How Helen Chandler Burned it at Both Ends

Charleston native Helen Chandler (1906-1965) was only eight years old when she began acting professionally in New York. She was still a girl when she was acting in Shakespeare with both of the Barrymore brothers on Broadway, and not yet 20 when she was Hedvig in The Wild Duck and Ophelia to Basil Sydney’s Hamlet. In 1927 Chandler made her screen debut in an adaptation of Belasco’s The Music Master, directed by Allan Dwan. She appeared in over two dozen additional films over the next decade. Her best known screen credit is the role of Mina in the legendary horror classic Dracula (1931). Other notable stuff included Salvation Nell (1931), A House Divided (1931), and Christopher Strong (1933). For 1930 through 1934 she was married to Cyril Hume, screenwriter of Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) et al. Her last film was Mr. Boggs Steps Out (1938) with Stuart Erwin.

Throughout these years, Chandler continued to act in radio and on Broadway and did for a few years thereafter, but alcoholism finally curbed her career. In 1940 she was hospitalized for drug and alcohol dependency and divorced her husband of five years, actor Bramwell Fletcher of Svengali (1931) and The Mummy (1932). Fletcher would go on to marry Diana Barrymore, daughter of John.

In 1950 Chandler was disfigured by a fire, caused by smoking in bed, ending any hope she might have harbored for a theatrical comeback. She was only 59 when felled by a bleeding ulcer in 1965.

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