Betty's available films (and some hard to find)

A list of Betty's movies can be found at the Internet Movie Database.  This doesn't list some of the films mentioned in these pages; on the other hand the database does mention 1962's Who's Got the Action? in which she is supposed to play the part of the wife of Judge Boatwright.  I can't see her in that film though.

Very few of Betty's films are now available: in fact, Peter Pan is the only one easily obtained now in which she has a major role.

Are Parents People? (1925)

This film can be found, although not so easily off the shelves.  In it Betty plays schoolgirl Lita Hazlitt, whose parents are going through a divorce due to a case of "incompatibility".  After reading the book "Divorce and its Cure" she concocts a plan to bring her parents back together through a shared concern over their daughter.  Chance comes to her aid when her school mistress expels Lita, thinking she has a crush on a movie actor.  Lita runs away from home and takes overnight refuge in an armchair at the local doctor's surgery, causing her parents to fret and ultimately to get back together again.

Are Parents People? has moments of good humour, such as when Lita and her school roommate are lightening quick to portray how absorbed they are in their homework when the stuffy school mistress makes an unexpected visit to their room, hoping to catch them not studying.  And as William Everson mentions in American Silent Film, there is some creative filming when, for example, Lita considers whether to run away from home, which we see only by how her ankles swivel and cross as she walks to her door wondering whether she should go ahead with her plan.

In this film we see Betty post Peter Pan's boyishness.  She still shows the style of Peter Pan, but at the same time is beginning to portray a young lady dressed in the fashions of the twenties.

Ben-Hur (1925)

Betty played the role of Mary in Ben-Hur, appearing among the first few scenes of the film that culminate in the Nativity, which are really something set apart from the rest of this spectacular movie.  Accompanied on the available video tape by a (modern) impressive score composed by Carl Davis with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, this beginning to the epic has what are surely its most sensitively filmed scenes.

Mary's appearance sidesaddle on a donkey has a magnetism that takes all those who see her by surprise, such as the stable owner who changes his mind and finds room for them after initially demanding that they sleep under the stars like all the other visitors to Bethlehem.  The filming here is very attractive, as shown by for instance the doves that flutter about Mary as Joseph leads her donkey along.  The understatement of several scenes is especially well done.  The camera panning along with the tired legs of both Joseph and the donkey as they walk toward the stable is very effective, as are the few seconds showing just Mary's hand as she touches a rail in the stable and declares "The place is sanctified".

The Nativity scene itself is really very beautiful, and was shown in colour along with several other key scenes (apart from the chariot race, for which about 40 hours of film was condensed into ten minutes on screen: the cost of doing this in colour would've been astronomical!).

Betty's calm composure forms the centre of this first part of Ben-Hur, from her tired bent-over figure on the donkey to her central position in the stable, complete with beautiful halo and wonderful colours.

The Singing Fool (1928)

Betty appears in 1928's The Singing Fool, an incredibly popular film of the time, centring as it did around well known actor Al Jolson.  This was her first talkie although interestingly the film actually alternates between silent and talking scenes--a technique that showed a changing industry at a time when sound movies were just beginning to appear; however, presenting a scene or two silently has still been used to good effect in later films such as a short silent segment of The Sting in 1973.

In The Singing Fool, Betty plays the part of waitress Grace, secretly in love with singer Al Stone (Jolson) who has rescued her from a patron's amorous advances early in the film.  She stands by Al in his hour of need as his farcical marriage falls apart, shyly telling him to look beyond the current problems he is having.

Betty's appearances in this movie are sprinkled throughout, which is a pity since it means we need to sift through what feels like an interminable amount of watching Jolson be Jolson.  They didn't work well together, which says a lot for Betty.  She doesn't sing in this movie (although one web site with no contact details says she does; a bad case of Chinese whispers, since that site has clearly gotten its information from this one!).

Although Betty had a perfectly good voice for talkies, her real talent lay in pantomime, and the parts she played in the late twenties were not enough to showcase her abilities to any great extent.

The Locked Door (1929)

The Locked Door sets up a scenario where a wife finds herself locked in a room with the body of a secret old flame, whom she is not responsible for killing; actually her husband is, but he is unaware of her predicament.

Betty is not involved with this; she plays the secondary, likable role of innocent Helen Reagan, beloved sister of the husband.  She has walked into a complicated web by wishing to run off with the man who unbeknown to her is her sister-in-law's old flame, whom her brother and his wife both detest, though each for their own reasons.  But she knows nothing of this past history.

Betty looks like she's having fun playing her part in this film, and she has a good manner.  For example when she first appears, where she and her brother are kidding each other about the jewelry he has bought for his wife.  "Oh dear, to be loved, to be smothered in diamonds, and rubies and furs!" she says.  "Jealous?" he asks.  "Me?  I should say not!" she replies.  This was a good role and Betty displayed a style that suited it well.

The Medicine Man (1930)

Along with The Singing Fool, The Medicine Man is another great example of how heavily the spoken word dominated movies in the early days of talkies.  It's the story of a good natured travelling charlatan Dr John Harvey (played by Jack Benny) who peddles his health tonics through the shows he puts on in small towns around the countryside.

