Katherine Grant: Roach Star Who Retired Mysteriously

The story of Katherine Grant (1904-1937) was one of brief success and promise, and then mystery and tragedy. A striking beauty with a dimpled smile and pale green eyes, she won the Miss Los Angeles Beauty Contest in 1922 and went on to compete in the Miss America Pageant. During this period Grant posed nude for what she was told were art studies. After she became successful she was blackmailed by the photographer. She took him to court and he rapidly backed down.

Grant’s brief career in films lasted only a little over three years, and almost entirely for Hal Roach. In that time, she made 50 films shorts with some of the greatest comedians of her day.

After appearing in two Our Gang shorts, Saturday Morning (1922) and The Cobbler (1923), she next went on to be leading lady to Stan Laurel (then still a solo comedian) in such movies as The Noon Whistle, White Wings, Under Two Jags, Pick and Shovel, Collars and Cuffs, Kill or Cure, Gas and Air, Oranges and Lemons, A Man About Town, Roughest Africa, Frozen Hearts, The Soilers, and Scorching Sands (all 1923).

Then, opposite Charley Chase, she made Why Men Work, The Poor Fish, The Royal Razz (all 1924), Hello Baby, The Family Entrance, Plain and Fancy Girls, Should Husbands be Watched? , Hard Boiled, Is Marriage the Bunk? Looking for Sally, What Price Goofy? Isn’t Life Terrible?, Innocent Husbands, No Father to Guide Him, The Caretaker’s Daughter, The Uneasy Three,  His Wooden Wedding (all 1925), and Charley My Boy (1926).

Other Roach comedians with whom Grant co-starred were James Parrott, Snub Pollard, Arthur Stone, Glenn Tryon, Clyde Cook, and Eddie Borden (whose birthday it also is today). She also co-starred in the 1925 Jack Hoxie western feature Ridin’ Thunder.  She also toured in a vaudeville act with Charley Chase between films.

Things were going great guns for Grant in late 1925 when she was struck down in the street by a hit and run driver. The guy was never caught, and she sustained no physical injuries, but after returning to work for a few months, she checked into a sanitarium to treat a nervous breakdown. Incredibly she remained hospitalized for the rest of her life, over a decade, dying in 1937 of TB (the way I look at it, if you’re in a hospital long enough you’re going to catch SOMETHING). It is also said that she had suffered from dementia for years by that stage.

There had been gossip in the early years about what was REALLY wrong with Grant, followed by rebuttals from her family and from doctors. But frankly this is a case where I have to side with tabloids. I’m sorry: NO ONE goes permanently insane to the point of dementia from being hit by a car. Were there OTHER psychological factors? Were there other medical factors (i.e., brain damaging diseases?) Were their HEREDITARY factors?  Did the doctors give her drugs? Did the doctors make things worse? There is simply more to this story.

It’s worth asking these questions, because Grant was a star. She was not only going places, but she was ALREADY places. At the time of her retirement she was only 22 years old. If she’d stayed in the game several more years, she would undoubtedly have held a similar place in our hearts to the one Thelma Todd holds now, and have been far better remembered.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic and silent comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube