Betty Compton: Broadway and Breast Cancer

Just to make one’s life hell, not only is there a Betty COMPSON, but there is also a completely different Betty COMPTON (Violet Halling Compton,1904-44), roughly contemporary, also in show business, not as famous, but not obscure enough for us to ignore, for this one counted among her four husbands NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker and Broadway producer Eddie Dowling. 

Compton was born on the Isle of Wight, then moved with her family to Saskatchewan, then Toronto, then New York. In researching her I have now found the frustratingly common and meaningless phrase “she was a member of Ziegfeld Follies“, scores and scores of times. This is precisely how disinformation gets spread throughout the internet. The Ziegfeld Follies was a SHOW with annual editions. It was not a permanent troupe. One was not a “member” of it. One was either cast in an edition of the show, or one was not. If she was in the chorus of the Follies, where? When? For she is not listed among the cast of any of the Broadway productions of the show, although that’s not to say she didn’t appear in a regional production, perhaps in Toronto.

On Broadway she performed in the Shubert show Vogues of 1924; the Dillingham show The City Chap (1925); Americana (1926-27) with Lew Brice and Charles Butterworth; the smash hit Oh, Kay! (1926-27) with Gertrude Lawrence, Victor Moore and Oscar Shaw; Funny Face (1927-28) with Fred and Adele Astaire; Hold Everything (1928-29) with Bert Lahr; and the Cole Porter show Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929-30) with Helen Broderick and William Gaxton. Compton must have seemed like a good luck charm — every show she was in was a relative hit. After this, she did just two movies: a Vitaphone musical short called The Legacy (1930), and a British film entitled Too Many Millions (1934).

By this time she was married to Walker. He had seen her in Oh, Kay and the two began an affair at that time (1926). Walker’s wife began divorce proceedings in 1928 that lasted for years. In the middle of the kerfuffle, Compton briefly married Dowling in 1931. Compton and Walker were finally wed in 1933. The union lasted only lasted until 1941. Compton later remarried, had a child, and died of breast cancer in 1944, at the age of 40.

To learn more about show business history, please avail yourself of No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.