Brooklyn, New York, USA
Place of Death
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Cause of Death
Barbiturate Overdose (suicide by sleeping pills/sedative overdose)
Claim to Fame
The Painted Desert, WAMPAS Baby Star of 1929
Profile Bio Text
Born Helen Marie Jurgens in Brooklyn, New York, a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Art, where she met her first husband, actor Clark Twelvetrees. With some stage experience, she went to Hollywood with a number of other actors to replace the silent stars that could not or would not make the transition to talkies. Her first job was with Fox and she appeared in 1929`s The Ghost Talks.
Unfortunately, her career was as tumultuous as her personal life. After a mere three films with Fox, she was released from her contract. However, she was signed by Pathé shortly thereafter, and along with Constance Bennett and Ann Harding, Twelvetrees starred in several lachrymose dramas, not all of which were critically acclaimed. And when Pathé was absorbed by RKO, incrementally she found herself at various times miscast in mediocre films. With the arrival of Katharine Hepburn at RKO, Twelvetrees left the studio to freelance (Harding and Bennett would also subsequently depart).
1930`s Her Man set the course of her screen career, and she would forever be asked to play suffering women fighting for the wrong men. Later she played opposite Spencer Tracy in the 1934`s Now I`ll Tell, (also known as When New York Sleeps) from a novel by `Mrs. Arnold Robinson`; opposite Donald Cook in The Spanish Cape Mystery; and costarred in Paramount`s A Bedtime Story with Maurice Chevalier.
She also starred in two MGM films, which induced a critic to note that she "had a gift for projecting emotional force with minimal visible effort." However, some other critics (including one from The New York Times) felt that she tended to overact in a few of her other appearances.
By 1936 to 1937, she was publicly feuding with her second husband, ex-stunt man Frank Woody, and appearing in B-Westerns and crime thrillers. She left films in favor of summer stock in 1939 and made her Broadway debut in Jacques Deval`s Boudoir in 1941. Unfortunately, the play folded after only 11 performances and she semi-retired to Harrisburg, PA, with her third husband, a military officer. Yet she occasionally continued to act and successfully essayed the role of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire in summer stock in the early 1950s. A cast member of that production recalled that Twelvetrees "had the saddest eyes I`d ever seen" and that she seemed to be an "emotionally fragile woman."
Her sudden death in 1958 was pronounced a suicide.
Couple Profile Source
Brooklyn Heights Seminary
American Academy of Dramatic Art
Full Name at Birth
Helen Marie Jurgens
Red, Green, Blue
Has Detailed Data (New)
Helen Marie Twelvetrees (December 25, 1908 – February 13, 1958) was an American movie and theatre actress, who became a top female star through a series of "women's pictures" in the early 1930s.
Wiki Bio Text
Helen Twelvetrees (1908–1958)
Actress | Soundtrack
Date of Birth 25 December 1908, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Date of Death 13 February 1958, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA (suicide)
Birth Name Helen Marie Jurgens
Height 5' 3" (1.6 m)
Mini Bio (2)
Helen Twelvetrees was born Helen Marie Jurgens in Brooklyn, New York on December 25, 1908. Her interest in the theatricals was apparent at an early age. After graduating from high school. Helen embarked on a stage career. She participated in a number of plays in New York City, but gravitated toward film when she headed to the West Coast in late 1928. In 1929, Helen appeared in her first motion picture called THE GHOST TALKS. That was quickly followed by WORDS AND MUSIC and BLUE SKIES that same year. Through the early thirties, Helen appeared in a number of movies. Audiences appreciated the pixish, little blonde and the roles she played. Perhaps one of her finest roles was a June Perry in STATE'S ATTORNEY (1932) opposite John Barrymore. Helen's character was romantically involved with the district attorney and plays the part with absolute conviction. Helen continued a hectic filming pace until 1936. She filmed five movies in 1935, but played in only THOROUGHBRED in '36. In 1938, Helen went through a drought and made her last film the following year in UNMARRIED. Helen's film career had ended. Through the balance of her life there seemed to be a void. On February 13, 1958, died after she took an overdose of sedatives. She was 49.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson
Born in New York, Helen was schooled at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary before heading to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1927, Helen Jurgens married Clark Twelvetrees and became Helen Twelvetrees. With some stage experience, Helen went to Hollywood with a number of other actors to replace the silent stars that could not or would not make the transition to talkies. Her first job was with Fox and she appeared in 'The Ghost Talks (1929)'. Being that Helen was blond and short, she was usually cast as the fallen or betrayed woman such as Elsa in 'A Woman of Experience (1931)'. But she also played the girl friend in 'Is My Face Red? (1932)' and the heroine in 'Her Man (1930)'. Most of her films were made at RKO, where she landed after leaving Pathe and Fox. By 1935, the public had grown tired of her roles and directors had grown weary of her temperament. While she would appear in a few small roles toward the end of the decade, her career in films was over. In 1958, Helen died of a drug overdose.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana
Conrad Payne (1947 - 13 February 1958) (her death)
Jack Woody (17 April 1931 - 15 April 1936) (divorced) (1 child)
Clark Twelvetrees (1927 - 1 April 1931) (divorced)
Her cremated remains are buried in an unmarked grave in the Middletown Cemetery near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where she died. Her husband, Conrad Payne was stationed at the former Olmsted AFB at the time of her death. The plot on which she is buried is titled in his name and is located in section "D" of the "new" section of the cemetery.
