Alma Rubens

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Alma Rubens
Alma Rubens by Albert Witzel.jpg
Rubens, c. 1924
Alma Genevieve Reubens

(1897-02-19)February 19, 1897
DiedJanuary 21, 1931(1931-01-21) (aged 33)
Resting place Mountain View Cemetery
Other namesAlma Ruben
Alma Reubens
Genevieve Driscoll
Years active19131929
(m. 1918;div. 1919)

(m. 1923;div. 1925)

(m. 1926; sep.  1930)
Alma Rubens signature.svg

Alma Rubens (born Alma Genevieve Reubens; February 19, 1897 – January 21, 1931) was an American film actress and stage performer.


Rubens began her career in the mid 1910s. She quickly rose to stardom in 1916 after appearing opposite Douglas Fairbanks in The Half-Breed. For the remainder of the decade, she appeared in supporting roles in comedies and drama. In the 1920s, Rubens developed a drug addiction which eventually ended her career. She died of lobar pneumonia and bronchitis shortly after being arrested for cocaine possession in January 1931.

Early life

Alma Genevieve Reubens was born on February 19, 1897, to John B. and Theresa (née Hayes) Reubens in San Francisco, California. [1] Her father, John Reubens, [2] born in 1857 in Germany, was Jewish, and emigrated to the United States in 1890. Alma vehemently denied any Jewish heritage throughout her lifetime however. Her mother was of Irish Catholic descent. She and her elder sister, Hazel (born 1893 [1] ) were raised in their mother's faith and attended Sacred Heart Convent in San Francisco. [1]

Some biographies erroneously state that her birth name was Genevieve Driscoll. That name was in fact a pseudonym that she later used in a non-professional capacity, as Genevieve was her middle name and Driscoll was her maternal grandmother's maiden name. [3]


Rubens as "Felice" in I Love You (1918) I love You.jpg
Rubens as "Felice" in I Love You (1918)

Her first stage opportunity came when a chorus girl in a musical comedy theater troupe became ill. Rubens was chosen to take her place and joined the troupe as a regular performer. There she met Franklyn Farnum who was also a member. He later convinced Rubens to leave the troupe and try film acting. [4]

In 1916, Rubens signed with Triangle Film Corporation. Her first film for the company was the comedy-drama Reggie Mixes In , starring Douglas Fairbanks. Later the same year, Rubens was re-teamed with Fairbanks for cocaine comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish , The Half-Breed and The Americano . The next year, Rubens co-starred in two westerns, Truthful Tolliver with William S. Hart and The Firefly of Tough Luck with Charles Gunn. In 1918, she announced that she was changing the spelling of her last name of Rueben to "Rubens" because it caused too much confusion in the movie industry and in publications. She later told Photoplay magazine, "As a matter of fact my name is not the same [spelling] as the painter's. It's either Reubens or Ruebens—I forget which. I never could spell it. Couldn't remember where the 'e' came. So I let it go Rubens." [5]

Rubens on the August 1920 edition of Motion Picture magazine. Alma Rubens motion820.jpg
Rubens on the August 1920 edition of Motion Picture magazine.

In 1920, Rubens signed with William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Productions. The studio promoted Rubens as its newest starlet, falsely claiming she was a descendant of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. [6] Her first film for the studio was Humoresque , which became the studio's only hit that year. [7] Later that year, she starred in dramas The World and His Wife , opposite Montague Love, and Thoughtless Women, both of which further solidified her popularity. By 1921, Rubens had developed an addiction to heroin after she was prescribed morphine by a doctor for a physical ailment. [8] Due to her drug use and difficult behavior on set, William Randolph Hearst removed her from a film she was set to star in but kept her on the payroll for the next two years. There were rumors that Hearst continued to pay her a salary because the two were involved romantically. Hearst denied this rumor, claiming he continued to pay Rubens because he had invested a substantial amount of money promoting her as the studio's leading lady and that good lead actresses were difficult to find. [9] Rubens returned to the screen in 1922 with roles in Find the Woman and The Valley of Silent Men . Her final film for Cosmopolitan Productions was the historical drama Under the Red Robe in 1923. Hearst released Ruben from her contract the same year. [10]

In 1924, she starred in The Price She Paid for Columbia Pictures Corporation and had a supporting role in the Associated First National production Cytherea . From 1925 to 1926, she worked for Fox Film Corporation. [4] While at Fox, she starred in the hit melodrama East Lynne (1925) opposite Edmund Lowe and Lou Tellegen. [11] She also had roles in The Gilded Butterfly with Bert Lytell and Siberia (both 1926), the latter of which re-teamed Rubens with Edmund Lowe and Lou Tellegen. Her final film for Fox was 1927's Heart of Salome, after which she decided to work freelance. [4]

