Alma Rubens: Drug Casualty of the Silent Era


Today is the birthday of Alma Rubens (Alma Genevieve Reubens, 1897-1931).

Originally from San Francisco, Rubens started out when still a teenager as a chorus girl in musical comedies. There she met long-time trouper Franklyn Farnum, 20 years her senior, with whom she went into movies, and who was to become her first husband. She was an extra in D.W. Griffith films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), but then began to be cast opposite Douglas Fairbanks in such films as Reggie Mixes In (1916), The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916), The Half Breed (1916) and The Americano (1916). She co-starred in several westerns with William S. Hart. Then in 1920, she signed with William Randolph Hearst’s Metropolitan Pictures, starring in his hit Humoresque and others. Later she signed with Fox, where the film version of the melodrama favorite East Lynne (1925) was one of her hits. In 1927 she married her third husband the movie star Ricardo Cortez (her second had been film scenarist Daniel Carson Goodwin).

By the late 20s she was in the grip of a worsening drug addiction, which had apparently developed when a physician had prescribed morphine for an ailment. Sanitarium stays, arrests and bad publicity began to prevented her from working in films. Her last role was Julie in the 1929 version of Show Boat.

Now it was that she went into vaudeville, as many films stars were doing in the early 30s. She toured in a team with Cortez, commencing with much fanfare at the Palace in New York. But during the tour, the couple broke up. Rubens was arrested for drug smuggling and possession in San Diego in early 1931. It was shortly after this that she sadly died of pneumonia at the age of 33.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous


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