Hello readers, and happy Halloween! I’ve been so busy these days that I didn’t have time to put together my Hitchcock Halloween blogathon, but stay tuned in the coming days for the announcement of Backlots’ 4th annual Dueling Divas blogathon, which will go on this year as usual!
Today is the final day of this year’s CMBA Blogathon, in which members of the esteemed Classic Movie Blog Association are writing about stars that have been lost in the annals of history. So many stars of yesteryear have faded due to unfortunate circumstance, and as classic film writers, we are doing our small part to bring back some of the glory that these stars enjoyed in their heyday.
The star that I have chosen for the blogathon is the talented and beautiful Eleanor Boardman, a hugely popular star in the silent era with enormous acting talent and uniquely soft yet defined features. Retiring in 1935 and spending a long and healthy retirement out of the spotlight, hers was the definition of a full life, lived her own way. In addition to having been a movie star, Boardman also spent time as a correspondent for the Hearst newspapers and worked in France for the International News Service, writing a column about American life in Paris.
Eleanor Boardman was born in Philadelphia on August 19, 1898, into a strict Presbyterian family. The method by which young Eleanor became an actress is disputed–by her own account, she left home to study art and interior design at the Academy of Fine Art, while former husband King Vidor claims that she rebelled against the stifling atmosphere of her home life to choose a career path of which her parents did not approve. But what we do know is that as a teenager, Eleanor was named the “Eastman Kodak Girl” and by 1922, she had come to the attention of Goldwyn Pictures, who gave her a contract for $750 a week. She moved to California to begin work and soon met and fell in love with up-and-coming director, King Vidor, who had seen pictures of her as a teenager and was immediately smitten.
In 1923, Boardman made Three Wise Fools with Vidor and subsequently made five more films with him as director in the next four years. The most masterful of the six films that Boardman made with Vidor is The Crowd (1928), a beautiful and sorrowful look at a man in social and economic turmoil. Eleanor Boardman plays his long-suffering wife, and gives a magnificent and nuanced portrayal of a woman conflicted between her love for her husband and her obligation to herself. The movie is one of my personal favorite silent films, and it is clear that Vidor understood instinctively how to direct Boardman toward her best work.
Vidor and Boardman finally married in 1926, in a ceremony that was supposed to be a double wedding with John Gilbert and Greta Garbo at the Beverly Hills home of Marion Davies. But when Garbo failed to show, Gilbert was left alone at the altar with Boardman and Vidor, who proceeded with the marriage. The photos from this event are immensely uncomfortable.
Boardman’s marriage to King Vidor produced two daughters, Antonia (born in 1927) and Belinda (born in 1930). But in 1931, shortly after the birth of their daughter Belinda, the marriage began to fail and they divorced the same year.
Following her divorce from Vidor, Boardman met writer Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast, with whom she would spend the rest of her life. Boardman decided to retire from films in 1935, and in 1940 she married Arrast. Shortly after the marriage, she was hired by William Randolph Hearst’s International News Service to go to Paris to write a column entitled “Americans in Paris,” to appear in the newspapers once a week. She spent a year in Paris writing the column, meeting socialites and writing to her heart’s content, until she contracted tuberculosis and was forced to abandon the job to go to Switzerland to recover.
She returned to the United States with Arrast, and following his death in 1968 Boardman moved to Montecito, CA. She spent her remaining years in Montecito until her death at age 93 in 1991.
I was lucky enough to talk to Eleanor Boardman’s daughter, Belinda, a few months ago. The spitting image of her mother, Belinda talks articulately and beautifully about the full life she led with her illustrious mother and father, the parties and social scene of Hollywood, and the careers of her parents. Her words about her mother are always kind. Eleanor Boardman’s star burned brightly for a short period of time, but that was exactly how she wanted it. She lived her life her way.
Thanks to the CMBA for hosting this blogathon. Some of the material for this article comes from an interview conducted by Alan Greenberg with Eleanor Boardman in the 1980s. I have the privilege of access to portions of this interview, and have used it to fill in information about the life of this fascinating star. Many thanks also to Alan Greenberg for letting me listen to it.
See you next time!