Valeska Suratt: Fashion Provocateur

By accident of birth, Valeska Suratt missed her calling as the leading femme fatale of the silent screen. That honor went to Theda Bara. By the time Valeska made her screen debut in “The Immigrant” in 1915, she was already 32 years old and her youthful glow was fading.

Suratt made only a handful of films as a second-tier vamp in the shadow of Bara, but if she minded she never let it show. She had a full-throttle career in vaudeville and on Broadway in the first two decades of the 20th century and wore her reputation as a clotheshorse with pride. Suratt may have astonished movie audiences as she had onscreen men for breakfast, but she was better known for tearing to shreds the constrictions women faced in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Valeska Suratt

Valeska Suratt

Although her given name rings exotic, Valeska Suratt (originally spelled Surratt) was a Midwestern girl to the bone. In separate passport applications, Valeska claimed she was born on June 28, 1883, or 1884, in Owensville, Indiana. Her father, Ralph Suratt, was a native of West Virginia and her mother, Anna Mathews, was born and raised in Owensville.

Ralph and Anna married in 1878, and Valeska was the second of four children. Her brother, Austin, was born in 1879, followed by Valeska, and then Leah in 1884. The baby of the family, Richard, arrived in 1890. The siblings also had a half-sister, Myrtle, from Anna’s first marriage to Dr. James Strickland. Myrtle was 11 years older than Valeska. When Valeska was 5, the family moved to Terre Haute.

Valeska was a bundle of contractions. A member of the Bahá’í Faith, she was deeply religious and a devoted student of the Bible. She possessed a keen business sense and was adventurous. But she was also eccentric and unpredictable, which often undermined her business acumen. At a time when it was scandalous for a small town girl to become stage actress, Valeska was a pillar of the community in Terre Haute. She looked after her parents and siblings and she donated $500 a week to the Red Cross during World War I.

She was tall compared to most women of the era, standing 5 feet, 8 inches in her stocking feet. She had chestnut brown hair, gray-blue eyes, full lips, a broad forehead and an oval face. She was mistaken for a Gibson Girl, but she wasn’t. She did, though, play one on stage.

The Suratt family was lower middle class, and despite two years of voice and singing lessons in Chicago her speech and mannerisms remained rough around the edges. Yet it was perhaps the only major criticism of her stage performances. Her throaty singing voice, high-priced New York and Parisian costume designs and her act as a sexual provocateur made her wildly popular.

A young Valeska Suratt in 1906.

A young Valeska Suratt in 1906.

An indifferent student, she quit school at 16 to work for Clare Sisters Photography Studio retouching photographs. Her work on photos of elegantly dressed women inspired her to pursue a fashion career. She took a job as an assistant to a milliner at a department store in Indianapolis where she learned design and apprenticed as a seamstress. She also worked as a wholesale buyer for the W.H. Block Department Store.

While developing her fashion design skills, she first appeared on the stage in Chicago, and by 1900 was working in vaudeville and touring South America and England with Billy Gould, whom she would marry in 1904. But her career had stalled. She was not getting roles that displayed her fashion sense with a figure to pull it off.

In 1906, she designed an elegant tight-fitting blackless black dress. In a move that has since become a Hollywood cliché, she chose a high-end New York hotel frequented by theatrical producers and made a grand entrance down the staircase to the hotel lobby to attract attention. It worked. Producer Edward Edleston spied her and made her his lead in “The Belle of Mayfair.”

Valeska Suratt strikes a Gibson Girl pose.

Valeska Suratt strikes a Gibson Girl pose.

Suratt made her Broadway debut in “Mayfair” on Dec. 3, 1906, and her show-stopping song “Why Do They Call Me a Gibson Girl?” became her signature tune. She followed with “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” in 1907.

On April 25, 1910, she appeared in “The Girl with the Whooping Cough” that promised to scandalize the East Coast with Suratt’s “corsetless New York debut” at the New York Theater.