Drug abuse and decline

By late 1927, Rubens' drug addiction severely impacted her career as she frequently was admitted to sanitariums for treatment for months at a time. One of her latter roles was as Julie in the 1929 part-sound film version of Show Boat , her next-to-last film roles and one of her few sound films. The soundtrack for the portion in which she spoke, however, has apparently been lost. [12]

In February 1929, Rubens' addiction became known publicly when she attempted to stab a physician who was taking her to a sanitarium for treatment. She was ordered to undergo treatment at the Spadra facility shortly thereafter. She later escaped despite being under the watch of four nurses and two male guards. She then was admitted to a sanatorium in Pasadena but left after 10 days. On May 15, 1929, Rubens' husband Ricardo Cortez and her mother had Rubens committed to Patton State Hospital for treatment after she resumed her drug habit. [13] Rubens was released from Patton State Hospital in late December 1929. [14]

She made her first public appearance since her release on January 30, 1930, in a role in a play produced at the Writer's Club in Hollywood. Her performance was well received by the audience, and she received eight curtain calls. After the show, Rubens gave an interview to United Press stating that she was cured of her addiction. During the interview, she described her descent into drug abuse and her experiences at the sanatoriums. [8]

In early February 1930, Rubens traveled to New York where she announced she was now free of drug addiction and planning a comeback with a vaudeville tour in the East. [15] She made an appearance on stage with her husband, but returned to California the same month. She was there less than two weeks when, on January 5, 1931, she was arrested by Federal officers in San Diego for cocaine possession and conspiracy to smuggle morphine from Mexico into the United States. [16] Rubens claimed she was being framed, and physicians attested to her statements that she was not taking drugs. [17] She later was released on $5,000 bail, and appeared for a preliminary hearing the second week of January 1931. [18]

Personal life

Rubens in 1923 Alma Rubens 1923-May.png
Rubens in 1923

Rubens married three times. Her first marriage was to actor Franklyn Farnum, nearly 20 years her senior, in June 1918. Rubens and Farnum were married secretly and separated about two months later. According to Rubens' divorce petition, Farnum physically abused her and once dislocated her jaw. Their divorce was finalized in December 1919. [19] In November 1923, she married Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, an author and film producer. They separated in late 1924, and Rubens filed for divorce in January 1925. [4]

Rubens third and final marriage was to actor Ricardo Cortez, whom she married on January 30, 1926, in Riverside, California. [20] As her divorce from Goodman was not yet finalized, the new marriage was considered invalid. They were remarried on February 8. [4]

While touring the vaudeville circuit in mid-1930, the couple separated. [21] At the time of her death, Rubens was suing Cortez for divorce. Cortez claimed he had not been notified of his wife's death, and later remarked that he had not seen her for several months and was unaware that she was seriously ill. [22]


Shortly after her release from jail on charges of cocaine possession, Rubens contracted a cold that quickly developed into lobar pneumonia and bronchitis. [17] [23] She fell into a coma at the Los Angeles home of her friend, Dr. Charles J. Pflueger. She died on January 21, 1931, at the age of 33 having never regained consciousness. [17] A funeral service was held on January 24 at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. [24] Her body was then shipped to Fresno where a second service was held at the Christian Science Church on January 26. [25] She is interred in a mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery in Fresno. [5]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Alma Rubens has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6409 Hollywood Blvd. [26]

This Bright World Again, Rubens' memoirs, was serialized in national newspapers in 1931. The text details Rubens' career and her struggle with drug addiction. [27] The full text, with a biography and filmography by Gary D. Rhodes and Alexander Webb titled Alma Rubens, Silent Snowbird: Her Complete 1930 Memoir, with a New Biography and Filmography, was published by McFarland in 2006.


