Reeling Off the Rocking Roles of Rockin’ Rod La Rocque

With a name like Rod La Rocque (1898-1969), I reckon it’s impossible not to be a movie star!

Half French-Canadian, half Irish, La Rocque (his real name) grew up in Chicago, where he took juvenile parts with stock companies and later worked in vaudeville. He broke into the movies at local Essanay Studios in 1914, acting in dozens of pictures there until the company broke up in 1918. Notable among these were a series of “Fables” comedies and the first screen version of Ruggles of Red Gap (1918). La Rocque then moved to New York for a time, appeared in the Broadway play Anna Ascends (1920) and played bit parts at various movie studios. Then, a major role in Cecil B. De Mille’s 1923 The Ten Commandments put him on the map. Other notable pictures he starred in included Lubitsch’s Forbidden Paradise (1924), Allan Dwan’s Night Life of New York (1925), and Alan Hale’s Braveheart (1925). In 1927 he married Vilma Banky, an even bigger star of the day. Later silents included The Cruise of the Jasper B (1928), Hold ’em Yale (1928, later parodied by Wheeler and Woolsey as Hold ’em Jail), and Our Modern Maidens (1929) with Joan Crawford, Anita Page and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1929).

La Rocque continued briefly as a star into the talkie era but with less success. After a brief return to Broadway in the play Domino (1932), produced by William A. Brady, he returned to Hollywood as a supporting player. Well known films of his later years include the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), and Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941), his last. He retired from films at age 43 and became a real estate broker.

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