A critic for the New York Sun was unimpressed, but gave Suratt credit for sort of saving the day: “Dramatic art had a boost last night through the modest effort to entertain offered by Valeska Suratt in corsetless gowns. Miss Suratt had long promised the waiting world that on this occasion she would positively appear without corsets. Whether she did or not does not matter much. The effect on dramatic art was the same … “Without Miss Suratt the piece would have been unutterably dull and stupid. With her it wasn’t refined. There wasn’t anything in it that hadn’t been served up in similar farces for the past three generations. The lines that made the most frantic effort to be suggestive fell flat, even with an audience, which was hungry and thirsty for that particular kind of nourishment. The members of the cast, particularly the women, were coarse and strident, and needed stage managing.”

Advertisement for The Girl With the Whooping Cough.

Advertisement for The Girl With the Whooping Cough.

However, New York Mayor William Jay Gaynor enhanced Suratt’s reputation for pushing sexual boundaries when he determined “Whooping Cough” was “salacious” and shut down the production.

Whatever vulgarities in her performances were trivial compared to her sex appeal and fashion sense. Suratt was perhaps the first performer in modern theater to establish fashion fetishism that prompted magazines like “Vogue” to obsess over every minute detail of her elaborate wardrobe that required multiple changes during a single performance. Earning as much as $3,000 a week, she had full control over production, stage design, costumes and the writers. Audiences lapped up these over-the-top displays although Suratt would have been better served if she employed a disciplined wardrobe supervisor.

In their book, “Musical Comedy in America,” Cecil A. Smith and Glenn Litton noted that the play “The Red Rose” (1911) “was a window display for the overdressed Valeska Suratt, who designed her own innumerable costumes, the most overpowering of which were a Spanish affair in canary yellow and black … and a flaming harem skirt with the effect of a ‘perpendicular rainbow.’ ”

Many of Suratt's costumes were reportedly valued at $20,000 apiece.

Many of Suratt’s costumes were reportedly valued at $20,000 apiece. (Photo courtesy Joseph Hall/ Shields Collection ex-Culver Service)

By late 1910, Suratt was appearing in 30-minute mini-revues. One such playlet was the “Bouffe Variety” at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theater. She co-starred with Fletcher Norton, who she would also marry. With “Bouffe Variety,” Anthony Slide described Suratt in “The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville” as “a sultry and exotic leading lady of generally tawdry melodramas.”

These productions led to her femme fatale persona – usually young women of modest means or from the slums who yearn for the finer things in life – that eventually garnered Suratt leading parts in William Fox’s films. These roles were not a stretch for Suratt given her own modest background. She couldn’t pull off the sophisticated seductress because her Midwestern lower middle-class roots usually gave her away. One critic noted that every time she opened her mouth to sing a lusty song, out came a Chicago accent. Not that she cared much.

Critics might have described her acts as “coarse” and “vulgar,” but Suratt, fully aware of her limitations, was marketing a brand that commanded full houses. For Green Book Magazine, she wrote in 1915 that, “It’s my personality that wins for me. I’m no singer. Heaps of people can beat me dancing. Precious few of them, though, get the salary I do. Why? Because I’m me!”

An unadorned but strikingly handsome Valeska Suratt in this 1919 passport photo.

An unadorned but strikingly handsome Valeska Suratt in this 1919 passport photo.

Suratt’s individuality was paramount to her success. She and she alone commanded the stage and loathed to share it with anyone else. A review of her stage production photos and studio portraits reveal her singularity: Full length portraits displaying her hourglass figure, elaborate costumes and a handsome face. Photographs of Suratt with leading men were rare and Suratt sharing space with another woman were almost non-existent.

And therein lies the core of Suratt’s initial success and her ultimate failure in films: Her demands for complete control of her image and her reluctance to compromise inevitably led to conflicts while working in films.

She only appeared in 11 movies, mostly as vamps and femmes fatales, between 1915 and 1917. William Fox had purchased the film rights to “A Fool There Was” about a young diplomat seduced and ruined by a woman only known as “The Vampire.” Fox considered and rejected Suratt for the part and then chose Theda Bara. The role launched Bara into superstardom as a “vamp” and relegated Suratt to similar parts in lesser films. Fox, though, thought enough of Suratt’s business sense to send her to France, England and Monte Carlo in March 1916 to act as his representative in future projects.

