Rose Hobart: A Steady Digression to a Fixed Point

Several points of interest draw us to the topic of stage and screen actress Rose Hobart (Rose Kefer, 1906-2000).

First, she figures in horror classics. She was Fredric March’s leading lady in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), and was also in Tower of London (1939) as well as the B movies The Mad Ghoul (1943), The Soul of a Monster (1944), Isle of the Dead (1945), and The Cat Creeps (1946). We are also attracted to show biz pics and classic comedies and her work in those areas include Convention Girl (1935) with Shemp Howard, A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Lady Be Good (1941), Mr. and Mrs. North (1942) with Gracie Allen, Laurel and Hardy’s Air Raid Wardens (1943, her part was cut), Swing Shift Maisie (1943), Song of the Open Road (1944), The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) and The Trouble with Women (1947). The rest of her body of work is filled out with the usual melodramas, suspense thrillers, crime stories etc.

In 1936, Joseph Cornell, obsessed with the actress, acquired a print of her 1931 film East of Borneo and created a unique new work called Rose Hobart, the same movie that consisted of only of her scenes, sped up, and shown through a blue-tinted lens.

The daughter of an orchestral cellist and opera singer, Hobart grew up in New York City and France and attended private schools. She was only 15 when she toured the Chautauqua circuit with a theatrical adaptation of Peter Kynes’ Cappy Ricks stories (later made into films in 1921 and 1937). In Atlantic City, she appeared in a production of Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom (best remembered as the basis of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel). The 1930 screen version of this play would be her first movie. She appeared in two dozen plays on Broadway between 1923 and 1939 including the original production of Death Takes a Holiday (1929). While that production was what brought her to the attention of Hollywood producers, she did not appear in the 1934 screen version, despite the fact that it starred her Jekyll and Hyde co-star Fredric March.

Hobart’s May 1 birthday seems significant in light of her involvement with leftist labor organization. She served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild, among other associations. She was not a Communist herself, but when she was summoned before HUAC in 1948 she refused to cooperate on principal. As a consequence her last film was Bride of Vengeance (1949). In later years, that bride got her vengeance by taking roles on television. She was a regular on Peyton Place, and had guest shots on Gunsmoke, The F.B.I., and Cannon, et al. In light of her horror career, it seems appropriate that her last screen role was a 1971 episode of Night Gallery. In 1994 she published her memoir, A Steady Digression to a Fixed Point. 

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