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Blythe, Betty (1893–1972)

Blythe, Betty (1893–1972)

American leading lady of the silent era. Born Elizabeth Blythe Slaughter in Los Angeles, California, on September 1, 1893; died in 1972; niece of writer Samuel G. Blythe; educated in a convent and at the University of Southern California; married Paul Scardon, in 1924 (died 1954).

Filmography:

His Own People (1918); Over the Top (1918); A Game with Fate (1918); Fighting Destiny (1919); The Man Who Won (1919); Undercurrent (1919); The Third Generation (1920); The Silver Horde (1920); Nomads of the North (1920); Queen of Sheba (1921); The Truant Husband (1921); His Wife's Husband (1922); How Women Love (1922); The Darling of the Rich (1923); Chu Chin Chow (1923); Sinner or Saint (1923); The Breath of Scandal (1924); She (Britain, 1925); Snowbound (1927); The Girl from Gay Paree (1927); Sisters of Eve (1928); Stolen Love (1928); Tom Brown of Culver (1932); Pilgrimage (1933); Only Yesterday (1933); Ever Since Eve (1934); The Scarlet Letter (1934); The Gorgeous Hussy (1936); Conquest (1937); Honky Tonk (1941); Where Are Your Children? (1944); Docks of New York (1945); Madonna of the Desert (1948); (cameo) My Fair Lady (1964).

Silent film buffs remember Betty Blythe for her title role in the 1921 hit The Queen ofSheba , in which she wore nothing above the waist but delicate, strategically placed chains. This was the role and costume she never tired of talking about, often recounting her screen test for the part, during which she tripped over the elaborate train on the gown.

After her father, a Los Angeles lawyer, died when she was two, Blythe and her two sisters were raised by their mother. Though Blythe was more interested in baseball than boys or theatrics, her mother encouraged a stage career and provided voice lessons. As a teenager, Blythe traveled to Europe with a theatrical company, playing in The Peacock Princess. Her mother died soon after her return, leaving her on her own. In 1915, she landed a role on Broadway in High Jinks, and the following year went on the road with the hit So Long Letty. After the tour, she suffered a dry spell until she accompanied a friend to an interview at the Vitagraph Company in Brooklyn, where the director W.P.S. Earl and his star Earl Williams spotted her in the reception room and hired her on the spot.

Her best roles were in the late teens and 1920s, although her voice training allowed her to move into talkies with ease. Among her most important films in addition to Sheba, were She (1917), which was later remade as a talkie with Helen Gahagan Douglas , and Chu-Chin-Chow (1925). Blythe worked steadily through the 1930s but in smaller roles for second-rate pictures. She was last seen in a bit part in My Fair Lady (1964).

Throughout her career, Blythe earned most of her income by teaching acting and diction out of the large home in Hollywood that she shared with her husband of 34 years, Paul Scardon. She also occasionally appeared in road company productions, including The Man Who Came toDinner (1940) and Wallflower (1944). In 1967, over a decade after her husband's death, Blythe moved to the Motion Picture Country home in Woodland Hills, California, where she lived in a cottage once occupied by the late Gareth Hughes who costarred with her in two movies. She lived out her final years regaling oldtimers with stories of her heyday in Hollywood.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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