Bessie Love (1898-1986)
Country of Birth: USA
Birth Name: Juanita Horton
The basics: Bessie Love was born in Texas but her family relocated to Los Angeles when she was a teenager. While still a high school student, Love found work as an extra in D.W. Griffith’s production company and there she dropped Juanita for Bessie. Love stayed busy throughout the ‘teens, starring once opposite William S. Hart and working three times with Douglas Fairbanks. Love was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1922, the first year the distinction was offered and she introduced the Charleston to the movie-going public in the in the 1925 film The King of Main Street. Love made a smooth transition to sound and received an Oscar nomination for her performance in The Broadway Melody, the first all-talking musical feature. However, soon Love’s popularity waned and she relocated to England in 1935. She made appearances in bit parts and on television through the ensuing decades and enjoyed supporting roles during the 1980’s in the films Reds and Ragtime. She died in London in 1986.
You probably saw her in: The Lost World, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, Young April
Silent style: Bessie Love never really found her persona in the world of silent cinema. She was a lovely woman and a capable actress but acting was all about finding your “type” in those days. Love was too dainty to be a true flapper, too lively to be an old-fashioned angelic maiden, too nice to be a vamp, too ethereal to be the All American Girl and too youthful-looking to be a sophisticate. And yet she is singularly delightful in all the pictures I have seen her in.
Sound transition: Love transitioned well to talking pictures and specialized in musicals. When the genre lost popularity, Love’s career went down with the musical ship. She soldiered on in smaller roles but was never able to gain true star status.
What others said:
“I think maybe that’s why she hasn’t been luckier,” Colleen opined. “She can’t pose. She’s like me — just a Hollywood girl.”
Colleen Moore, as quoted in Photoplay
If you gotta know more:
From Hollywood with Love by Bessie Love (autobiography)
Classics of the Silent Screen by Joe Franklin (biographical entry)
If you can only see her in one thing: The Sea Lion, which is a dreadfully uneven film (read my review) but it showcases Bessie Love’s versatility and unique talent. Seriously, give her a chance. She is the best silent star you’ve never heard of.