Doris Kenyon: Close to Home

We have all sorts of reasons to be interested in stage and screen star Doris Kenyon (Doris Margaret Kenyon, 1897-1979). One is that singer/actress Doris Day was named after her (her mother was a fan). The other (interesting probably only to me and a few others!) is that her ancestral roots are in my hometown and that my second cousins (also named Kenyon) are related to her, descended from the same colonial ancestor. My hometown (Wakefield, Rhode Island) was actually built on land built by a Kenyon. I grew up shopping at a Kenyon’s Department Store, and eating corn meal from Kenyon’s Grist Mill. Corny, but true!

Anyway, Doris Kenyon was from Syracuse, where her father was a Methodist minister and poet. Her brother, Raymond T. Kenyon was a New York State Assemblyman. Doris sang in church choirs in Brooklyn as a young woman and this is how her talent (and her beauty) were discovered. In the breakthrough year of 1915, she debuted in films and on Broadway. Her first play (of half a dozen) was Victor Herbert’s The Princess Pat; her first film was The Rack with Alice Brady and Milton Sills. (She was to marry Sills a dozen years later. He died of a heart attack in 1930 while the two were playing tennis).

Kenyon was in over five dozen films, including The Conquest of Canaan (1921) with Thomas Meighan, Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921) with Sam Hardy, Restless Wives (1924) with Montagu Love, the 1924 version of Monsieur Beaucaire with Valentino, and Alexander Hamilton (1931) and Voltaire (1933) both with George Arliss. Her last big screen role was in Along Came Love (1936), in which she was third billed. In 1938 she married her third husband, the major ad man Albert Lasker, whom she divorced the following year. During that time she had smaller roles in two additional pictures Girls School (1938) and The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

Throughout the ’40s, Kenyon had a regular role on the radio soap opera Crossroads, and gave musical concerts. In the ’50s she dabbled a little in television, with guest shots on The Donald O’ Connor Show and 77 Sunset Strip. Her last screen performance was a 1962 epiosde of The Real McCoys!

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