Ruth Chatterton

Ruth Chatterton (December 24, 1892 November 24, 1961) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She was at her most popular in the early to mid-1930s, and in the same era gained prominence as an aviator, one of the few female pilots in the United States at the time. In the late 1930s, Chatterton retired from film acting but continued her career on the stage. She had several TV roles beginning in the late 1940s and became a successful novelist in the 1950s. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1961.

Ruth Chatterton
Chatterton in 1930
Born(1892-12-24)December 24, 1892
DiedNovember 24, 1961(1961-11-24) (aged 68)
Resting placeBeechwoods Cemetery
OccupationActress, novelist
Years active1908–1953
Ralph Forbes
(m. 1924; div. 1932)

George Brent
(m. 1932; div. 1934)

Barry Thomson
(m. 1942; died 1960)

Early life

Chatterton was born in New York City on Christmas Eve 1892 to Walter, an architect, and Lillian (née Reed) Chatterton.[1] She was of English and French extraction. Her parents separated while she was still quite young. Chatterton attended Mrs. Hagen's School in Pelham, New York].[1]

In 1908, Chatterton and her friends were attending a play in Washington, D.C. Chatterton later criticized the acting of the lead actress to her friends, who challenged her to become a stage actress herself or "shut up". Chatterton accepted the challenge, and a few days later, joined the chorus of the stage show.[2] She soon dropped out of school to further pursue a stage career.[1] Aged 16, Chatterton joined the Friend Stock Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she remained for six months.[2][3]


In 1911, Chatterton made her Broadway stage debut in The Great Name. Her greatest success onstage came in 1914, when she starred in the play Daddy Long Legs, adapted from the novel by Jean Webster.[4]

Chatterton married her first husband, actor Ralph Forbes, on December 19, 1924, in Manhattan.[5] They moved to Los Angeles. With the help of Emil Jannings, she was cast in her first film role in Sins of the Fathers in 1928. That same year, she was signed to a contract by Paramount Pictures. Chatterton's first film for Paramount was also her first sound film, The Doctor's Secret, released in 1929. Chatterton was able to make the transition from silents to sound because of her stage experience.[6]

Later in 1929, Chatterton was loaned to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she starred in Madame X. The film was a critical and box-office success, and effectively launched Chatterton's career. For her work in the film, Chatterton received her first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress.[7] The following year, she starred in Sarah and Son, portraying an impoverished housewife who rises to fame and fortune as an opera singer. The film was another critical and financial success, and Chatterton received a second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Later that year, Chatterton was voted the second female star of the year, behind only Norma Shearer, in a poll conducted by the West Coast film exhibitors.[6]

In 1933, Chatterton starred in the successful Pre-Code comedy-drama Female. When she left Paramount Pictures, her initial home studio, for Warner Bros., along with Kay Francis and William Powell, the brothers Warner were said to then need an infusion of "class". She co-starred in the film Dodsworth (1936), for Samuel Goldwyn, which is widely regarded as her finest film, giving what many considered an Oscar-worthy performance, although she was not nominated. Due to her age and the studios' focus on younger, more bankable stars, she moved to England and continued to star in films there. Chatterton's final film was A Royal Divorce (1938).

Later years

By 1938, Chatterton had tired of motion picture acting and retired from films. She moved back to the Eastern United States, where she lived with her third husband, Barry Thomson. She continued acting in Broadway productions and appeared in the London production of The Constant Wife, for which she received good reviews. Chatterton also raised French poodles and began a successful writing career.[8] Her first novel, Homeward Borne, was published in 1950 and became a best seller. She went on to write three more novels: The Betrayers (1953), The Pride of the Peacock (1954), and The Southern Wild (1958).

Chatterton came out of retirement in the 1950s, and appeared on U.S. television in several plays, including a TV adaptation of Dodsworth on Prudential Playhouse, alongside Mary Astor and Walter Huston.[9] Her last television appearance was as Gertrude in a 1953 adaptation of Hamlet, with Maurice Evans in the title role, on the anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Personal life


Chatterton was one of the few woman aviators at the time, and was good friends with Amelia Earhart.[10][11] She flew solo across the U.S. several times, and served as sponsor of the Sportsman Pilot Mixed Air Derby and the annual Ruth Chatterton Air Derby during the 1930s; she also opened the National Air Races in Los Angeles in 1936.[12][13] She taught British film and stage actor Brian Aherne to fly, an experience he described at length in his 1969 autobiography A Proper Job.[14]


Chatterton was married three times and had no children. In 1924, she married British actor Ralph Forbes, who starred opposite her that same year in The Magnolia Lady, a musical version of the A.E. Thomas and Alice Duer Miller hit Come Out of the Kitchen.[15][16] Their divorce was finalized on August 12, 1932. The following day, August 13, Chatterton married George Brent, her The Rich Are Always with Us and The Crash co-star, in Harrison, New York.[17][18] The couple separated in March 1934 and were divorced in October 1934.[16][19]

Chatterton married actor Barry Thomson in 1942.[20] They remained married until his death in 1960.[21]


After the death of her third husband in 1960, Chatterton lived alone in the home they shared in Redding, Connecticut. On November 21, 1961, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while friends were visiting her home.[21] She was taken to Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, where she died on November 24.[22] She was cremated and is interred in a niche in the Lugar Mausoleum (Section 11, Lot 303) at Beechwoods Cemetery in New Rochelle, New York.


