Life beyond the movies

In addition to her film work, Betty also was acting in stage productions.  Despite the fact that she had a soft voice such as can be heard in The Singing Fool, she never had a problem with it reaching the back rows.  In August of 1930 she played Dinah Partlett in Lovers in Quarantine with the Savoy Players.  In 1931, she appeared as Viola in a production of Twelfth Night (co-starring Gloria Stuart).  DeWitt Bodeen also acted in this production; it was their first meeting, and Bodeen wrote a wonderfully elegiac reminiscence of Betty after her death for the December 1974 Films in Review.  She starred as Annie in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco productions of Little Orchid Annie in 1930.

In February of 1928 Betty made a vacation trip to England and France.  She fell in love with France, and though she was not really one to keep diaries, she did take time to record how much she enjoyed Paris.  It was on this trip that she met her future husband, Ludwig Lauerhass.  (Although one paper reported that they met at a dance in Oxford, Betty's son believes they met on the boat on the way to England.  Ludwig did have a friend at Oxford and spent some informal time there himself, but was not actually a student there).  He was American-born and later studied in Heidelberg, becoming a successful businessman involved with the pharmaceutical industry back in America.

It was written in a book published in 1930 that after playing in The Singing Fool, Betty had gone "abroad" (presumably Germany) and made one film there for the UFA company, Peer Gynt, before returning to Hollywood.  But almost certainly this never happened: her normally comprehensive notes are silent on the subject.

In England she met and took tea with Sir James Barrie, and was escorted by journalist Pan Eccles Wood to visit the set of Hitchcock's Blackmail.  This visit had unfortunate repercussions, as the British tabloids immediately linked her romantically with Eccles Wood, a romance both Betty and Eccles Wood vigorously denied.  "For heaven's sake," she groused to an American reporter, "I've only met the man once."  In June of 1929 she went back to England and France for another visit, this time adding Switzerland to her itinerary.

On March 16th 1932, Betty married Ludwig in Santa Barbara, California.  She and her new husband spent the first week of their honeymoon in Monterey, the original Spanish capital of California.  Then--at the invitation of Marion Davies--the next week was spent at the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, where Betty had been a frequent guest.  In an unpublished article written in 1965, Betty described how she and Ludwig decided to leave the Ranch after a week, not wishing to wear out their welcome.  Davies, however, insisted that they stay for another week, and so they did, as Betty wrote "happily sleeping in Cardinal Richelieu's bed."   [4]

After their honeymoon, Betty and Ludwig moved to Asheville in North Carolina, where he was employed.  Betty took on a new role as a society matron and Junior Leaguer (a women's voluntary work organisation), and she joined the Asheville Business and Professional Women's Club.  The Lauerhass's maintained an apartment in New York (where they lived next door to Sigmund Romberg), and Betty appeared on stage in Long Island, in the John Drew Memorial Theater productions of East River Romance and Mr Prohack.  She also appeared in a newspaper ad for perfume ("What I'd Like For Christmas") in 1933.  Betty and Ludwig's son, Ludwig Lauerhass, Jr was born in 1935; the New York American ran a picture of a smiling Betty proudly holding her infant son.

In 1935 the family moved back to Los Angeles, where With the kind permission of Bruce Wasson Betty once more entered the movies; she was cast opposite Gene Autry in The Yodelin' Kid From Pine Ridge (1937).  This was her last screen appearance until 1961 and for the next two decades she concentrated on caring for her family and working for various civic and charitable events.  She enjoyed sculpting and took writing courses--she wrote the aforementioned article on the Hearst Ranch, entitled "Hearst Castle: Then and Now", and as a favour to a friend, wrote a weekly column for the Pasadena Independent under the byline "The Peeping Pixie."  During the Second World War, Betty did war support work and entertained soldiers at Pasadena's Hospitality House (the Pasadena version of the Hollywood Canteen).  She also worked for a short time as a graveyard shift dispatcher on Lockheed's P-38 line.

In the late 1940's the family settled in La Solana, a "Spanish Garden Village" in the upmarket suburb of Altadena near Pasadena.

