Betty Compson (Eleanor Luicime Compson)
Compson began in silents with her first film in November 1915. She made 41 films in 1916 alone, although all of them were shorts for Al Christie with the exception of one feature Almost a Widow. 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. She completed The Miracle Man (1919) for George Loane Tucker. Compson’s rise as a star in motion pictures began with her portrayal of Rose in this production. In 1920, she began to head her own company. She worked at the Hollywood Brunton studio and acquired three stories for films. Compson returned from New York City where she obtained financial backing for her motion picture productions. 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 Catherine Henry. Compson worked for the Christie Company as a newcomer in films, followed by Famous Players-Lasky. After completing The Woman With Four Faces (1923) she signed with a motion picture company in London, England. 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.
In 1928, she appeared in Court-Martial as Belle Starr, and in The Barker, a silent movie which contained some talking scenes. Compson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Barker. Mainly due to this success, she became one of the busiest actors in the new talking cinema. Unlike a number of other female stars of silent film, it was felt that her voice recorded exceptionally well. Although she was not a singer, she appeared in a number of early musicals, in which her singing voice was dubbed. One of her most revered films remains The Docks of New York (1928), noted for its dark visual ambiance and superb performances. In 1930, she made a version of The Spoilers in which she played the role later portrayed by similar-looking Marlene Dietrich in the 1942 remake, while Gary Cooper played the part subsequently acted in the later film by John Wayne, perhaps the only time that Cooper and Wayne played precisely the same role. 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. Unfortunately, most of her later films were low-budget, even exploitation, efforts, though her acting was always competent. Compson’s last film was Here Comes Trouble (1948). She retired following that film and helped her husband run a business called “Ashtrays Unlimited”. Compson died in 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. She left no surviving relatives.
- March, 19, 1897
- Beaver, Utah
- April, 18, 1974
- Glendale, California
Cause of Death
- heart attack
- San Fernando Mission Cemetery
- Mission Hills, California