Betty Compson

Last updated

Betty Compson
Betty Compson in The Docks of New York (1928 film). Directed by Josef von Sternberg.jpg
Publicity photo, 1927
Eleanor Luicime Compson

(1897-03-19)March 19, 1897
DiedApril 18, 1974(1974-04-18) (aged 77)
Resting place San Fernando Mission Cemetery
Years active1915–1948
(m. 1924;div. 1930)
Irving Weinberg
(m. 1933;div. 1937)
Silvius Jack Gall
(m. 1944;died 1962)
Betty Compson signature 1921.png

Betty Compson (born Eleanor Luicime Compson; March 19, 1897 – April 18, 1974) was an American actress and film producer who got her start during Hollywood's silent era. She is best known for her performances in The Docks of New York and The Barker , the latter of which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.


Early life

Compson was born on March 19, 1897, [1] the daughter of Virgil and Mary ( née Rauscher) Compson, [2] in Beaver, Utah, at a mining camp. Her father was a mining engineer, a gold prospector, and a grocery store proprietor, and her mother was a maid in homes and in a hotel. [2]

Compson graduated from Salt Lake High School. [3] Her father died when she was young, and she obtained employment as a violinist at 16 at a theater in Salt Lake City. [4]


Playing in vaudeville sketches with touring circuits, Compson got noticed by Hollywood producers. [5] While touring, she was discovered by comedic producer Al Christie and signed a contract with him. [6] Her first silent film, Wanted, a Leading Lady, was in November 1915. [7]

She made 25 films in 1916 alone, although all of them were shorts for Christie with the exception of one feature, Almost a Widow. [8] She continued this pace of making numerous short films well into the middle of 1918 when after a long apprenticeship with Christie, she started making features exclusively. Compson's star began to rise with the release of the 1919 feature The Miracle Man (1919) for George Loane Tucker. Paramount signed Compson to a five-year contract with the help of Tucker.

Compson in Photoplay (July 1920) Betty Compson 1.JPG
Compson in Photoplay (July 1920)

Her popularity allowed her to establish her own production company, which provided her creative control over screenplays and financing. [8] Her first movie as producer was Prisoners of Love (1921). She played the role of Blanche Davis, a girl born to wealth and cursed by her inheritance of physical beauty. Compson selected Art Rosson to direct the feature. The story was chosen from a work by actress and writer Catherine Henry.

After completing The Woman With Four Faces (1923), Paramount refused to offer her a raise (her salary was $2,500 per week), and she refused to sign without one. Instead, she signed with a motion picture company in London. There she starred in a series of four films directed by Graham Cutts, a well-known English filmmaker.

The first of these was a movie version of an English play called Woman to Woman (1923), the screenplay for which was co-written by Cutts and Alfred Hitchcock. Part of The White Shadow (in which she played a dual role), another Cutts/Hitchcock collaboration. Woman to Woman proved to be popular enough for Jesse Lasky to offer top dollar to return to Paramount.

Betty Compson and Milton Sills in The Barker (1928) The Barker (SAYRE 14177).jpg
Betty Compson and Milton Sills in The Barker (1928)

Back in Hollywood, she starred in The Enemy Sex , directed by James Cruze, as well as the sound film The Great Gabbo in 1929, with Eric von Stroheim--his first sound picture. Compson and Cruze were married in 1925; they divorced in 1929. [9] Her contract with Paramount was not renewed, and she decided to freelance, working with lower-budget studios such as Columbia in The Belle of Broadway and Chadwick in The Ladybird . During this time, she was suggested as a replacement for difficult Greta Garbo in the MGM feature Flesh and the Devil opposite John Gilbert. She eventually worked for the studio with former The Miracle Man co-star Lon Chaney in The Big City .

In 1928, she appeared in a First National Pictures part-talkie, The Barker . Her performance as manipulative carnival girl Carrie garnered her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress, [10] although she lost to Mary Pickford in Coquette . In Court-Martial, a 1928 silent film, she became the first actress to portray Old West outlaw Belle Starr on film. In the same year, she appeared in the acclaimed Josef von Sternberg film The Docks of New York in a sympathetic portrayal of a suicidal prostitute.