With the kind permission of Bruce Wasson

In the 1960's with the support of silent movie historian William K. Everson, Betty returned to the screen several times, appearing in character roles in movies, stage, and television.  She appeared in a stage production of Sabrina Fair (she alternated playing the roles of Maude Larrabee and Julia Ward McClintock on alternating nights), receiving excellent reviews.  She also appeared in a Santa Barbara Summer Theater production called Harvey, as well as performing Misalliance with the Gilmor Brown Theater.  She made a brief appearance in Frank Capra's 1961 film A Pocketful of Miracles, and in 1964 got the best role of her later career in Sam Fuller's The Naked Kiss.  (Variety's review of The Naked Kiss said "Betty Bronson of early film fame radiates in a land-lady bit...")

Betty also made guest appearances on a variety of television shows: My Three Sons, Shannon, Dr Kildare, Day in Court, Run For Your Life, Chrysler Theater, and Marcus Welby, MD.  She appeared as a juror in a Lux Video Theater presentation along with other silent stars May McAvoy, Shirley Mason, Viola Dana, and Buster Keaton.  She also appeared in a commercial for Salvo, a laundry detergent.

Two television series were proposed for Betty: Books With Betty, a children's program, and Betty Bronson's Hollywood Scrapbook.  The Scrapbook project was created by William K. Everson, Johny Aitchison (assistant to Desi Arnaz), and Betty; it was to be a half-hour daytime television program featuring Betty interviewing various silent personalities and behind-the-scenes people.  Everson's extensive film collection would have been used for film clips.  Desi Arnaz expressed considerable interest: in a letter to Thomas Moore of America's ABC, he wrote "I honestly believe it would make a helluva daytime show".  But the proposed series never came to fruition.

Still, Betty was not forgotten.  She continued to be invited to events celebrating Hollywood's silent days.  Events such as: the reopening of the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles in July 1971 (the Alexandria Hotel is in downtown Los Angeles.  In the years of the silents it was popular with movie people, such as D.W. Griffith who lived there, and Rudolf Valentino who would dance in the bar.  It was revitalised in the 1960's after falling on hard times years before.  Betty was invited to the opening of the Francis X. Bushman suite, and received a thank you note from Mrs Bushman); the opening of a Home Savings & Loan branch on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street in the centre of Hollywood, where her name was inscribed in a mural (this opening had to be postponed due to the assassination of Robert Kennedy); the opening of the Robert Aldrich Studios (which were once the Pickford Studios) along with many other silent stars; and the premier of the 1959 Ben-Hur.

Both the film historians Kevin Brownlow and William Everson interviewed Betty about her career, and Everson planned on writing her biography, which unfortunately was never completed.  In May 1969 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a Betty Bronson night; Betty and Ludwig flew to New York to attend.  And Peter Pan was shown once again to another enchanted audience.

Betty always spoke of Peter Pan and A Kiss for Cinderella as her favourite films, and of Herbert Brenon as her favourite director.  Of her later career, she most enjoyed making The Naked Kiss with Sam Fuller, and working with Robert Young on Marcus Welby, MD and Richard Chamberlain on Dr Kildare.  According to her son she was not the type of person who spoke ill of people; in fact the only person he can remember her saying she disliked was Al Jolson (with whom she acted in 1928's The Singing Fool), referring to him as "obnoxious".

Her last screen appearance was on television in 1971: on Marcus Welby, MD in an episode entitled The Best is Yet To Be The Best is Yet To Be, air date November 16, 1971.
Robert Young with Betty, Jean Hayworth, Ruth Hussey and Patric Knowles. Robert Young, the star of Marcus Welby and himself a Hollywood veteran, sent her a short note after filming completed telling her how much he had enjoyed working with her.

Betty died after a long illness on October 19th 1971 in Pasadena and was buried at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles.

Photos, clippings, papers and other memorabilia of her life and career can be now be viewed at the UCLA Arts Library, and these have provided some of the information on these pages, together with the reminiscences of her son.

In 1998, Betty was nominated as one of the American Film Institute's "Greatest Screen Legends".  And in the Bronson Ephemera Department, her brother Arthur became Head of Central Casting, the Los Angeles agency originally formed to deal with the new flood of acting-hopefuls arriving there in the early part of this century.

Additional information about the American movie industry and its people at the start of Betty's career can be found in many books and places on the Internet.  The Taylorology web site has an interesting collection of reminiscences and little-known facts of this era.  A good discussion of silent movies can be found at the the Silent Film Bookshelf.

The frequently asked question list for the alt.movies.silent newsgroup is also an excellent source of information and links and can be found in several places, such as Emily Way's REEL WORLD site.  Other entry points into the world of silent movies are Silents Are Golden which has photos, reviews and essays, and The Silents Majority, a discontinued but archived internet journal of silent film.


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.