For a performer like Suratt, filmmaking at best was a collaborative effort and at worst a vision held solely by the director. The medium forced her to relinquish control of the script, choice of costumes and how she presented herself on the screen.

Suratt with a male partner in a rare publicity still.

Suratt in a rare publicity still with a male partner.

Time and changing tastes among moviegoers also robbed her of a sustaining film career. The Gibson Girl was no longer fashionable in modern America. By 1915, the popularity of Suratt’s hourglass figure, which was beginning to fill out after she hit 30, gave way to the slimmer, more boyish bodies of performers Lillian Lorraine and Irene Castle. Suratt played vamps with great success in “She,” “The Slave” and “Siren” in 1917, but the more alluring and youthful-looking Theda Bara, although only two years younger than Suratt, stubbornly held the vamp mantle. Yet, even by 1917, moviegoers were already bored with vamp characters and moved on.

Another reason for Suratt’s failure in films that can’t be ignored was her erratic behavior throughout most of her young adult life that may have evolved into mental illness as she got older. Suratt was very well a diva with an artistic temperament that probably made working with her difficult. But there were signs before she was 30 years old that she was unstable. By January 1911, Suratt had divorced Billy Gould and was engaged to Robert T. Mackay, a real estate manager deeply in love with the actress.

Alone and showing off a lithe figure, Suratt's affection for the camera is apparent.

Alone and showing off a lithe figure, Suratt’s affection for the camera is apparent.

On Jan. 14, Mackay watched his fiancée’s Saturday matinee at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and then stayed for a rehearsal. Suratt asked Mackay to fetch her some sandwiches. He demurred, complaining he wasn’t a servant, but she sweet-talked him into getting the food.

While Mackay was on his errand, Suratt left the theater with co-star Fletcher Norton in a limousine and drove to the New Jersey shore where a justice of the peace married the couple in a brief ceremony. Meanwhile, Mackay arrived at theater with sandwiches in hand only to find his girl missing. Suratt’s maid took pity on him and said his fiancée had married Norton. Mackay collapsed in a heap and cried. Moments later Suratt arrived with her new husband, observed Mackay’s anguish, and fell to the floor with a theatrical flourish at Mackay’s side to weep uncontrollably with him.

In December 1911, Norton, citing infidelity, filed for divorce. Suratt’s maid testified at the trial that Suratt told her that she married Norton in a “fit of pique” because Mackay had annoyed her. Mackay later became Suratt’s lover. When Suratt filed for bankruptcy on June 29, 1912, Mackay was her biggest creditor at $14,750.

Suratt’s stage career sputtered in the 1920s. She peaked as the headliner in “The Dynamic Force of Vaudeville” in 1920 and appeared in the Broadway production of the “Spice of 1922” during that summer. Her last performance was in “The Frolics of 1929.”

Valeska Suratt, the vamp.

Valeska Suratt, the vamp.

Recognizing that there was not a much of a demand for 46-year-old sexual provocateurs, Suratt contemplated retirement in the late 1920s, but she wanted at least another shot at a film career. She commissioned author Mírzá Aḥmad Sohráb, leader of the Reform Bahá’í Movement in the United States, to co-write a script on the life of Mary Magdalene. The film would serve as a vehicle for Suratt’s comeback. Sohráb completed the script and Suratt showed it to Cecil B. DeMille. The director kept the scenario for some months and then returned it without comment.

When DeMille’s “The King of Kings” hit movie theaters in 1927, Suratt believed the film was based on Sohráb’s script. She sued DeMille alleging plagiarism.

Before the lawsuit went to trial, Suratt met her friend, Julia Chanler, a fellow Bahá’í and co-founder of the New History Society, in New York. Suratt had hoped Chanler’s introduction to New York Governor Alfred E. Smith would help further her cause against DeMille. Smith was powerless to do anything other than give Suratt a letter of recommendation, which Suratt thought was important. During the New York visit, a stage version of “The Kings of Kings” was playing on Broadway. Suratt and Chanler decided to attend a performance.

Elaborate styling was Suratt's trademark.

Elaborate styling was Suratt’s trademark. (Photo: Underwood and Underwood)

It was immediately clear to Chanler the production was based on the Gospels taken directly from the Bible, but Suratt saw the story as a blatant rip-off from the Sohráb script. Chanler and Suratt agreed to disagree on the origins of the script.nThe lawsuit went to trial in 1930 and it was eventually settled out of court.

Students of silent cinema claim that DeMille probably blacklisted Suratt in Hollywood, preventing her from acting in films. This is highly unlikely. By 1930, Suratt had been absent from movies for 13 years. Her glory days in vaudeville and on Broadway had long since past, and she was approaching 50, which severely limited her appeal in the kind of roles she was accustomed to having. DeMille hardly needed to go through the trouble of keeping Suratt off studio lots.

Playing the femme fatale was Suratt's strength through the 1910s.

Playing the femme fatale was Suratt’s strength through the 1910s.

Yet the Mary Magdalene script was indicative of her obsession with the Bible and the life of Virgin Mary. Later in her life, Suratt attempted to interest publishers to produce her autobiography. She also approached the Hearst newspaper chain, which sent a reporter to read her manuscript. The reporter discovered the autobiography was about the Virgin Mary and Suratt believed she was Mary. “She was completely batty,” the reporter later said.

No one knows, aside perhaps surviving members of the Suratt family, whether Valeska suffered from mental illness and whether she really thought of herself as the mother of God. It’s entirely possible she wrote of the Virgin Mary as an “autobiography,” which is not an uncommon writing technique. What is known is that she immersed herself in the study of the Bible and wrote frequently about her religious beliefs.

Suratt died in nursing home in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1962, and buried in her beloved hometown of Terre Haute at the Highland Lawn Cemetery.

Today, Suratt is credited for popularizing the Gibson Girl with a sexual edge and had helped loosen the boundaries of acceptable mass entertainment offered by female performers. On film, she remains one of four original silent screen vamps with Theda Bara, Louise Glaum and Virginia Pearson.

Surrat in mid-career (Photo: Underwood and Underwood)

Suratt in mid-career (Photo: Underwood and Underwood)

Valeska Suratt Internet Movie Database Filmography

SOURCES:

New York Times, Dec. 10, 1911

New York Dramatic Mirror, November 1914

Motion Picture World, Nov. 21, 1914

Valeska Suratt passport application, Feb. 2, 1916

Motography, Vol XVII, No. 10, 1917

Motion Picture World, July 21, 1917

Valeska Suratt passport application, June 27, 1919

Motion Picture World, Sept. 17, 1927

Indianapolis Tribune-Star, Nov. 19, 2006

Indianapolis Tribune-Star, July, 3, 2011

Valeska Suratt, ancestry.com (accessed Oct. 3, 2014)

Broadway Photographs website, The Visual Culture of American Theater 1865-1965 by David S. Shields (accessed Oct. 9, 2014)

Sarrett/Sarratt/Surratt Families of America (SFA), freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com (accessed Oct. 10, 2014)

“The Revolution in Christian Morals”: Lambeth 1930-Resolution #15 History & Perspective” by Theresa Notare (Catholic University of America), 1930

“From Gaslight to Dawn,” an autobiography by Julie Chanler (The New History Foundation), 1956

“Musical Comedy in America” by Cecil A. Smith and Glenn Litton (Routledge), 1987

“The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville” by Anthony Slide (Greenwood), 1994

“Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara” by Eve Golden (Vestal Press) 1998

“Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals and the Mass Marketing of Amusement, 1895-1915” by Andrew L. Erdman (McFarland & Co.), 2007

“Theda Bara: A Biography of Silent Screen Vamp, with a Filmography” by Ronald Genini (McFarland & Co., reprint edition), 2012

Natalie Kingston: When Talent Wasn’t Enough

Talent doesn’t necessarily translate to success in Hollywood. Stage experience, singing and dancing – all prerequisites for a shot at film stardom during the silent and early talkie era – often couldn’t compete against luck and timing. For every Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy who had careers that began as dancers and found success on the screen, there were the Natalie Kingstons and Sally Rands with film careers that started, stopped and then just wilted against the competition of fresher faces.

Natalie Kingston, born Natalia Ringstrom of a noble Spanish legacy, had a solid foundation in show business that should have given her an edge against the wannabe actors who came to Hollywood without experience.

