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|
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....