Virginia Valli: Hitchcock’s First Star

A few jottings on Virginia Valli (Virginia McSweeney, 1895-1968), a star of the silent era and the first couple of years of talkies. Today she is most notable for co-starring with Carmelita Geraghty in Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature The Pleasure Garden (1926), though she was already a major star at the time.

Valli was from Chicago. As a young woman, she took dance classes, worked as a stenographer, and acted with a Milwaukee stock company. Her screen career began at Chicago-based Esssanay Studios with the 1916 film The Strange Case of Mary Page starring Henry B. Walthall. She remained at Essanay through early 1918 supporting such stars as Bryant Washburn, Rod La Rocque, and Taylor Holmes, gradually working her way to star status. The ’20s saw her in Hollywood at Universal. her notable pictures included King Vidor’s Wild Oranges (1924), The Confidence Man (1924) and The Man Who Found Himself (1925) with Thomas Meighan, Evening Clothes (1927) with Adolphe Menjou, Howard Hawks’ Paid to Love (1927) with William Powell, Allan Dwan’s East Side West Side (1927) with George O’Brien, and Erle C. Kenton’s The Street of Illusion (1928). Warner BrosThe Isle of Lost Ships (1929) with Jason Robards Sr was the first of her half dozen talkies.

After Night Life in Reno (1931) Valli retired to marry actor Charles Farrell, whose star was then on the rise. In 1934 they opened the Palm Springs Racket Club with co-investor and friend Ralph Bellamy. For the balance of her life, Valli’s life revolved around running the club and supporting Farrell, who served as the Mayor of Palm Springs from 1947 through 1955. She was felled by a stroke in 1966, and died two years later.

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