Love, Bessie (1898–1986)

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Love, Bessie (1898–1986)

American actress. Born Juanita Horton on September 10, 1898, in Midland, Texas; died in 1986; daughter of John Cross Horton and Emma Jane (Savage) Horton; attended school in Los Angeles, California; married William Ballinger Hawks (a director), in 1929 (divorced 1935); children: one daughter, Patricia Hawks .

Selected theater:

first appeared on the stage as Bonnie in Burlesque (Santa Barbara, California, 1928); made New York debut (Palace Theater, 1931); made London debut as Julie in Say It with Flowers, and as the Actress in Zenobia (Granville Theater, Walham Green, October 1945); toured as Miss Dell in Love in Idleness (1945–46); appeared as Mrs. Hedges in Born Yesterday (Garrick Theater, London, January 1947), Myrtle Keller in The Male Animal (Arts Theater, May 1949), Laughing Woman in Death of a Salesman (Phoenix Theater, July 1949), Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie (Gaiety Theater, Dublin, 1951), Bessie Bockser in The Wooden Dish (Phoenix Theater, London, July 1954), Mrs. Prioleau in South (Arts Theater, March 1955), Mrs. Kirke in A Girl Called Jo (Piccadilly Theater, March 1955), Mrs. Lily Mortar in The Children's Hour (Arts Theater, December 1955), Babe in her own play The Homecoming (Perth Repertory Theater, April 1958), Nurse in Orpheus Descending (Royal Court Theater, London, May 1959), Reba Spelding in Visit to a Small Planet (Westminster Theater, February 1960), Mrs. Ella Spofford in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Princes Theater, August 1962 and Strand Theater, November 1962), Grace Kimborough in Never Too Late (Prince of Wales Theater, September 1963), a Worker in Saint Joan of the Stockyards (Queen's Theater, June 1964), the White Woman in In White America (New Arts Theater, November 1964), Marguerite Oswald in The Silence of Lee Harvey Oswald (Hampstead Theater Club, November 1966), Aunt Nonnie in Sweet Bird of Youth (Palace Theater, Watford, November 1968); appeared as Aunt Pittypat in Gone With the Wind (London, 1972).

Selected filmography:

The Flying Torpedo (1916); The Aryan (1916); The Good Bad Man (1916); Acquitted (1916); Reggie Mixes In (1916); Stranded (1916); Hell-to-Pay (1916); Austin (1916); Intolerance (1916); A Sister of Six (1917); Nina the Flower Girl (1917); A Daughter of the Poor (1917); The Sawdust Ring (1917); Wee Lady Betty (1917); Polly Ann (1917); Cheerful Givers (1917); The Great Adventure (1918); How Could You Caroline? (1918); The Little Sister of Everybody (1918); The Dawn of Understanding (1918); The Enchanted Barn (1919); The Yankee Princess (1919); The Little Boss (1919); Cupid Forecloses (1919); Carolyn of the Corners (1919); Pegeen (1920); Bonnie May (1920); Penny of Top Hill Trail (1921); The Swamp (1921); The Sea Lion (1921); The Vermilion Pencil (1922); Forget-Me-Not (1922); Bulldog Courage (1922); The Village Blacksmith (1922); Deserted at the Altar (1922); Human Wreckage (1923); The Eternal Three (1923); St. Elmo (1923); Slave of Desire (1923); Gentle Julia (1923); Torment (1924); Those Who Dance (1924); The Silent Watcher (1924); Sundown (1924); Tongues of Flame (1924); The Lost World (1925); Soul-Fire (1925); A Son of His Father (1925); The King on Main Street (1925); The Song and Dance Man (1926); Lovey Mary (1926); Young April (1926); Going Crooked (1926); Rubber Tires (1927); Dress Parade (1927); A Harp in Hock (1927); The Matinee Idol (1928); Sally of the Scandals (1928); Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (1928); The Broadway Melody (1928); The Hollywood Revue (1929); The Idle Rich (1929); The Girl in the Show (1929); Chasing Rainbows (1930); Conspiracy (1930); Good News (1930); See America Thirst (1930); Morals for Women (1931); Atlantic Ferry (UK, 1941); Journey Together (UK, 1945); The Barefoot Contessa (1954); Touch and Go (UK, 1955); The Story of Esther Costello (UK, 1957); Next to No Time (UK, 1958); The Greengage Summer (Loss of Innocence, UK, 1961); The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (US/UK, 1961); Children of the Damned (UK, 1964); The Wild Affair (UK, 1965); Promise Her Anything (UK, 1966); Battle Beneath the Earth (UK/US, 1969); The Loves of Isadora (UK, 1969); On Her Majesty's Secret Service (UK, 1969); Sunday Bloody Sunday (UK, 1971); Catlow (UK/Sp., 1971); Vampyres (1975); The Ritz (1976); L'Amant de lady Chatterley (Lady Chatterley's Lover, Fr./UK, 1981); Ragtime (1981); Reds (1981); The Hunger (1983).

Throughout her long career on stage, screen, radio, and television, actress Bessie Love always hovered on the brink of stardom, never finding just the right vehicle to push her over the top. She was one of the few silent actresses to make a smooth transition to talking pictures, however, and she also had remarkable longevity, continuing to appear on stage and in film cameos into her 70s and 80s.

Petite (under 5′ tall) and pretty, Love was discovered in 1915 and began appearing in silents while she was still in high school in Los Angeles. She may have appeared as an extra in the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, although her participation in that project is unconfirmed. She was featured as the Bride of Cana in the Judean episode of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916) and also played opposite Douglas Fair-banks in several films, including Reggie Mixes In (1916). Love continued to portray sweet young heroines until the early 1920s, when she graduated to leading lady roles in melodramas. In the late 1920s, she made a series of light films, including The King of Main Street (1925) in which she introduced the Charleston.

Bessie Love's breakthrough role was in MGM's first sound musical The Broadway Melody (1929), for which she was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. That same year, she married director William Hawks; they would later have a daughter, Patricia. Around this time, Love also began appearing on stage in a series of variety shows and made her New York debut at the Palace in 1931. In 1935, she divorced Hawks and moved to London, where she continued in films and on the radio. During the war, she worked for the American Red Cross and also did a stint as a film technician at Ealing Studios. Following the war, she returned to the British stage, appearing in minor roles in Born Yesterday (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Children's Hour (1956), The Glass Menagerie (1966), and The Homecoming (1958), which she also wrote. She was also seen on television, playing mostly character roles.

In her later years, Love remained sprightly, attributing her vitality to staying active and to dance movement classes. Her later films included Isadora (1969), in which she played Vanessa Redgrave 's mother, and Penelope Gilliat 's Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), in which she was cast as a busybody phone operator. In 1972, Love scored a hit as Aunt Pittypat in the London stage production of Gone With the Wind. Her last film, The Hunger (1983), was made only three years before she died at the age of 88. Love's autobiography, From Hollywood with Love, was published in 1977.


Halliwell, Leslie. The Filmgoer's Companion. NY: Hill and Wang, 1974.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Ragan, David. Who's Who in Hollywood, 1900–1976. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1976.

suggested reading:

Love, Bessie. From Hollywood with Love. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts