She’s scarcely in three dozen films, is Derelys Perdue (Geraldine Perdue, 1902-1989), and half of those are comedies in a single series of comedy shorts based on a comic strip, The Newlyweds (1928-29), which is how I became aware of her. Yet she was a notable screen star throughout the decade of the 1920s. Today, the abrupt end of her career tends to be the lede in any tale told about her, though we’ll save it for the last.
Originally from St. Louis, Perdue trained in dance from the age of six. By her early 20s, she was in Hollywood dancing in a musical show called Atilla and the Huns with Ramon Novarro. She was to become Novarro’s dance partner, appearing with him in the capacity in her first two movies A Small Town Idol and Man-Woman-Marriage, both in 1921. Her first acting role was a fifth-billed part in Warner Brothers’ A Dangerous Adventure (1922) starring Grace Darmond, with whom Perdue had a contentious relationship. This didn’t prevent her from enjoying a career breakthrough the following year, with major roles in The Bishop of the Ozarks, Daytime Wives, and Blow Your Horn, and an ascension to the coveted status of WAMPAS Baby Star. Eight more features followed. During the last couple of years of silents she co-starred in comedy shorts for the Stern Brothers including The Newlyweds and the Let George Do it series, featuring Jack Egan, Syd Saylor, and others. Her last film was the western The Smiling Terror (1929).
Perdue’s career is said to have ended when she was signed by FBO under Joe Kennedy’s reign, just as he was folding it into his master creation RKO. Kennedy had insisted that she change her screen name to the quotidian “Ann Perdue”. She sued in court in order to keep using her existing professional handle, which had been chosen for her by fans as a result of a magazine contest at the beginning of her career. Her real name, after all, was neither Ann nor Derelys, but Geraldine. But bothersome as “Derelys” may be for a screen name (how do you even say it?), it’s rarely (let’s say never) good to keep fiddling with your brand in show business. I’ve written about a few actors who’ve done that, changed their name in the middle of their careers, and it’s seldom to anyone’s long term benefit. It just makes it even harder build a public profile. Granted that Perdue was no Garbo at this stage (I didn’t even bother to list most of her films), the rule still applies. But even if we’re all correct that Derelys is much better than the quotidian “Ann”, good sense doesn’t always equal the letter of the law. The judge ruled in favor of the employer’s right to shape the identity of its stars. She was let go, and never hired by another studio afterward. And she was to live for 60 more years.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube