Eagle Grove, Iowa
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Frances Lee was an American film actress during Hollywoods silent film era, and well into the sound film era of the 1930s.
Frances Lee was born Merna Tibbetts in Eagle Grove, Iowa. Excelling in school, Lee initially moved toward pursuing a career as a teacher, but began taking dance lessons, which led to her being spotted by Gus Edwards, who owned a theater in New York City. Edwards convinced Lee to perform at his theater, and she joined the cast of The Ziegfeld Follies in 1923. She was then recruited by Al Christie to perform in his Christie Comedies.
Moving to Hollywood in the mid-1920s to pursue acting, she received her first film role in 1924, starring in Hello and Goodbye, a comedy short film. That brought her to the attention of studios, and launched her into a very successful and busy silent film career. In 1925, she would have roles in three films, but in 1926, her number of films jumped to seven. She was a frequent guest at the home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and became friends with other notable Hollywood legends, to include Rudolph Valentino until his death in 1926. In 1927, she had roles in five films, and was selected as one of thirteen girls to be WAMPAS Baby Stars, which that year included silent film star Sally Phipps and actress Barbara Kent.
1927 was followed by a big year in 1928 when she starred in nine films, the most memorable of which was Sweeties with Bobby Vernon. 1929 was by far her biggest year, with her starring in ten films, including the lead role in Stage Struck Susie opposite Eddie Barry, and Divorce Made Easy starring alongside Marie Prevost and Douglas MacLean. That year, she married Alexander Bennett, brother to Australian silent film actress Enid Bennett. Their wedding was attended by such famous Hollywood legends as Enid Bennett`s husband film producer Fred Niblo, actresses Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo, and actors Rod La Rocque and John Gilbert.
She made a semi-successful transition to "talking films", while the majority of silent film stars did not. Her first film in 1930 was Down with Husbands, followed by The Stronger Sex starring Carmel Myers. However, her career had slowed considerably from the silent film years, and from 1931 to 1935, she would have roles in only seven films, including the female lead in the 1935 romantic comedy The Gay Deception opposite Francis Lederer. She auditioned for the female lead role in King Kong, and was in the last two, losing the role to Faye Wray.
She retired from film acting after 1935, with she and her husband living in Beverly Hills, California. She began working in interior design, and studied for and received a degree in teaching. She and her husband lived in Brentwood where she began one of the early Head Start programs at Knox Presbyterian Nursery School. She also taught dance, society behavior and etiquette at the Elisa Ryan Studio where she instructed the daughters of President Richard Nixon. In 1972 she and Alex moved to Cardiff-By-The Sea. Merna worked as a children`s librarian at the Rancho Sante Fe Library until only a few years before her death. She died on November 5, 2000, in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, aged 94.
Full Name at Birth
Claim to Fame
WAMPAS Baby Star of 1927
Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Enid Bennett, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Rod La Rocque, John Gilbert
Frances Lee (May 5, 1906 – November 5, 2000) was an American film actress during Hollywood's silent film era, and well into the sound film era of the 1930s.
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