Nationality: American. Born: Richard Semler Barthelmess in New York City, 9 May 1895. Education: Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, 1913–16. Military Service: 1942–45—served in Navy, eventually attaining rank of Commander. Family: Married 1) the actress Mary Hay, 1920 (divorced 1927), daughter: Mary; 2) Jessica Stewart Sargeant, 1928. Career: Early 1910s—during summers while in college acted in stock companies, and, briefly, for Hartford Film Corporation; 1916—as extra in Billie Burke serial; contract with Herbert Brenon, on recommendation of actress Nazimova; 1918—hired by Griffith to appear in Dorothy Gish comedy, then given 3-year contract; 1919—role in Broken Blossoms established star status; 1921—incorporated Inspiration Pictures as part of financing deal to produce Tol'able David; 1927—contract with first National; 1936—Broadway debut in The Postman Always Rings Twice; retired from filmmaking after war. Died: In Southampton, New York, 18 August 1963.
Films as Actor:
Gloria's Romance (Kline); War Brides (Brenon); Snow White (Searle)
The Moral Code (Miller); The Eternal Sin (Brenon); The Valentine Girl (Dawley); The Soul of Magdalen (King); The Streets of Illusion; Bab's Diary (Dawley); Bab's Burglar (Dawley); For Valour (Parker); Nearly Married (Withey); The Seven Swans (Dawley)
Sunshine Nan (Giblyn); Rich Man, Poor Man (Dawley); Hit the Trail Holiday (Neilan); The Hope Chest (Clifton)
The Girl Who Stayed at Home (Griffith); Broken Blossoms (Griffith) (as Cheng Huan); Boots (Clifton); Three Men and a Girl (Neilan); Peppy Polly (Clifton); I'll Get Him Yet (Clifton)
Scarlet Days (Griffith); The Idol Dancer (Griffith); The Love Flower (Griffith); Way Down East (Griffith) (as David Bartlett)
Experience (Fitzmaurice); Tol'able David (King) (as David Kinemon)
The Seventh Day (King); Just a Song at Twilight (Carlton King); Sonny (King); The Bond Boy (King); Fury (Goulding)
The Bright Shawl (Robertson); The Fighting Blade (Robertson); Twenty One (Robertson)
The Enchanted Cottage (Robertson); Classmates (Robertson)
New Toys (Robertson); Soulfire (Robertson); Shore Leave (Robertson); The Beautiful City (Webb)
Just Suppose (Webb); Ranson's Folly (Olcott); The Amateur Gentleman (Olcott); The White Black Sheep (Olcott)
The Dropkick (Santell); The Patent Leather Kid (Santell)
The Noose (Dillon); The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (Santell); The Wheels of Chance (Santell); Out of the Ruins (Santell); Scarlet Seas (Dillon)
Weary River (Lloyd); Drag (Lloyd); Young Nowheres (Lloyd); The Show of Shows (Adolfi)
Son of the Gods (Lloyd); The Dawn Patrol (Hawks); The Lash (Lloyd)
The Finger Points (Dillon); The Last Flight (Dieterle)
Alias the Doctor (Curtiz); Cabin in the Cotton (Curtiz)
Central Airport (Wellman); Heroes for Sale (Wellman)
Massacre (Crosland); A Modern Hero (Pabst); Midnight Alibi (Crosland)
Four Hours to Kill (Leisen)
Spy of Napoleon (Elvey)
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
The Man Who Talked Too Much (Sherman)
The Mayor of Forty-Fourth St. (Green); The Spoilers (Enright)
By BARTHELMESS: articles—
"A La William Tell," in Photo-Play Journal, June 1919.
"15 Years of Fame," in Pictures and Picturegoer, June 1929.
On BARTHELMESS: articles—
Weitzel, Edward, "The Rise of Richard Barthelmess," in Moving Picture World, 26 July 1919.
Hall, Gladys, "Richard the Tenth," in Motion Picture Magazine, April 1921.
Wilson, B. F., "A Terribly Intimate Portrait," in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), August 1924.
Collier, Lionel, "The Idol Richard," in Pictures and Picturegoer, June 1929.
Jacobs, J., "Richard Barthelmess," in Films in Revue (New York), January 1958.
Pickard, Roy, "The Tough Race," in Films and Filming (London), September 1971.
Fox, J., "The Country Boys, an aspect of Rural America in the Age of Innocence," in Films and Filming (London), May 1972.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, revised edition, London, 1979.
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Some actors achieve a place in the filmic hall of fame by the totality of their performances. Others, like Richard Barthelmess, are known for one or two outstanding roles that overshadow all their other work.
His mother was the great Nazimova's English teacher, and when the Russian actress made her film debut in Herbert Brenon's War Brides, young Richard shared her honors. Several performances helped establish Barthelmess as a star before D. W. Griffith engaged him to play opposite Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms. His interpretation of a poetic Chinese boy from the London docks who falls in love with a battered waif of the streets is one of the most remarkable examples of screen acting. The following year Griffith again used Barthelmess and Gish in Way Down East, an old melodrama brought to life by the master. Griffith also directed him in four other films.
Forming his own company, Inspiration Pictures, in cooperation with the director Henry King, he again gave an outstanding performance in the film masterpiece Tol'able David based on a Joseph Hergesheimer story of a country boy's courage when a gang of ruffians threaten his family. King's direction and Barthelmess's playing make this a classic of the cinema which influenced many directors, including the great Russian Pudovkin.
The Bright Shawl, again based on Hergesheimer and starring Dorothy Gish, and The Enchanted Cottage with May McAvoy, added to his laurels, and his popularity continued to the end of the silent period. His career was by no means finished with the coming of sound, and he had leading roles in Howard Hawks's The Dawn Patrol and Only Angels Have Wings, Michael Curtiz's Cabin in the Cotton with the young Bette Davis, and Pabst's only American film, A Modern Hero. As Barthelmess grew older he undertook minor character roles but left Hollywood forever after joining the navy in 1942. He enjoyed a comfortable retirement until his death at his Long Island home in 1963.