Claire Dodd: Arch Starlet of the Thirties

Born December 29, Claire Dodd (Dorothy Dodd, 1908-1973).

Born in Iowa, raised in Arkansas, it was often given out that she’d gotten her start in the Ziegfeld Follies, although there is no such credit for her on IBDB, but it just may be that she was with a touring unit of the show. There are some credits there under her given name Dorothy Dodd that seem appropriate to the timeline, at least some of them: Kiss Me (1927) and Rainbow (1928), although there are two other credits for this performer in the mid 1930s when Dodd was already a busy contract played under her better known professional name. IBDB does list Clare Dodd [sic] in the 1930 Marilyn Miller show Smiles; on this point the database and her biographies agree.

Dodd had also worked as a model, so it was appropriate that her first movie gig Our Blushing Brides (1930) had her playing a mannequin (i.e., store fashion model). Next, she was a Goldwyn Girl in Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee!(1930). For her first couple of years in the film industry she was usually  an uncredited extra, but by 1932, she starts to get decent parts, usually about 4th or 5th billed. As such she’s in pre-code classics like Lawyer Man (1932) with William Powell, and The Match King (1932) with Warren William. Producers usually cast her as “bad girls”, “other women”, schemers, gold diggers, and the like. Something about her personality prevented her from cracking the next step to Leading Lady. But she has good parts in many great movies. She’s in Elmer the Great (1933) with Joe E. Brown. She’s in the classic Warner musical Footlight Parade (1933) with James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert. She’s third-billed in the screen adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1934), behind Kibbee as the title character and Aline McMahon as his long suffering wife. She’s in the Fred and Ginger musical Roberta (1935). She’s in the original 1935 version of Dashell Hammett’s The Glass Key with George Raft and Edward Arnold. She’s in The Singing Kid (1936) with Al Jolson. She’s in the all-star mystery comedy The Black Cat (1941), as well as Abbott and Costello’s In the Navy (1941). Her last film was the 1942 Joe E. Brown comedy The Daring Young Man. There were many more besides these: over 60 films during the dozen years of her film career.

In 1942 she retired to marry and raise a family; thus her film career is bookended by the beginning of the Depression and America’s involvement in the Second World War. Her death came three decades later; the culprit was cancer.

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