Rita La Roy: From Saloons to Salons

An enthusiastic appreciation this morning for comely stage and screen star Rita La Roy (Ina La Roi Stuart, 1901-1993).

Originally from the Gold Rush town of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho on the Canadian border, La Roy started out acting with local stock companies and dancing on the Pantages and Orphem vaudeville circuits, where she pushed the limits of permissiveness with an act composed of suggestive dances named after animals (frog dance, cobra dance, peacock dance).

La Roy’s first film was the 1929 Educational short Don’t Be Nervous, in which she was second-billed to Lloyd Hamilton. That same year she was Rod La Rocque’s leading lady in the feature The Delightful Rogue. This was a promising leap for her, but as a general rule starring status was not to be her portion. Her career was built on sex appeal. In the silent era, there had been many stars of her type. By the ’30s things were more conservative and “adventurous” women were usually relegated to supporting roles, ranging from second female leads to bit parts. La Roy’s birthplace was given out as Paris, but in retrospect, a smart publicist might have gotten good mileage out of promoting her as a saloon entertainer from the Pacific Northwest, which was much closer to the truth. Some of the better known films La Roy appeared in during the Pre-Code era include Hot Saturday and Blonde Venus, both in 1932. In 1938 she wrote and directed an experimental color short called The Old Prospector starring Si Jenks!

By the ’40s La Roy was only getting walk-ons in films, so she diversified, founding the Rita La Roy Modeling School and Agency, and producing programs for local television. She won an Emmy for her tv work in 1948. Her last national appearance was on the game show What’s My Line? in 1962.

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