Friday 14 September 2012

Top 5 Precode Siblings

I used forget the famous stars had families; they look like gods and goddesses on the screen and I forget they had lives outside their work. In many families, such as, the Tallmadge’s, Bennett’s and the Fontaine/ de Havilland’s acting seems to be in the blood and more than one family member tries their luck in Hollywood. Sometimes they all succeed and sometimes one is left in the shadows. This is my list of the top 5 Precode siblings; brothers and sisters of famous celebrities, some of which made it and some who didn’t.     

1) Sally Blane

Sally Blane, right, with her sister Loretta Young

At a young age, the Young sisters Elizabeth, Polly-Ann and Gretchen were inseparable. They were all beautiful, graceful and had ambitions to be famous film stars. As children they stared together and separately in several silent films and shorts as extras. Although, Elizabeth Young – renamed Sally Blane – had talent and classic features it was her sister Gretchen (popularly known as Loretta Young) who stole the spotlight often winning the larger roles and attracting media attention. Sally was born July 11, 1910 in Salida, Colorado and was in her first film at aged seven in ‘Sirens of the Sea’ (1917). She was most popular in the Precode era appearing in the majority of her 100 films between the 1929 and 1934 period. Although they were mostly low budget pictures and shorts, Sally shone in several notable films, such as, ‘I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang’ (1932) with Paul Muni, ‘The Vagabond Lover’ (1929) with Rudy Valle and ‘Silver Streak’ (1934). In 1935, Sally’s career took a backseat when she married actor and director Norman Foster and had their first child, named Gretchen, eight months later. After her marriage, Sally never fully renewed her passion for the screen; however, she did appear in several films until her retirement in the late 1950’s. During her career, the Young sisters appears in a number of films together, most interestingly, all together in ‘The Story of Alexander Graham Bell’ (1939). Sally Blane died in 1997 at aged 87 from cancer, a few years before the death of her sister Loretta in 2000.  

2) Barbara Bennett

Barabara Bennett, publicity shot

Like the Youngs, the three Bennet sisters seemed destined for Hollywood fame. Joan, Constance and Barbara, the only daughters of actor Richard Bennett and actress Adrienne Morrison had a perfect acting pedigree of over two generations. While both Joan and Constance made the successful transition from silents to talkies, middle sister Barbara’s career stagnated. She was born in August 13, 1906 and over her life only made five films, two silents ‘The Valley of Decision’ (1916) and ‘Black Jack’ (1927) and three talkies ‘Syncopation’ (1929), ‘Mother’s Boy’ (1929) and ‘Love Among the Millionaires’ (1930). Unlike, her sisters Barbara focused more on her family and social life than career marrying three times and having five children. Her first husband was singer Morton Downey with whom she married in 1929 and had five children, Michael, Lorelle, Morton Jr, Anthony and Kevin. They were divorced 1941. That year, Barbara married actor, singer and cowboy Addison Randall and, after his death by heart-attack in 1945, married Larent Suprenant in 1954. Sadly, Barbara’s up and down life ended five days before her 52nd birthday when she committed suicide. Louise Brooks said of her death:
"Barbara made a career of her emotions. Periods of work or marriage were terminated by her frightening, abandoned laughter of despair and failure. Only her death, in 1958, achieved in her fifth suicide attempt, could be termed a success."

3) Pat Wing

Pat Wing, right, with her sister Toby
Although, she wasn’t as stunning or provocative as her older sister, Toby Wing, Pat had that similar quality of child-like sexuality that made both sisters chorus girl regulars. She was born Gertrude Madison Wing November 19, 1916 in Richmond, Virginia. She was the daughter of Paramount executive Paul Wing who pushed both his daughters into films at an early age. Pat started out as a child star moving from one uncredited role to the next without reaching stardom. Her first role was in ‘Maytime’ (1923) under the name Gertrude Wing.  When the talkies arrived in the lat 1920’s her dancing and singing ability made her an asset in the newly forming medium of film musicals. Pat’s first credited role was playing secretary, Miss Lee in ‘The Face on a Barroom Floor’ (1932). The rest of her career was unremarkable cast as ‘A Model’, ‘A Hula Dancer’, ‘Nurse’, ‘Society Girl’ in several mediocre Precodes. However, interestingly she did have a small part as a chorus girl in the Busby Berkley classic, ‘42nd Street’ (1933) also featuring Toby. Pat retired five years later in 1938 and died, aged 85, February 13, 2002 in Gloucester, Ohio.    

4) Sven Garbo
Sven, left and his sister Greta
When you look at Sven it is clear, like most of the Gustafson (later Garbo) family, had inherited his father’s legendary good looks and charm. Similar to his younger sister, Greta, he was handsome, lean and chiselled.  He was born on July 26, 1898 in Stockholm, Sweden. But unlike his sister, it was unclear to him how he was to employ his assets. After leaving the army, he began a number of commonplace jobs ranging from a bakery assistant to a general shop helper. During this time he began a relationship with a dairy maid Elsa Hagerman and decided to settle down after she became pregnant. They had one child but never married.  In 1928, on a trip to Paris, Sven’s life began to change. His sister was already an international star and he was offered contracts both in Sweden, England and France. During the two years following he completed three films in Europe under the names Sven Garbo and Sven Gustafsson. But this was the end of his short film career; in 1931 he married a US born girl Ethel Baltzer and had a daughter, Ann-Marguerite.  Sven’s passion soon turned to painting and he began studying at Art Students League and was successful in having several pictures exhibited in local galleries. He continued this pursuit until his death in January 27, 1967 of a heart attack. His three films were Konstgjorda Svensson (Sweden 1929), När rosorna slå ut (Sweden/USA 1930) & Charlotte Löwensköld (Sweden/USA 1930).

5) Jack Pickford

Mary and Jack Pickford

Mary Pickford was the first superstar of motion pictures, she was admired by all Americans and, incidentally, the highest paid women in films. For poor charming and child-like Jack, it was a hard name to shake. He was universally known as Mary’s brother and even a number of high profile scandals couldn’t change his image. He was born John Charles Smith on August 18, 1896 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  By 1910, his sister Gladys Smith had changed her name to Mary Pickford and, upon signing a contract with Biograph Studios, secured Jack a job under the company. Where Mary moved the family followed and, after small acting roles, Mary brought Jack over to her new studio First National Pictures. He began playing bits parts and uncredited roles in almost 100 shorts. In 1917, he completed his most popular films, as ‘Pip’ in ‘Great Expectations’ (1917) and as the title character in ‘Tom Sawyer’ (1917). He completed a number of B-grade films and minor shorts until his last performance in ‘Gang War’ (1928).
After far as personal scandals go, Jack had them all. He was a known alcoholic, drug user and womaniser. In 1918, while in the navy, Jack was almost disgraced after allegedly creating a program where rich men could pay to avoid army service.  However, Jack’s biggest scandal involved more than bribes, but the unexplained death of his young wife while on a trip together. Olive Thomas and Jack Pickford eloped in 1916. Both were young, wild and care-free - two peas in a pod. By 1920, with their marriage in the verge of ending they decided to take a second honeymoon in Paris. The events of the night of September 5 are still unclear but it seems Olive and Jack was out partying, drinking and taking cocaine into the late hours. While Jack was either asleep or out of the room, Olive ingested a large amount of mercury bichloride – apparently by accident – and died a few days later. Understandably, her husband was the key suspect but nothing was ever proved. It appeared Jack never recovered from Olive’s death and, although he twice remarried – first to actress Marliyn Miller and later to Mary Mulhern – he never got over her. Jack’s sad life was not a long one and he also died young in January 1933 from multiple neuroses, probably from complications of his ongoing syphilis.  
Mary, Lottie and Jack Pickford as children

Blink and you will miss it....


  1. Even though all these siblings are attractive, it's so clear which one is the star in each case. They've all got that extra little sparkle. It's so interesting to see. It's like they're reaching out through the camera and grabbing you!

  2. Hey, Emma! Really cool post. I saw a silent movie with Greta Garbo today, God, she really did have that something extra, didn't she? Just wanted to let you know about a blogathon we have going on, it's really interesting! You should head over to my blog and check it out, we'd love to have you!

  3. Hi Emma, great post. I found it really interesting and learnt something knew, i hadn't heard of Barbara Bennet before. All three sisters look so alike especially Barbara and Joan.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I completely understand what you are saying KC, especially if you look at Loretta and Sally. They look so similar but Loretta definitely had the 'It' factor. Also, Marcela I agree the camera loved Greta, apparently she could be photographed from any angle and still look good!! And Alyssa, I also had not heard of Barbara before, strangely, I originally thought that Belle Bennett was the third elusive Bennett sister, but Barb's life is soo much more interesting and she is almost identical to her other sisters.

  5. Very interesting and informative! I thought the most curious was that Sven used his sister's stage last name. Garbo for me there is only one! But now I'm curious to see how was his acting.

  6. Awesome post.. I learned a few things that I had not known before.

  7. Love your site - but that photo is of Joan Bennett and not Barbara.