Natalie Kingston

Natalie Kingston

Kingston appeared in about 60 films as a Mack Sennett girl and WAMPAS star, but her comedy short films more or less determined her career arc. For every move into dramatic acting, she found herself in another comedy short – a “Hotel California” loop where she could check out anytime but she couldn’t ever leave.

Born in Vallejo, Calif., on May 19, 1905, Kingston was the daughter of Sigurd Adolph Ringstrom, a Swede, and Natalia “Tala” Vallejo Haraszthy, a member of the Haraszthy winemaking dynasty in the Sonoma Valley. Natalie’s maternal grandfather was the Hungarian Attila Haraszthy and her grandmother was Natalia Veneranda Vallejo.

Natalie’s maternal great-grandfather, General Mariano Vallejo, had commanded the Mexican Army in California and her great-grandfather, Agoston Haraszthy, transformed the Sonoma Valley into wine country with a global reach.

Winemaking, however, didn’t interest Natalie, but another family endeavor did. Her great-uncle, Arpad Haraszthy, was co-founder of the Bohemian Club, which put on the legendary Bohemian Grove Plays. Her cousin, Natalia Vallejo Haraszthy, who was five months older than Natalie and shared the same name as Natalie’s mother, was an actress, ballerina and dancer. She appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, the Palace Theater in New York and was a regular performer on the Keith-Orpheum circuit on the West Coast. Following her retirement from the stage, she taught dance in Van Nuys. Natalie’s younger sister, Eleanor (also spelled Elinor), also took the stage name Kingston and was a dancer working as a $40-a-week extra and chorus girl in musicals.

Natalia Vallejo Haraszthy, Natalie Kingston's cousin, was a dancer in her own right. (Photo Courtesy UC Berkeley/Bancroft Collection)

Natalia Vallejo Haraszthy, Natalie Kingston’s cousin, was a dancer in her own right. (Photo Courtesy UC Berkeley/Bancroft Collection)

For Natalie, dancing was a natural choice, although she took a circuitous route to show business. She was educated at the Dominican Catholic convent in San Rafael, and then spent her final year at a public high school. She reportedly studied law briefly in the Bay Area before she trained as a dancer in small clubs and restaurants. Among her routines was La Jota, the Spanish folk dance of Aragon. She was well suited as a dancer. She was leggy and taller than most chorus girls at 5 feet, 6 inches, and weighing a trim 125 pounds. She had hazel eyes, an olive complexion and her dark brown hair parted down the middle accented her Spanish beauty.

Taking the stage name “Kingston,” Natalie was only 15 years old when she won a spot as a dancer in the Broadway Brevities 1920 revue at the Winter Gardens Theater in New York (begging the question of whether she lied about her age to get the job) with Eddie Cantor headlining the cast.

An original two-act musical revue, the show debuted on Sept. 29, 1920, and ran through Dec. 18 for 105 performances. In the meantime, Kingston’s appearance on Broadway required her to perform publicity campaigns to promote the show and herself as a budding star. Midway through the run, organizers at the North River Apple Auction, celebrating National Apple Week, crowned Kingston the “Queen of Apples,” making her a spokeswoman for the industry to tout the health benefits of the fruit.

Once Broadway Brevities 1920 ended, Kingston found no new offers in New York. She returned to San Francisco, but quickly discovered her Broadway experience opened doors for her on the West Coast no matter how brief her tenure on the New York stage.

Less than a month after her return, Jack Holland, a popular Bay Area performer, snatched her up for his own dance revue at the Coronado Hotel in San Francisco. Holland and Kingston then alternated throughout 1921 between Tait’s Café and Harry Marquard’s Café, both highly popular nightclubs specializing in presenting dance cabarets. Holland also paired Kingston with other lead dancers, including Lavinia Winn, and backed the principals with six chorus girls.

Natalie Kingston early publicity photo for Fanchon and Marco.

Natalie Kingston in an early publicity photo for Fanchon and Marco.

Holland and Kingston kept a grueling two-year schedule, which helped Kingston hone her acrobatic skills. Under Holland’s tutelage, Kingston developed the discipline to take her talent on the road. At 16 years old, she was a veteran hoofer.

