The Boom and Bust of Doris Dawson

Doris Dawson (1905-86) was born in the boomtown of Goldfield, Nevada two years after the discovery of a gold deposit there. As Dawson City, Yukon had been the center of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896, one can’t help but speculate about a Canadian connection, but apparently there isn’t one. Her surname is coincidental. And yet she can’t have had very savvy management. With her last name and her background, I’d have worked hard to make her a star of westerns, and to make her a leading lady in Frozen North vehicles like The Gold Rush, The Spoilers, and The Call of the Wild. But Dawson was only in a couple of westerns, The Arizona Wildcat and The Gold from Weepah, both in 1927.

Comedy was a much stronger thread in Dawson’s body of work. She claimed to have started out as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty. Her earliest credits on IMDB (1927-28) include Al Christie comedy shorts featuring the likes of Bobby Vernon, Neal Burns, and Jimmie Adams. In 1928 she was Harry Langdon’s leading lady in his (now lost) feature Heart Trouble. This was followed by Do Your Duty (1928) with Charles Murray and Lucien Littlefield, in which she had a smaller role. She was fourth-billed in Naughty Baby (1928) with Alice White, Thelma Todd, and Jack Mulhall. Hot Stuff (1929) cast her among Alice White and Louise Fazenda; Broadway Scandals (1929) with Sally O’Neil and Carmel Myers.

Dawson’s selection for the 1929 crop of WAMPAS Baby Stars seemed to seal her future success. But it didn’t work out like that.  A car accident in 1929 broke several of her bones, laying her up for several weeks. She then appeared in two more comedy shorts, The Beauty Spot (1930) with Bob Carney, and The Royal Four-Flusher (1930) with Eddie Buzzell. That year she married dancer Pat Rooney Jr, and left the movies. After her divorce from Rooney she took a small supporting part in the The Silver Streak (1934), a feature about a fast locomotive (!) starring Sally Blane and Charles Starrett. That was Dawson’s last hurrah, reminding us of the well known truth that the film business, like the mining of precious minerals, is built on cycles of boom and bust.

For more on silent and slapstick classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.