These films caused Compson's popularity to re-emerge, and she became a busy actress in the new talking cinema. In fact, Chaney offered her the female lead in his first talkie The Unholy Three , but she was too busy and instead suggested friend Lila Lee. Unlike a number of other female stars of silent film, it was felt that her voice was recorded exceptionally well. Although she was not a singer, she appeared in a number of early musicals in which her singing voice was dubbed.

Later career

Betty Compson on the cover of the 1922 March Motion Picture Classic magazine. Cover artist, Benjamin Eggleston (1867-1937). Betty Compson on the cover of the 1922 March Motion Picture Classic magazine--Cover artist, Edward Mason Eggleston.jpg
Betty Compson on the cover of the 1922 March Motion Picture Classic magazine. Cover artist, Benjamin Eggleston (1867-1937).

Now divorced from Cruze, Compson's career continued to flourish, starring in nine films in 1930 alone. However, her last hit proved to be in The Spoilers , alongside Gary Cooper. She was unable to score a success and only secured roles in "poverty row" studios.

One major film in which she did not appear was Gone with the Wind ; although she shot a Technicolor screen test for the role of Belle Watling, she was not cast in the role. In 1941, Compson appeared in a small role in an Alfred Hitchcock film, Mr. & Mrs. Smith . Most of her later films were low-budget efforts. Compson's last film was 1948's Here Comes Trouble ; after retiring from the screen, she began a cosmetic line and helped her husband run a business called Ashtrays Unlimited.

Personal life

After her marriage with Cruze ended, Compson married two more times. Her marriage to agent/producer Irving Weinberg ended in divorce, and her marriage to Silvius Gall ended with Gall's death in 1962. She had no children.


Compson died April 18, 1974, of a heart attack at her home in Glendale, California, aged 77. She was interred in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in San Fernando, California. [12] For her contributions to the motion picture industry, Compson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street. [13]


For main film selections see Betty Compson filmography .

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Docks of New York</i> 1928 film

The Docks of New York is a 1928 American silent drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, Betty Compson, and Olga Baclanova. The movie was adapted by Jules Furthman from the John Monk Saunders story The Dock Walloper.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anne Baxter</span> American actress (1923–1985)

Anne Baxter was an American actress, star of Hollywood films, Broadway productions, and television series. She won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and was nominated for an Emmy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Astor</span> American actress (1906–1987)

Mary Astor was an American actress. Although her career spanned several decades, she may be best remembered for her performance as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carolyn Jones</span> American actress (1930–1983)

Carolyn Sue Jones was an American actress of television and film. Jones began her film career in the early 1950s, and by the end of the decade had achieved recognition with a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Bachelor Party (1957) and a Golden Globe Award as one of the most promising new actresses of 1959. Her film career continued for another 20 years. In 1964, she began playing the role of matriarch Morticia Addams in the original black and white television series The Addams Family.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elsie Jane Wilson</span> Australian film director

Elsie Jane Wilson was a cinema actress, director, and writer during the early film era. She took part in the productions of the silent film era and starred in over thirty films. Between the years of 1916 and 1919, Wilson was credited for producing, writing two films, and directing eleven films. She was best known in the genres of dramas and comedy dramas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estelle Taylor</span> American actress (1894–1958)

Ida Estelle Taylor was an American actress who was the second of world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey's four wives. With "dark-brown, almost black hair and brown eyes," she was regarded as one of the most beautiful silent film stars of the 1920s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dorothy Arzner</span> American film director and film editor (1897–1979)

Dorothy Emma Arzner was an American film director whose career in Hollywood spanned from the silent era of the 1920s into the early 1940s. With the exception of longtime silent film director Lois Weber, from 1927 until her retirement from feature directing in 1943, Arzner was the only female director working in Hollywood. She was one of a very few women able to establish a successful and long career in Hollywood as a film director until the 1970s. Arzner made a total of twenty films between 1927 and 1943 and launched the careers of a number of Hollywood actresses, including Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Lucille Ball. Arzner was the first woman to join the Directors Guild of America and the first woman to direct a sound film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blanche Sweet</span> American actress

