Born 150 Years Ago Today: Louise Closser Hale

Louise Closser Hale (1872-1933) was an early 20th century Renaissance woman: actress of stage and screen, magazine editor, author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, and playwright.

The Chicago native studied at the Boston School of Oratory and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before launching her career as an actress with touring stock companies in the mid 1890s. Her Broadway debut was in a play called Arizona with Edgar Selwyn and her husband and frequent co-star Walter Hale, in 1900. In 1907 she played the title character in the London production of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Pauline Lord owned the role in the U.S.). Her 30 year Broadway career also included a revival of Shaw’s Candida (1903), the American premiere of The Blue Bird (1911), and the original productions of Ruggles of Red Gap (1915) and O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon (1920).

The first of her several novels, A Motor Car Divorce was published in 1906. Two of these, Her Soul and Her Body (1912) and Mother’s Million’ (1931) were adapted into plays, and the latter was filmed. She also wrote a number of travel books (many of them illustrated by her husband Walter, was an associate editor at The Smart Set under H.L. Mencken, a contributor to Harper’s, and published scores or articles and short stories.

Her role in the 1928 Broadway show Paris starring Irene Bordoni led to casting in the screen version, which led to a career as a supporting played in movies. She normally played dowdy dowager characters or matrons of one sort or another. She is over two dozen films in around four years, including Dangerous Dan McGrew (1930) with Helen Kane, Big Boy (1930) with Al Jolson, Platinum Blonde (1931) with Jean Harlow, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932) with Marian Nixon, Movie Crazy (1932) with Harold Lloyd, the all-star Dinner at Eight (1933), and, yes, The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933, as an crowd extra).

Though he characters often seemed much older, Closser Hale was 60 when she died of a heart attack in 1933.