For her contribution to the motion-picture industry, Ruth Chatterton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6263 Hollywood Blvd.[23] She is also a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.[24]



Year Title Role Notes
1928 Sins of the Fathers Greta Blanke
1929 The Doctor's Secret Lillian Garson
1929 The Dummy Agnes Meredith
1929 Madame X Jacqueline Alternative title: Absinthe
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Actress
1929 Charming Sinners Kathryn Miles
1929 The Laughing Lady Marjorie Lee
1930 Sarah and Son Sarah Storm Nominated: Academy Award for Best Actress
1930 Paramount on Parade Floozie (The Montmartre Girl)
1930 The Lady of Scandal Elsie
1930 Anybody's Woman Pansy Gray
1930 The Right to Love Brooks Evans / Naomi Kellogg
1931 Unfaithful Lady Fay Kilkerry
1931 The Magnificent Lie Poll
1931 Once a Lady Anna Keremazoff
1932 Tomorrow and Tomorrow Eve Redman
1932 The Rich Are Always with Us Caroline Grannard
1932 The Crash Linda Gault
1932 Frisco Jenny Frisco Jenny Sandoval
1933 Lilly Turner Lilly "Queenie" Turner Dixon
1933 Female Alison Drake
1934 Journal of a Crime Francoise Moliet
1936 Lady of Secrets Celia Whittaker
1936 Girls' Dormitory Professor Anna Mathe
1936 Dodsworth Fran Dodsworth
1937 The Rat Zelia de Chaumont
1938 A Royal Divorce Josephine de Beauharnais


Year Title Role Notes
1948 The Philco Television Playhouse Episode: "Suspect"
1950 Prudential Family Playhouse Fran Dodsworth Episode: "Dodsworth"
1951 Celanese Theatre Kit Marlowe Episode: "Old Acquaintance"
1952 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Alison Stanhope Episode: "Alison's House"
1952 Kraft Television Theatre Episode: "Paper Moon"
1953 Hamlet Gertrude Television film, (final film role)

See also


  • Homeward Borne: A Novel (1950)
  • The Betrayers (1953)
  • The Pride of the Peacock (1954)
  • The Southern Wild (1958)
  • «Lady's Man» (1961)[25]


  1. (Blum 1954, p. 1919)
  2. "Noted Actress Chatterton Dies at 68". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. November 25, 1961. p. 4. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  3. "Ruth Chatterton Tells The Bashful Lady of Happy Days". The Milwaukee Journal. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. January 23, 1918. p. 9. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  4. "Ruth Chatterton Dies; Was Actress 4 Decades". The Deseret News. Salt Lake City, Utah. November 25, 1961. p. A7. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  5. New York City, Marriage Indexes, 1907-1995
  6. (McLean 2007, p. 23)
  7. (Turner Classic Movies, Inc., Corliss 2009, p. 70)
  8. Lowry, Cynthia (August 26, 1958). "Ruth Chatterton, Once a Star, In Second Career As Writer". The Free Lance-Star. Fredricksburg, Virginia. p. 5. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  9. (Roberts 2003, p. 260)
  10. (Jones 2009, p. 45)
  11. (Wallach, McCann, Zachary, Roseman 2008, p. 121)
  12. The Sportswoman (Magazine): Volume 12, Issue 11 p. 8
  13. (Matowitz 2006, p. 59)
  14. (Aherne 1969, pp. 230–231)
  15. (Bordman 2001, p. 444)
  16. "Ruth Chatterton Granted Divorce From Geo. Brent". The Lewiston Daily Sun. Lewiston, Maine. October 3, 1934. p. 19. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  17. "Ruth Chatterton Marries George Brent, Film Actor". The Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. August 14, 1932. p. 2. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  18. "A Life Apart: Ruth Chatterton and Her Husbands". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, Australia. June 14, 1934. p. 9. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  19. "Ruth Chatterton In Divorce Court". Reading Eagle. Reading, Pennsylvania. September 18, 1934. p. 14. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  20. (Vazzana 2001, p. 89)
  21. "Ruth Chatterton Dies". Kentucky New Era. Hopkinsville, Kentucky. November 25, 1961. p. 9. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  22. "Ruth Chatterton, Actress, Dies". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Daytona Beach, Florida. November 25, 1961. p. 3. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  23. "Hollywood Star Walk: Ruth Chatterton". Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  24. "Theater Hall of Fame members".
  25. Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night. Random House.


  • Aherne, Brian (1969). A Proper Job: An Autobiography of an Actor's Actor (1 ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Blum, Daniel C. (1954). Great Stars of the American Stage: A Pictorial Record. Grosset & Dunlap.
  • Bordman, Gerald (2001). American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle (3 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-195-13074-X.
  • Jones, Kim (2009). Aviation in Tulsa and Northeast Oklahoma. New York: Arcadie Publishing. ISBN 0-738-56068-5.
  • Matowitz, Thomas G. (2006). Cleveland's National Air Races (Images of Aviation). New York: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-738-53996-1.
  • McLean, Adrienne L., ed. (2011). Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-813-54904-3.
  • Roberts, Jerry (2003). The Great American Playwrights on the Screen: A Critical Guide to Film, Video, and DVD. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 1-557-83512-8.
  • Turner Classic Movies, Inc.; Corliss, Richard (2014). Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love to Hate). Simon and Schuster. ISBN 1-476-73828-9.
  • Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent Film Necrology (2 ed.). McFarland. ISBN 0-786-41059-0.
  • Wallach, Ruth; Taube, Dace; Zachary, Claude; Roseman, Curtis C. (2008). Historic Hotels of Los Angeles and Hollywood Images of America: California. New York: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-738-55906-7.

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