flooding in. Her career continued with small pictures, but she did have an uncredited appearance in the 1940 Joan Crawford/Clark Gable feature, Strange Cargo. Betty also made a color screen test for the role of Belle Watling in the 1939 epic, Gone with the Wind, but the part went to Ona Munson. 

Her final film appearance was in 1948 in Here Comes Trouble. After retiring from the screen, Betty worked selling cosmetics and also as a salesgirl at a women's clothing boutique in Beverly Hills.

Betty Compson passed away on April 18, 1974 in Glendale, California. 

She was buried with her mother at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California.

Betty was married three times. Her first husband was actor/director, James Cruze who she married in 1925. They lived in a lavish home called Flintridge and often threw spectacular parties for their glitterati friends. However, the party atmosphere didn't last long due to Cruze's alcoholism. In fact, before he married Betty, he was married to another actress, Marguerite Snow who he once beat so hard he knocked her teeth out! Betty and Cruze separated numerous times before finally divorcing in 1930. 

Her second husband was agent/producer, Irving Weinberg. They were married from 1933 to  1937. Her third and final husband was a businessman named Silvius J. Gall. The couple were married from 1944 until his death in 1962. None of her marriages produced children. 

Betty was good friends with both Zasu Pitts and Alfred Hitchcock. And fellow silent film actress, Olive Borden once told a movie magazine that Betty was one of her favorite actresses!

"Betty Compson gives to the silver cloth a delicate poetry with which she endows her portrayals, whatever they may be. Perhaps it is the elusive quality which has placed her among the first in the ranks of the new stars." ~~ Motion Picture Magazine, June 1922

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