Sarah Blanche Sweet was an American silent film actress who began her career in the early days of the motion picture film industry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leatrice Joy</span> American actress (1893–1985)

Leatrice Joy was an American actress most prolific during the silent film era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Cruze</span> American actor and director (1884–1942)

James Cruze was a silent film actor and film director.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Julia Faye</span> American actress

Julia Faye Maloney, known professionally as Julia Faye, was an American actress of silent and sound films. She was known for her appearances in more than 30 Cecil B. DeMille productions. Her various roles ranged from maids and ingénues to vamps and queens.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marguerite Snow</span> American actress

Marguerite Snow was an American silent film and stage actress. In her early films she was billed as Margaret Snow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kathleen Kirkham</span> American actress

Kathleen Kirkham Woodruff was an American actress on stage and in silent films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Pickford filmography</span>

Mary Pickford (1892–1979) was a Canadian-American motion picture actress, producer, and writer. During the silent film era she became one of the first great celebrities of the cinema and a popular icon known to the public as "America's Sweetheart".

<i>Woman to Woman</i> (1923 film) 1923 film

Woman to Woman is a 1923 British silent drama film directed by Graham Cutts, with Alfred Hitchcock as the uncredited assistant director and co-screenwriter. The film was the first of three adaptions of the 1921 play Woman to Woman by Michael Morton. To capitalise on the success of the film, Cutts and Hitchcock made another film, The White Shadow, with Compson before she returned to the United States.

<i>The White Shadow</i> (film) 1923 film

The White Shadow, also known as White Shadows in the United States, is a 1923 British drama film directed by Graham Cutts and starring Betty Compson, Clive Brook, and Henry Victor.

Hotel Imperial is a 1939 American dramatic film directed by Robert Florey. It stars Isa Miranda and Ray Milland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hugh Trevor</span> American actor (1903–1933)

Hugh Trevor was an American actor whose short career began at the very end of the silent era in 1927. He would appear in nineteen films in the scant six years during which he was active. He did not fare well with the advent of talking pictures, and retired from the industry in 1931. His life was cut short when he unexpectedly died from complications following appendectomy surgery in 1933.

<i>The Garden of Weeds</i> 1924 film by James Cruze

The Garden of Weeds is a 1924 American silent drama film directed by James Cruze and starring Betty Compson. It is based on the Broadway play Garden of Weeds by Leon Gordon and Doris Marquette. Famous Players–Lasky produced and Paramount Pictures distributed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christie brothers</span> Canadian film directors and producers

Charles Herbert Christie and Alfred Ernest Christie were Canadian motion picture entrepreneurs.


  1. Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. p. 150. ISBN   9781476625997 . Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  2. 1 2 Stephenson, William. "Compson, Betty". Oxford Index. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on January 10, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  3. Katchmer, George A. (2009). A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses. McFarland. p. 69. ISBN   9781476609058 . Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  4. "Betty Compson". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved April 24, 2016.
  5. "© Betty Compson, Silent and Sound Movie Star -". Retrieved April 24, 2016.
  6. Wagner, Kristen Anderson (2018). Comic Venus: Women and Comedy in American Silent Film. Wayne State University Press. ISBN   9780814341032 . Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  7. "Bits of News for Movie Fans". Star Tribune. Minnesota, Minneapolis. November 7, 1915. p. 35. Retrieved January 9, 2018 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  8. 1 2 Muller, Eddie. 2012. San Francisco Silent Film Festival: The Docks of New York Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  9. Neste, Dan Van (2017). The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez. BearManor Media. p. 229. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  10. "("Betty Compson" search results)". Academy Awards Database. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 10, 2018.[ permanent dead link ]
  11. Platnick, Norman I. (February 2017). Lady of Mystery: A Collector's Guide to Edward Eggleston version 3.5. p. 5. those Motion Picture Classic covers, published from at least July 1921 through August 1922, were actually done by Benjamin Eggleston...
  12. Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. p. 195. ISBN   9780786450190 . Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  13. Hollywood Walk of Fame; Retrieved January 19, 2017