Betty plays Mamie Goltz, the hard-working daughter of a local mean spirited shop owner who cares little for her future.  She catches the eye of smooth talking Harvey, who buys a box of sweets from her, asks her to engrave it for his sweetheart (to Mamie's dismay), and then presents it to her.  Although he sees her at first as something akin to just another conquest, he soon falls in love with her as she has already done with him.  Meanwhile, Mamie's father has decided to marry her off to a man she detests, but Harvey saves the day at the last minute by appearing with the local celebrant, who marries them and sends them off into the sunset.

The Medicine Man is an easy film to watch.  Betty has a dominant role, certainly very much bigger than in The Singing Fool and The Locked Door, and with a lot more speech.  She always carries this off in the same delicate way in which she typically plays her parts.

Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge (1937)

The 1937 Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge is also available.  Here she plays the strong willed Milly Baynum of a turpentine-making family, opposite Gene Autry the hero of the piece.  He is fighting to stop a feud between his own family of cattle farmers and the turpentiners, who are well represented by Milly's aggressive stepfather.  Milly stands up for Gene and defends him when occasion demands.  Again it's not a big role although we do get an unintended view of her ability to move on foot quick as lightning when necessary, when Gene uses way too much gusto in wheeling his horse around to make a dramatic exit to pursue the villains, and as he does so just about flattens Betty in the process!

A Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

Yodelin' Kid was Betty's last movie before retiring from the screen.  At William Everson's suggestion she reentered movies in the sixties, beginning with the very warm A Pocketful of Miracles in 1961.  Actually in this she appears for only a few seconds, as the wife of the mayor of New York.  The film is all about good natured but would-be crime boss Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) who takes it upon himself to do a good turn to down-and-out aged street seller Apple Annie (Bette Davis), by presenting her as the rich society lady her visiting engaged daughter has always believed her to be.

Betty appears briefly in two scenes at the end of the film as the wife of the mayor of New York.  Apple Annie has had no choice but to arrange a society party, which looks like it might fail, but is saved at the last moment thanks to some wrangling on the part of Dave the Dude when New York's glitterati shows up.  Specially briefed by "the Dude"--leaving Apple Annie speechless--the city's notables all play their parts in setting her up in her role-for-a-night.  We can see the obvious fun Betty's having as she makes her entry to the party arm in arm with the mayor after being announced, and she pretty obviously was relishing her return to the cameras.

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Betty's main role in this period is in the more serious drama of 1964, The Naked Kiss.  In this she plays the warm-hearted Miss Josephine, who lets a room to Kelly (Constance Towers), a one-time prostitute determined to put her past behind her.  Kelly has just arrived in the small town, and touched by Miss Josephine's genuine warmth, decides to stay and settle.

In Betty's initial appearance welcoming Kelly to her house, we can see the ease with which she uses her trademark body gestures to play the role as she did so well in the days of the silents.  She recites a poem about a family heirloom to Kelly, then takes her by the hand and presents her to the mirror in the boarding room, telling her that Kelly's best reference as a would-be boarder is her honest face, and then speaking of her own one time fiance who was killed in the war of twenty years before.  A good movie and a good role, but again far too short!

The Seven Little Foys (1964)

The Seven Little Foys is the story of vaudeville performer Eddie Foy, widowed father of a brood of good-natured but exasperating children who are trying to get an education while at the same time continuing to perform with him on stage.

Betty has a cameo in this movie, as one of the Foy children's long suffering schoolteachers.  She appears only briefly: first, as the placid teacher listening attentively to one of the Foy girls during a classroom speech session, only to leap onto her chair screaming when the girl accidentally sets a pet mouse free; and later, she appears again with the rest of the teachers gathered in the principal's office after it has been decided that the children are just too much to handle.  There, as was her way, Betty delivers her short dialogue with carefully enunciated style.

Evel Knievel (1971)

Betty also appears in a short couple of scenes as an exasperated house mistress of a girls' student hostel in Evel Knievel in 1971.  Her appearance in this film has raised a few eyebrows--it was a quick role that had nothing in common with those of The Naked Kiss or Peter Pan.  Still, it's easy to forget that the somehow parched scenes of this movie and the basic plot revolving around the antics of its star reflect more on early seventies film culture than anything peculiar to the movie itself.

Betty was silent film and stage material par excellence in that she was so very suited to using her body to communicate and express emotion in a way that went out of fashion with the coming of talkies.  Her silent film work was part of a style of performance that sadly really vanished at the end of the twenties.

Few forms of entertainment have ever vanished: music and orchestras survive, and modern films are certainly in no danger.  But the silents, with their expressive faces and full body movements, really disappeared.  A whole trade was gone, wiped out almost overnight with the arrival of sound, along with the warm sepia tones that proved to be incompatible with the new sound technology.

There was still stage work of course for silent film players, but the niche itself had gone, and like so many others, Betty made her career just when these changes were under way.

The roll call of Betty's films is all too short here, and we can only hope that more will one day turn up to be seen by a new generation of silent movie fans.


Betty's early years

Betty as Peter Pan

Prelude to Peter Pan

Further silent film work and the advent of talkies

Life beyond the movies

Film and promotional shots

Betty's available films

Bibliography and credits

This site is copyright © 2001 Don Koks.