1915BanzaiMirami – Daughter of a SamuraiShort film
1914Narcotic SpectreShort film
1914The Gangsters and the GirlMollyShort film
1915 The Birth of a Nation Belle of 1861Uncredited. Extant
1915The Lorelei MadonnaAlma – the Lorelei MadonnaShort film
Credited as Alma Ruben
1915 Peer Gynt Bit RoleUncredited. Extant
1915A Woman's WilesLucile Bergere – a Parisian ModelCredited as Alma Ruben
1916 Reggie Mixes In Lemona ReighleyExtant
1916 The Mystery of the Leaping Fish Gang Leader's Female AccompliceShort film
Uncredited. Extant
1916 The Half-Breed TeresaExtant
1916Judith of the CumberlandsAlternative title: The Moonshine Menace
1916 Intolerance Girl at the Marriage MarketUncredited. Extant
1916The Children PayEditha, their stepmother
1916 The Americano Juana de CastalarExtant
1917 Truthful Tulliver Grace Burton
1917 A Woman's Awakening Cousin KateCredited as Alma Rueben
1917An Old Fashioned Young Man
1917Master of His HomeMillicent DrakeCredited as Alma Ruben
1917 The Cold Deck CoralieIncomplete copy exists
1917 The Firefly of Tough Luck Firefly
1917 The Regenerates Catherine Ten EyckCredited as Alma Reuben. Extant
1917 The Gown of Destiny Natalie Drew
1918 I Love You Felice Lost
1918The AnswerLorraine Van Allen
1918The Love BrokersCharlotte Carter
1918 Madame Sphinx CelesteLost
1918The Painted LilyMary Fanjoy
1918 False Ambition Judith/ZariskaLost
1918 The Ghost Flower GiuliaLost
1919 Restless Souls Marion Gregory
1919 Diane of the Green Van Diane WestfallLost
1919 A Man's Country Kate CareweExtant
1920 Humoresque Gina Berg (formerly Minnie Ginsberg)Extant
1920 The World and His Wife TeodoraLost
1920Thoughtless WomenAnnie Marnet
1922 Find the Woman Sophie CareyIncomplete copy exists
1922 The Valley of Silent Men Marette RadisonIncomplete copy exists
1923 Enemies of Women AliciaIncomplete copy exists
1923 Under the Red Robe Renee de CocheforetExtant
1924 Week End Husbands Barbara BeldenLost
1924 The Rejected Woman Diane Du PrezExtant
1924 Cytherea Savina GroveLost
1924 The Price She Paid Mildred Gower
1924 Gerald Cranston's Lady Hermione, Lady Gerald Cranston
1924 Is Love Everything? Virginia Carter
1925 The Dancers MaxineExtant
1925 She Wolves Germaine D'Artois
1925 A Woman's Faith Nerée Caron
1925 Fine Clothes Paula
1925 The Winding Stair MargueriteLost
1925 East Lynne Lady IsabelExtant
1926 The Gilded Butterfly Linda Haverhill
1926 Siberia Sonia VronskyLost
1926 Marriage License? Wanda Heriot
1927One Increasing PurposeUncredited
1927 The Heart of Salome Helene
1928 The Masks of the Devil Countess ZellnerLost film
1929 Show Boat Minnie(Mostly) Extant
1929 She Goes to War RosieExtant


  1. 1 2 3 Rubens 2006 , p. 25
  2. "John B Rubens".
  3. Rubens 2006 , p. 26
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Rise to Fame in Films Was Meteoric for Alma". The Milwaukee Sentinel. February 16, 1929. p. 4. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  5. 1 2 Rubens 2006 , p. 11
  6. Rubens 2006 , p. 305
  7. Nasaw 2000 , p. 306
  8. 1 2 "Alma Ruben Tells Story Of Drug Cure". The Border Cities Star. January 30, 1930. p. 16. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  9. Nasaw 2000 , pp. 306–307
  10. Nasaw 2000 , p. 330
  11. Soloman, Aubrey (2002). Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 8. ISBN   0-810-84244-0.
  12. St. Romain 2008 , p. 139
  13. Hennessey, Duane (May 17, 1929). "Film Star Goes to Insane Ward for Drug Cure". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 29. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  14. "Alma Rubens Goes Back To Los Angeles". The Milwaukee Journal. December 29, 1929. p. 4. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  15. ""I'm Coming Back," Says Alma Rubens". The Southeast Missourian. February 15, 1930. p. 2. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  16. Rubens 2006 , p. 32
  17. 1 2 3 "Death Ends Career of Alma Rubens, Actress". Berkeley Daily Gazette. January 22, 1931. p. 2. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  18. "Alma Rubens Arraigned On 3 Narcotic Charges". The Lewiston Daily Sun. January 7, 1931. p. 11. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  19. Rubens 2006 , p. 4
  20. "Says Marriage Came Too Soon". The Evening Independent. February 2, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  21. "Divorce? Not at Present Says Alma". The Milwaukee Sentinel. June 9, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  22. Slide 2010 , p. 63
  23. Rubens 2006 , p. 35
  24. "Friends Pay Homage At Rubens Bier". The Los Angeles Times. January 23, 1931.
  25. "Final Rites Held For Alma Rubens". Berkeley Daily Gazette. January 26, 1931. p. 9. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  26. "Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  27. "My Life Story by Alma Rubens". Rochester Evening Journal. March 4, 1931. p. 10. Retrieved February 12, 2013.

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Further reading