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Chatterton in 1930
Chatterton in 1930

Ruth Chatterton (December 24, 1892 – November 24, 1961) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She was at her most popular in the early to mid-1930s, and in the same era gained prominence as an aviator, one of the few female pilots in the United States at the time. In the late 1930s, Chatterton retired from film acting but continued her career on the stage. She had several TV roles beginning in the late 1940s and became a successful novelist in the 1950s. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1961.

Early life


Chatterton was born in New York City on Christmas Eve 1892 to Walter, an architect, and Lillian (née Reed) Chatterton.[1] She was of English and French extraction. Her parents separated while she was still quite young. Chatterton attended Mrs. Hagen's School in Pelham, New York].[1]

In 1908, Chatterton and her friends were attending a play in Washington, D.C. Chatterton later criticized the acting of the lead actress to her friends, who challenged her to become a stage actress herself or "shut up". Chatterton accepted the challenge, and a few days later, joined the chorus of the stage show.[2] She soon dropped out of school to further pursue a stage career.[1] Aged 16, Chatterton joined the Friend Stock Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she remained for six months.[2][3]

Career


In 1911, Chatterton made her Broadway stage debut in The Great Name. Her greatest success onstage came in 1914, when she starred in the play Daddy Long Legs, adapted from the novel by Jean Webster.[4]

Chatterton married her first husband, actor Ralph Forbes, on December 19, 1924, in Manhattan.[5] They moved to Los Angeles. With the help of Emil Jannings, she was cast in her first film role in Sins of the Fathers in 1928. That same year, she was signed to a contract by Paramount Pictures. Chatterton's first film for Paramount was also her first sound film, The Doctor's Secret, released in 1929. Chatterton was able to make the transition from silents to sound because of her stage experience.[6]

Later in 1929, Chatterton was loaned to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she starred in Madame X. The film was a critical and box-office success, and effectively launched Chatterton's career. For her work in the film, Chatterton received her first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress.[7] The following year, she starred in Sarah and Son, portraying an impoverished housewife who rises to fame and fortune as an opera singer. The film was another critical and financial success, and Chatterton received a second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Later that year, Chatterton was voted the second female star of the year, behind only Norma Shearer, in a poll conducted by the West Coast film exhibitors.[6]

In 1933, Chatterton starred in the successful Pre-Code comedy-drama Female. When she left Paramount Pictures, her initial home studio, for Warner Bros., along with Kay Francis and William Powell, the brothers Warner were said to then need an infusion of "class". She co-starred in the film Dodsworth (1936), for Samuel Goldwyn, which is widely regarded as her finest film, giving what many considered an Oscar-worthy performance, although she was not nominated. Due to her age and the studios' focus on younger, more bankable stars, she moved to England and continued to star in films there. Chatterton's final film was A Royal Divorce (1938).

Later years


By 1938, Chatterton had tired of motion picture acting and retired from films. She moved back to the Eastern United States, where she lived with her third husband, Barry Thomson. She continued acting in Broadway productions and appeared in the London production of The Constant Wife, for which she received good reviews. Chatterton also raised French poodles and began a successful writing career.[8] Her first novel, Homeward Borne, was published in 1950 and became a best seller. She went on to write three more novels: The Betrayers (1953), The Pride of the Peacock (1954), and The Southern Wild (1958).

Chatterton came out of retirement in the 1950s, and appeared on U.S. television in several plays, including a TV adaptation of Dodsworth on Prudential Playhouse, alongside Mary Astor and Walter Huston.[9] Her last television appearance was as Gertrude in a 1953 adaptation of Hamlet, with Maurice Evans in the title role, on the anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Personal life


Chatterton was one of the few woman aviators at the time, and was good friends with Amelia Earhart.[10][11] She flew solo across the U.S. several times, and served as sponsor of the Sportsman Pilot Mixed Air Derby and the annual Ruth Chatterton Air Derby during the 1930s; she also opened the National Air Races in Los Angeles in 1936.[12][13] She taught British film and stage actor Brian Aherne to fly, an experience he described at length in his 1969 autobiography A Proper Job.[14]

Chatterton was married three times and had no children. In 1924, she married British actor Ralph Forbes, who starred opposite her that same year in The Magnolia Lady, a musical version of the A.E. Thomas and Alice Duer Miller hit Come Out of the Kitchen.[15][16] Their divorce was finalized on August 12, 1932. The following day, August 13, Chatterton married George Brent, her The Rich Are Always with Us and The Crash co-star, in Harrison, New York.[17][18] The couple separated in March 1934 and were divorced in October 1934.[16][19]

Chatterton married actor Barry Thomson in 1942.[20] They remained married until his death in 1960.[21]

Death


After the death of her third husband in 1960, Chatterton lived alone in the home they shared in Redding, Connecticut. On November 21, 1961, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while friends were visiting her home.[21] She was taken to Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, where she died on November 24.[22] She was cremated and is interred in a niche in the Lugar Mausoleum (Section 11, Lot 303) at Beechwoods Cemetery in New Rochelle, New York.

Honors


For her contribution to the motion-picture industry, Ruth Chatterton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6263 Hollywood Blvd.[23] She is also a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.[24]

Filmography


Television credits


See also


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