In 1923, she attracted the attention of the brother-sister Fanchon “Fannie” and Marco Wolff vaudeville team. The siblings founded Fanchon and Marco in 1919 that started with music and dance numbers. The act evolved by 1921 into the “Sunkist Beauties” dance troupe, a West Coast version of The Rockettes.

Fanchon and Marco were more responsible with the teenage dancer than her Broadway employers, ensuring Kingston was 18 years old and properly chaperoned while on the road.

When Kingston joined troupe, Fanchon and Marco had just developed elaborately themed live stage shows, called “The Ideas.” Fifty-two individually themed Idea productions were staged through 1930 that included dancing, singing and vaudeville acts. The shows were about 15 minutes long, ran three to four weeks, and served as prologues to feature films. Natalie joined the dance troupe now dubbed the Fanchonettes.

Natalie, far right front row, in a Fanchon and Marco production. (Photo Courtesy Huntington Library)

Natalie, far right front row, in a Fanchon and Marco production. (Photo Courtesy Huntington Library)

The Fanchonettes were the major draw, according to the Bismarck Tribune. The newspaper noted on May 27, 1920, that the troupe had the “world’s most beautiful women garbed in radiant smiles – and not much more.”

Fanchon and Marco divided the Fanchonettes into five separate groups to perform in Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Kingston performed the northernmost tours. In a “Carnival” themed production at the Strand Theater in Vancouver during the summer of 1923, Kingston performed the Indian Dance, while she paired with dancer David Murray in the “Cabaret Queens” production also at the Strand.

Other performers during this period included Joan Crawford, Mae West and Janet Gaynor, although whether they shared the stage with Kingston is unknown. Myrna Loy joined the troupe in 1924 after Kingston had left for a film career.

Under the Fanchon and Marco banner, Kingston was a featured dancer or always a front-line chorus performer. In the fall of 1923, Mack Sennett was in the audience of a Fanchon and Marco revue and caught Kingston’s dance act. He persuaded her to join his studio to appear in his two-reel comedies.

Kingston likely saw the offer as an entré as a serious actress and agreed to appear in a minor role for “The Dare-Devil” featuring Ben Turpin and Harry Gribbon. Sennett released the film on Nov. 25, 1923.

But Kingston didn’t immediately give up her Fanchon and Marco gig. She continued her Idea prologue performances. She appeared, for example, on Jan. 23, 1924, at Loew’s Theater in Los Angeles for the troupe’s “A Night at the Harem” revue backed by a 15-member orchestra and 14 chorus girls. She performed the Peacock Dance with her now standard acrobatic flourishes.

Natalie Kingston at the height of her fame as a dancer. (Photo Courtesy Edward Bower Hesser Collection)

Natalie Kingston at the height of her fame as a dancer. (Photo Courtesy Edward Bower Hesser Collection)

Her Loew’s performance was likely one of her last for Fanchon and Marco. She signed a contract with Sennett and was already filming a minor role in “The Half-Back of Notre Dame” (1924) with Harry Gribbon, followed by “The Hollywood Kid” (1924) with Charles Murray.

Her early films consisted of set decoration as a “bathing girl” or someone’s pretty daughter. Film schedules were always tight while working on two-reelers. Kingston’s roles likely took only a couple of days to shoot, a sharp contrast to the hectic pace of dance revues up and down the West Coast. Even dancing parts in an occasional Cecil B. DeMille film couldn’t have occupied all of her time.

Natalie strikes a pose probably for her Peacock Dance in 1923-1924.

Natalie strikes a pose probably for her Peacock Dance in 1923-1924.

She spent a year and a half with Sennett before terminating her contract in an effort to get larger roles in dramatic pictures. Yet she often returned to Sennett as a free-lancer.

She signed contracts with FBO, Paramount, Fox and Universal to increase her exposure as a serious actress. For Paramount Pictures in 1926, she made three comedies: “Miss Brewster’s Millions,” “The Cat’s Pajamas” and “Wet Paint.” She had a small role in the World War I melodrama “Framed” (1927), but did a nice turn earning third billing in Fox’s “Street Angel” (1928), which featured Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. The role led to two Tarzan pictures, “Tarzan the Mighty” (1928) and “Tarzan the Tiger” (1929) where she shared the lead with Frank Merrill.