Her father, Williams Jurgens, was advertising manager for the Brooklyn edition of the New York Evening Journal.
Her career was born after noted artist George Bradshaw Crandall painted a portrait of her which made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. She was a student at New York's Art Student League at the time studying music, painting and drama.
She met her first husband, Clark Twelvetrees, while both were enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. They eloped to Greenwich, Connecticut in 1927. They both worked in New York's theatre town -- she as an actress and he as a stage manager -- but he couldn't get his acting career going and turned to alcohol. They divorced in 1931 and he died seven years later of acute alcoholism following a street brawl.
Her first screen role required her to lisp and, following the movie's release, word spread that she had a serious speech impediment.
Played Blanche Du Bois in "A Streetcar Named Desire at Sea Cliff, Long Island in August of 1951. It was one of her last professional appearances.
First husband, Clark Twelvetrees was a despairing alcoholic who tried to commit suicide by throwing himself out a seventh floor window. He was saved by landing on a second floor awning. The tabloids accused Helen of deliberately pushing him out the window and was only released from custody after her husband regained consciousness and was able to tell the truth.
Second husband Frank Woody, by whom she had a child, Frank Woody Jr., also made the headlines in 1936 at Helen's expense. The couple were already estranged at the time. It seems Helen was dining with a male friend when her husband passed by and forced a fight with her male companion. The altercation left the other man with two black eyes and a front page news item.
During the time of her popularity, a popular joke was that she was Lassie's favorite actress.
Personal Quotes (2)
Between pictures I go away. I think that is the best way to achieve happiness in Hollywood, the only way to keep one's perspective. If you stay too close to the motion picture colony you lose your sense of values.
I'm tired of taking the blame if the picture wasn't good. A star's years on the screen are limited. The featured players have many years. A star has too much footage in the picture. It seems to me I'm the perpetually pure-at-heart street- walker, always drooping over bars while some director says, 'Now, Helen, you must be very sweet about this naughty line. Remember, you haven't the faintest idea what it means!'
Biography by Hans J. Wollstein [-]
Accusations of overacting bedeviled blond Helen Twelvetrees even when she was Pathé's top female star in the early days of sound, as did the inevitable joke that she was "Rin Tin Tin's favorite actress." Few of her films are viewed today and she is perhaps best remembered for playing the tough woman torn between William Boyd and a very young (and villainous) Clark Gable in The Painted Desert (1931), a Western that is hardly typical of her work. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Art (where she met her first husband, alcoholic actor Clark Twelvetrees), Helen Twelvetrees did a stint with the Stuart Walker Stock Company and played in the Chicago company of An American Tragedy before signing with Hollywood studio Fox. But a slight lisp was exaggerated in the gossip magazines and the studio dumped her after only three films. Luckily, a group of motion picture advertisers had voted her a 1929 WAMPAS Baby Star and she quickly signed a contract with Pathé/RKO.
Twelvetrees made an early impact in Her Man (1930), a laundered screen version of the "naughty" stage play Frankie and Johnny, and although there were some whispers of exaggeration, a few critics compared her favorably to Lillian Gish. But Her Man set the course of Twelvetrees' screen career and she would forever be asked to play doleful women fighting for the wrong men. The titles varied -- Bad Company (1931), Panama Flo (1932), My Woman (1933) -- but her teary expression and mournful dialogue remained the same. She earned a well-deserved break from the monotony on loan to MGM for Unashamed (1932), a domestic drama that at least allowed her to be a bit more sophisticated. "I enjoyed the picture hugely because it was a far different type of role from any in my experience," she confessed at the time.
Twelvetrees left RKO when producer David O. Selznick brought onboard the more versatile Katharine Hepburn and spent the remainder of her screen career as a freelance artist. Her reputation for portraying suffering women followed her, however, and when one of her films proved a success -- Now I'll Tell (1934), from the book by Mrs. Arnold Rothstein, the Ellery Queen mystery The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) -- it was for reasons other than her participation. By 1936 to 1937, she was publicly feuding with husband-number-two, ex-stunt man Frank Woody, and appearing in B-Westerns and crime thrillers. She left films in favor of summer stock in 1939 and made her Broadway debut in Jacques Deval's Boudoir (1941). Unfortunately, the play folded after only 11 performances and she retired to Harrisburg, PA, with her third husband, a military officer. Her sudden death in 1958 was pronounced a suicide.
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