Kay Laurell: Too Beautiful for this Earth?

Kay Laurell (1890-1927) came into the world on a June 28. Born Ruth Leslie (an equally good professional name, I think) in Erie Pennsylvania, she moved to New York as a teenager where she very quickly discovered and employed as an artists’ model for such illustrators and William Glackens and Howard Chandler Christy. This brought her to the notice of Flo Ziegfeld, who cast her in his Follies of 1914, 1915 and 1918. Because of her great beauty (and her willingness of disrobe) she became famous for appearing topless or near-naked in Ziegfeld’s “artistic” tableaux, appearing as Aphrodite in the 1915 edition, and “The Spirit of the Allies” in 1918, when the U.S. was in Wold War One. Here she is decorated as “September Morn”:

There’s a snap in the air!

Most commentators remarked on her beauty but H.L. Mencken is said used her for inspiration for his acerbic 1918 book In Defense of Women, quipping that she was gifted with “all the arts of the really first-rate harlot.”

She dabbled in pictures next, appearing in three silent films: The Brand (1919), The Valley of the Giants (1919), and Lonely Heart (1921). She next toured in vaudeville and with stock companies for the next three years. She returned to Broadway to appear in the plays Quarantine (1924) and Nocturne (1925), but the latter ran only three performances. Her remaining two years were spent working in London and Paris theatre.

Laurell died in childbirth in 1927 giving birth to her first child. The father of the child was a son of Canadian adventurer Klondike Joe Boyle, but the pregnancy was out of wedlock because Laurell was still legally attached to Fox executive Winfield Sheehan whom she’d married in 1917. She was 36 when she died — young for us, but rather old for a first pregnancy in those days.

For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold. For more on early film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. 

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