Natalie spent nearly four years on the stage as a dancer before turning her attention  to films.

Natalie spent nearly four years on the stage as a dancer before turning her attention to films.

Her films after the Tarzan series marked a decline in offers for dramatic parts. She played a gangster’s moll in “The Last of the Duanes” (1930), but that same year she found herself back on the Sennett lot in an uncredited “girlfriend” part in “The Chumps” (1930).

Unlike many of her colleagues, such as Sally Rand who spoke with a lisp, Kingston did not struggle with sound in the late 1920s. She had a strong screen presence and a voice to match. She continued free-lancing by working for Sennett on comedies and the occasional dramatic role for Universal. Yet she never gained enough traction to propel her career as a dramatic actress in the 1930s.

The Hollywood trade publications often published items touting her dancing skills and the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers named her WAMPAS Star of 1927 to give her a career boost. But many WAMPAS stars saw their careers fizzle in the aftermath of the publicity.

As a WAMPAS star, Natalie was required to pose for publicity photos in race cars she likely would have no interest in driving, including this 1927 Jackman Special.

As a WAMPAS star, Natalie was required to pose for publicity photos in race cars she likely would have no interest in driving, including this 1927 Jackman Special.

Kingston and fellow 1927 WAMPAS stars Martha Sleeper and Barbara Kent managed steady employment in the 1920s only to see roles dry up by the mid-1930s. Other 1927 WAMPAS alumni – Sally Phipps, Patricia Avery, Mary McAllister, Gladys McConnell and Sally Rand – could never manage to get their careers off the ground. With the exception of Rand, who was hugely popular as a fan dancer, the others fell into obscurity.

Natalie Kingston as a blonde in about 1927.

Natalie Kingston as a blonde in about 1927.

Perhaps recognizing as early as 1928 that acting was not in her future, Kingston took real estate law classes to better manage her property holdings. The same year she married George Andersch, a real estate broker, banker, and later a mining engineer with extensive mining leases in the Mojave Desert.

Following an uncredited part in Universal’s “Only Yesterday,” which was released on Nov. 1, 1933, Kingston retired from films. She never returned to moviemaking, preferring to live quietly with her husband in West Hills, a Los Angeles suburb. She died on Feb. 2, 1991.

Natalie during her early career as a screen actress.

Natalie during her early career as a screen actress.

Natalie Kingston Internet Movie Database Biography

SOURCES:

San Francisco Call, July 31, 1913
Bismarck Tribune, May 27, 1920
New York Tribune, Sept. 26, 1920
Washington Herald, Nov. 5, 1920
Variety, Jan. 21, 1921
Variety, May 13, 1921
Variety, July 29, 1921
Variety, Dec. 6, 1921
San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 1923
San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 1923
San Francisco Chronicle, July 30, 1923
Variety, Jan. 24, 1924
Picture-Play Magazine, March 1925
San Francisco News Letter, Aug. 8, 1925
Variety, December 1925
Variety, June 23, 1926
Motion Picture News, July 27, 1926
The Kingsport (Tenn.) Times, Jan 9, 1927
Motion Picture News, Jan. 27, 1927
Motion Picture News, June 10, 1927
Motion Picture Classic, November 1928
Hollywood Filmograph, July 26, 1930
Motion Picture News, July 27, 1930
Variety, Nov. 29, 1932
Monterey Peninsula Herald, Nov. 3, 1989

“California Journal of Mines and Geology, Quarterly Chapter of State Mineralogist Report, XXXVI”
“Strong Wine: The Life and Legend of Agoston Haraszthy” by Brian McGinty (Stanford University Press), 1998
“History of San Fernando Valley” by Frank McCleunan Keffer (Stillman Print Co.), 1934
Natalie Ringstrom, ancestry.com (accessed Oct. 1, 2014)
RootsWeb’s World Connect Project (accessed Oct. 1, 2014)
FanhconandMarco.com (accessed Oct. 2, 2014)
StreetSwing.com (accessed, Oct. 2, 2014)