On the Slinky Fontaine La Rue

The title of this post is of course a screen name. It belonged to Matilda Fernandez (1897-1976), a local Los Angeles girl, who initially danced on the stage before an injury forced her to resort to a screen career at the ripe old age of 18.

Under the name Dora Rogers (sometimes Dora Rodgers) she began acting in Mack Sennett comedies, often playing vamp characters, supporting the likes of Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, et al. In 1918, she briefly worked for Hal Roach before getting to pursue her ultimate design of being a serious actress in Boots (1919) with Dorothy Gish and Richard Barthelmess. As Fontaine La Rue she worked steadily in silents throughout the ’20s, not as the star or co-star, but usually somewhere between third and fifth in the billing. Her six dozen credits include roles in William de Mille’s The Lost Romance (1921) with Jack Holt, Exit the Vamp (1921) with Ethel Clayton and T. Roy Barnes, A Blind Bargain (1923) with Lon Chaney and Raymond McKee, and His New York Wife (1926) with Alice Day. Her last film was the independent talking picture West of the Rockies (1929). Many of La Rue’s films were westerns, though she was unrelated to the later western star Lash La Rue (her husband’s name was Louis). In at least one, The Torrent (1924) with William Fairbanks, she got to revive her skills as a dancing girl.

In Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, Brent Walker communicates the charming fact that La Rue raised and hired out exotic snakes as a sideline — perhaps this was something she fell back on after acting washed out. If she’d combined the snakes with the dancing, she’d have had an excellent vaudeville act.

To learn more about vaudeville, 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.