Classic Movie Travels: Betty Compson
Betty Compson was born Eleanor Luicime Compson on March 19, 1897, in Beaver, Utah. Her parents were Virgil and Mary Compson. Her father worked as a mining engineer and gold prospector, in addition to owning a grocery store. Her mother worked as a maid.
Compson’s father passed away when she was young and she began to seek employment opportunities in her teen years. After completing her second year of high school at Salt Lake High School, she worked as a violinist at a Salt Lake City, Utah, theater at the age of 16. Later, she would begin playing in vaudeville sketches and touring with her sketches, until she was noticed by Hollywood producers. Producer Al Christie offered her a contract, paving the way to her first silent film, Wanted, a Leading Lady (1915).
In 1916, she appeared in over 20 films, with the vast majority of them being for Christie. After the success of The Miracle Man (1919), she went on to work for Paramount. Compson followed this experience with the creation of her own production company, Betty Compson Productions, offering her autonomy and control over financing and screenplays. Her company’s first film was Prisoners of Love (1921), in which she appeared in the role of Blanche Davis.
After Paramount refused to give Compson a raise, she signed a contract with a film company in London, starring in four films, including Woman to Woman (1923) and The White Shadow (1923). Both of these films were written by Graham Cutts and Alfred Hitchcock. They proved to be popular and Paramount offered her a raise.
Compson returned to Hollywood and appeared in The Enemy Sex (1924), directed by James Cruze, whom she married in 1925. They divorced years later, close to the release of her first sound film, The Great Gabbo (1929). Her divorce left her nearly bankrupt, forcing her to sell her home and several possessions.
When Comspon’s Paramount contract was not renewed, she turned to freelance work for low-budget studios. She appeared in The Belle of Broadway (1926), The Ladybird (1927), The Big City (1928), Court-Martial (1928), The Docks of New York (1928), and The Barker (1928). She received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Barker but lost to Mary Pickford for Coquette (1929).
Compson’s final success was The Spoilers (1930) with Gary Cooper. She tested for the role of Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind (1939) but did not receive the role. However, she secured a small role in Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).
Compson married twice more. She married producer Irving Weinberg in 1933, though the marriage ended in 1937. Next, she married boxer Silvius Gall and stayed married to him until his passing in 1962. Her final film role was in Here Comes Trouble (1948).
After leaving the film industry, Compson started a cosmetic line and assisted her husband with his Ashtrays Unlimited business.
Compson passed away on April 18, 1974, from a heart attack at age 77. She was interred alongside her mother at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in San Fernando, California.
In 1910, Compson and her family resided at 273 S. 400 E., Salt Lake City, Utah. By 1930, she lived at 4400 Oakwood Ave., Los Angeles, California with Cruze. In 1934, she resided at 7315 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California, with Weinberg. The homes no longer stand.
Compson’s 1940s home remains at 441 Randolph St., Glendale, California. She lived here with her mother and a lodger named James Kinney.
Compson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring her work in motion pictures. Her star is located at 1751 Vine St., Los Angeles, California.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.