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Ruth Chatterton

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Walter Smith Reed and Lillian Reed
Ex-wife of George Brent

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Ruth Chatterton

Ruth Chatterton (24 December 1892 – 24 November 1961) was an American actress, novelist, and early aviatrix.

Early life

Chatterton was born in New York City, on Christmas Eve 1892, to Walter Smith and Lillian Reed Chatterton. She was of English and French extraction, and a descendant of the English poet Thomas Chatterton.

Her parents separated while she was still quite young. In order to help support her family financially, she left school at fourteen and began her career on Broadway.


Chatterton started off as a chorus girl in a stage play and by the age of eighteen had become a star of the American stage. Her greatest success onstage came in 1914 when she starred in the play Daddy Long Legs, adapted from the novel by Jean Webster.

In 1924, she married British actor Ralph Forbes, who starred opposite her that same year in The Magnolia Lady, a musical versional of the A.E. Thomas and Alice Duer Miller hit Come Out of the Kitchen. Chatterton moved to Hollywood with Forbes in 1928, and with the help of Emil Jannings, was cast in her first film role in Sins of the Fathers. That same year she was signed to a contract by Paramount Pictures. This was followed by roles in The Doctor's Secret (1929), The Dummy (1929), and MGM's Madame X (1929). She received her first nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the latter film. The following year she received a second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her role in Sarah and Son (1930), portraying an impoverished housewife who rises to fame and fortune as an Opera singer.

Her stage experience enhanced many of her film performances when the "silents" segued to the "talkies". Although her first "talkies" were merely filmed stage productions, her enunciation and acting were appreciated by the public and critics alike. When she left Paramount, her initial studio, for Warner Brothers (along with Kay Francis and William Powell), it was noted that the brothers Warner needed an infusion of "class".

She co-starred in the film Dodsworth (1936), for Samuel Goldwyn, which is widely regarded as her finest film (giving what many consider an Oscar worthy performance, though she wasn't nominated). Due to her age and the studios' focus on younger, more bankable stars, she moved to England and continued to star in films there. Chatterton's final film was A Royal Divorce (1938).

She came out of retirement in the 1950s, and appeared on U.S. television in several plays, including a TV adaptation of Dodsworth on CBS's Prudential Playhouse, alongside Mary Astor and Walter Huston. Her last television appearance was as Gertrude in a 1953 adaptation of Hamlet, with Maurice Evans in the title role, on the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Later life

Having left acting, she began a successful writing career, producing several novels. She was also one of the few aviatrices at the time, and was good friends with Amelia Earhart. Chatterton crisscrossed the U.S. several times solo. She served as sponsor of the Sportsman Pilot Mixed Air Derby and the annual Ruth Chatterton Air Derby during the 1930s; she also opened the National Air Races in Los Angeles in 1936. She taught British film and stage actor Brian Aherne to fly, an experience he described at length in his autobiography.

Chatterton's first husband was actor Ralph Forbes; they were married from 1924 to 1932. The day after her divorce from Forbes was finalized, Chatterton married her frequent film co-star and fellow Warners player, Irish-born actor George Brent. They divorced in 1934. Chatterton's third and last husband was Barry Thomson, to whom she was married from 1942 to his death in 1960. She had no children.

Chatterton died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 68 in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1961. She was cremated and is interred in a niche in the 'Lugar Mausoleum' (Section 11, Lot 303) at Beechwoods Cemetery in New Rochelle, New York.

Occasional, much-younger co-star Bette Davis recalled that Chatterton was "very kind" to her at Warners when Davis was starting out on her career. Pauline Kael referred to her as "the great Ruth Chatterton".

Chatterton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6263 Hollywood Blvd.

Filmography and Bibliography

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Ruth Chatterton's Timeline

Age 69