The single largest change in film history has been the dramatic transition from “silents” to “talkies;” Many went from leading roles in the silent film era to supportive and minor players of the “talkies” and are forgotten today for their efforts and contributions to the film medium. Actress Betty Compson is one such actress whom has exactly 208 credits attached to her name but has been unfortunately forgotten until now.
Betty Compson did not consider show business as a profession until her father died in her early teens and she had to provide for the family. Betty put her violinist skills to work and circulated the vaudevillian houses with the name "Vagabond Violinist." Soon after, Betty arrived in Hollywood and immediately got to work. Her first film was a "silent" titled, “Wanted: A Leading Lady” (1915). She starred opposite Lon Chaney in “The Miracle Man” (1919) and by 1920, Betty was amongst other pioneering women in film producing films for career benefits. Her production company was aptly named, “Betty Compson Productions.” She produced three films in all — “Prisoners of Love” (1921), “For Those We Love” (1921) and “Always The Woman” (1922). Betty was the star of all three films with Director Arthur Rossan at the helm. “The Barker” (1928) was a silent film that took advantage of the industry’s experiments with sound and featured a few talking sequences. As a result, Betty was nominated for an Oscar for her role as “Carrie.”
In “The Great Gabbo” (1929) Betty co-starred with legendary Austrian-born actor Erich Von Stroheim. Betty performed the songs, “I’m In Love With You” and “Web of Love” for the soundtrack. As silent film actors lost their careers to the “talkies,” Betty’s career narrowly escaped the same fate. By the 1940s, Betty was starring and co-starring in “cult” films such as, “Port of Missing Girls” (1938), “Escort Girl” (1941) and “Mad Youth” (1940) that dared to explore taboo subjects that went out of style twenty years before in Hollywood. Betty made an uncredited role in “Strange Cargo” (1940) with classic film icons, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. Betty also made an appearance as “Gertie” in Director Alfred Hitchcock’s comedy, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (1941), sharing the screen with Carole Lombard.
After thirty-three years of working in films, Betty retired with her last film being “Here Comes Trouble” (1948). “There will never be a benefit performance for Betty Compson,” Betty commented when she reflected upon the curtain call of her career. With her third husband, they started their own business called “Ashtrays Unlimited.” At one point in her career, Betty had written
an autobiography but it has been extremely rare to find. In 1974, Betty Compson passed away at the age of seventy-seven. Fortunately today, a limited amount of her films are available for home entertainment.