Today is the birthday of Betty Blythe (Elizabeth Blythe Slaughter, 1893-1972). A native of Los Angeles, Blythe studied opera and art in Paris, and spent some time performing in musical comedies before going into films in 1916. Within a couple of years she was getting starring roles, and her career truly took off in 1919 when she hired by Fox as a “replacement vamp” for Theda Bara. Blythe was the first woman to get naked (or very nearly — see above) in mainstream Hollywood films. She made her greatest splash in films like The Queen of Sheba (1921, directed by J. Gordon Edwards, grandfather of Blake Edwards), Chu-Chin-Chow (1925), and the original version of She (1925).
In order to bolster her reputation as a legitimate performer she undertook some vaudeville dates in 1926, singing and doing impressions at the Palace Theater and elsewhere. But the gambit didn’t work. Within a few years into the sound era she was an uncredited bit player most of the time, although she worked constantly and steadily in that capacity through 1958. After a six year hiatus, she did one last turn as a party guest in My Fair Lady (1964).
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc