Thursday, January 27, 2011

Richard Arlen (1900-1976)

The American born actor got his start in acting literally by accident. As the story goes, Arlen was working for Paramount as a messenger during 1920 where he was slightly injured in an accident.  When he went to the Paramount offices to thank them for their prompt medical care they liked his boyish good looks and promptly gave him a screen test.  His first credited role was in the silent "Vengeance of the Deep" 1923.  He followed it up with "The Flying Coward" 1924 opposite the talented Mary Astor.

Arlen with co-star Mary Brian in the early talkie "The Man I Love" 1929

By 1926 Arlen was one of Paramount's leading men starring in the silents "The Enchanted Hill" with Mary Brian, Noah Beery and Jack Holt then "Behind the Front" opposite Mary Brian and Wallace Beery.   The following year he would be cast as a WWI flying ace in the first Academy Award winning film "Wings" co-starring Clara Bow, Charles Buddy Rogers and a very young Gary Cooper.  Arlen followed the hit film up with the comedy "Sally in Our Alley co-starring Shirley Mason.  He was also cast in the action adventure "She's a Sheik" opposite Bebe Daniels and William Powell in 1927.  Richard married actress Jobyna Ralston in 1927. They met during filming of "Wings" and would remain married until 1946  They had one child together during their 19 year union.  Jobyna starred in five of Harold Lloyd's comedy shorts including "The Freshman" and "For Heaven's Sake" during the early 1920's.

Arlen looking very comfortable as a flying ace in "Wings" 1927

publicity still for "The All-American"

Richard tried his hand at western's with "Under the Tonto Rim" 1928 opposite his now frequent co-star Mary Brian which was written by Zane Grey.  He followed it up with the comedy "Feel My Pulse" opposite Bebe Daniels and William Powell. (I'll be doing a post on Brian, Daniels and Powell coming up).  Arlen was cast opposite Clara Bow in the crime drama "Ladies of the Mob" the same year.  A fun little silent about the daughter of a mob boss who tries to reform her love interest, a small time crook before he turns out like her father.  It's hard to find silents with Clara Bow other than "Wings" but I love her facial expressions. She's one of my favorite silent actresses.  I guess she wasn't called the "It" girl for nothing!  Arlen also appeared along side the fabulous Louise Brooks in "Beggars of Life" that year and the drama "Manhattan Cocktail" opposite Nancy Carroll.  His first picture with a sound track.

With Ida Lupino in "Come On, Marines!" 1934

By 1929 talkies were taking off and actors were either transitioning or falling to the wayside.  Arlen was one of the lucky male leads who transitioned with ease. He started off 1929 with "The Man I Love" opposite Mary Brian then the film noir drama "Thunderbolt" opposite George Bancroft and Fay Wray.  "The Four Feathers" was Arlen's biggest success of 1929.  The war time adventure co-starred Clive Brooks, William Powell and Fay Wray.  He would reunite with Clara Bow in the drama "Dangerous Curves" that same year which was also a box office success for the talented duo. His last film of 1929 would be "The Virginian" opposite Gary Cooper, Walter Huston and Mary Brian.  Arlen plays a cattle rustling cowboy vying for the affections of Brian's character but losing out to Gary Cooper in one of Victor Fleming's first directorial successes.  

click on Arlen's autograph from my collection or photos for a larger view

with Gary Cooper and Mary Brian in "The Virginian" 1929

1930 was a very busy year for Richard with 9 films that year which included his playing a race car driver turned crook in "Burning Up" opposite Mary Brian.  Up next was "Dangerous Paradise" with Nancy Carroll.  He plays a hermit stranded on a desert island who falls in love with a beautiful stowaway.  (I guess our island girl Dorothy Lamour was too young to be cast). Arlen also reunited with Fay Wray in "The Sea God" that year, another action adventure.  He would also star in the western "The Santa Fe Trail" and another comedy opposite Mary Brian "Only Saps Work" that year.  He certainly couldn't complain about being typecast or for getting roles in one genre like so many other actors.  

Arlen kept busy throughout 1931 turning out films like " Touchdown" where he plays a dedicated football coach then "Caught" where he wins the heart of a naive girl played by Frances Dee. Louise Dressler also stands out as the tough saloon owner, Calamity Jane in the romantic western.  Richard made 5 films during 1932 including "Wayward" opposite Nancy Carroll then the mystery "Gulity as Hell" co-starring Victor McLaglen and Edmond Lowe.  His most successful film of 1932 was as Gary King in "The All-American". (I remember the most recent remake of this film which starred Dennis Quaid, Jessica Lange and John Goodman.  It really was a good film titled "Everybody's All American" 1988.  Of course Jessica Lange is my favorite working actress so I feel she can do no wrong).  Arlen's version has a much happier ending and co-stars the talented Gloria Stuart.  

with the adorable Nancy Carroll in "Wayward" 1932


Richard's last film of 1932 was the horror adventure "Island of Lost Souls" which co-starred Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.  Arlen plays a man who's shipwrecked on an island where Dr. Moreau is busy conducting experiments on animal/humans.  He is eventually rescued by his fiancées search party only after experiencing the horrors of the island and run ins with a Lola the panther woman, played by Kathleen Burke.  (I just watched the trailer and all I can say is that it's entertaining for an early horror film).  Arlen starred in the critically successful "Golden Harvest" in 1933 which depicts the struggles of farming with heart breaking detail, and co-stars Chester Morris.  

He also reunited with Gary Cooper in 1933 for what you would expect would be another western or action adventure but no, they appeared together in the fantasy adventure "Alice in Wonderland".  Arlen is the voice of the Cheshire Cat while Cooper does a voice over for the White Knight.  Cary Grant is the voice of the Mock Turtle and W.C Fields can be found as the voice of Humpty Dumpty.  

with Fay Wray in "The Sea God" 1930

Arlen started out 1934 in the drama "Come on Marines" opposite Ida Lupino which he would follow up with the comedy "She Made Her Bed" with Sally Eilers.  His last film of 1934 would have him paired up again with Ida Lupino in a romantic picture titled "Ready for Love".  Arlen was still able to carry a film close to 10 years into his career which led to a starring role in "Helldorado" in 1935 with Madge Evans and the talented Ralph Bellamy.  Another of his films in 1935 was the crime drama "Let 'em Have It" co-starring Bruce Cabot, Virginia Bruce and Alice Brady. I love the description of this film which reads "Young Federal gang-busters in action, with pauses for romance".  The only memorable film of Arlen's during the next two years would be "Murder in Greenwich Village" co-starring Fay Wray.  A fun murder mystery with a great script and good acting by both Arlen and Wray.

with Fay Wray and co-stars in "The Conquering Horde" 1931

with Mary Astor in "No Time To Marry" 1938

One of Richard's 3 films of 1938 is the romantic comedy "No Time To Marry" co-starring Mary Astor. I haven't seen it or heard of it but with the very minimal information I get on it being "they spent their wedding night on a goat hunt" who wouldn't want to add it to their must see list!  Arlen also appeared in the action adventure "Call of the Yukon" with Lyle Talbot and Beverly Roberts in 1938 as well as the comedy "Straight Place and Show" co-starring Ethel Merman and The Ritz Brothers.  Arlen's most notable role and successful film of 1939 was as Capt Robert Lawrence in "Mutiny on the Blackhawk".  The action adventure which takes place in 1840 also stars Andy Devine, Constance Moore and Noah Beery.  

With Ida Lupino in "Ready For Love" 1934

Although Richard stayed busy throughout 1940 and 1941 with 14 films they were all low budget action adventure's or crime dramas. (He had left Paramount in 1935 and was now free-lancing).  His next successful film would be "Torpedo Boat" in 1942 co-starring Mary Carlisle and Jean Parker. He followed it up with another box office hit "Wildecat" co-starring Buster Krabbe and Arline Judge.  Arlen would star in 4 films during 1943, all action or dramas like "Aerial Gunner", "Alaska Highway", "Submarine Alert" and "Minesweeper" (I'm guessing his films were very popular with male audiences from those titles).  Of his 3 films during 1944 the one that stands out to me is the mystery thriller  "Storm Over Lisbon" which co-stars Vera Ralston and Eric von Stroheim.  He would continue to carry a film throughout the 1940's maintaining top billing in dramas and adventure films. Arlen would also remarry in 1946 to Margaret Kinsella who he would remain married to until his death.

with the talented Fay Wray

Richard would appear in a few films during the 1950's and 60's with an occasional guest role on television.  He would appear in Perry Mason, The Lawman and Bat Masterson to name a few.  Arlen's last on screen appearance was in "A Whale of a Tale" *release date 1977, a movie about dolphin rescue which also stars William Shatner and Marty Allen.  He would retire from acting and live a quiet life with his wife Maragret until his death from emphysema in 1976.  He would be buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.  (His wife Margaret would later rejoin him there). Their grave site can be viewed HERE.  Richard Arlen had a very long career that lasted over 5 decades and included close to 200 films and over 30 television appearances.  

with Eva Gabor in "Forced Landing" 1941

Richard Arlen Fun Facts:

During WWI he served as a fighter pilot in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps. (Arlen was born in Virginia).

He started going deaf in the early 1940's which he felt would be the end of his career.  However he was able to have an operation in 1949 which restored his hearing and his acting prospects.

*He was coaxed back into acting in 1976, appearing in 3 films which were all released after his death.  

Before finding work at Paramount where he was discovered, he attended the University of Pennsylvania then went on to find work in oil fields in Texas and Oklahoma.  He also worked as a sports editor for a newspaper before landing in Los Angeles.  The injury he sustained which led to his being discovered was a broken leg caused by a motorcycle crash on the Paramount lot.  (He was delivering film from a film laboratory at the time).  

He reunited with "Wings" co-star Charles Buddy Rogers in a very funny episode of "Petticoat Junction" appropriately titled Wings.

His son Richard Arlen Jr also went into acting, finding moderate success.

with Virginia Bruce in "Sky Bride" 1932

Thank you for joining me for a look back at Richard Arlen's career.  And please enjoy the below clip from Richard's film "Wildcats" 1944


  1. Hi Page, how are you? I hope that all is well with you. I want to thank you for becoming a follower on my blogpage. I also want to thank you for this excellent and insightful profile on Richard Arlen. He was extraordinarily handsome during his silent film career, and I often think that he and Mary Brian made one of the loveliest of the silent screen’s couples. He gave a truly moving performance in WINGS, was equally funny in FEEL MY PULSE opposite Bebe Daniels, but the one film I would really like to see is BEGGARS OF LIFE with Louise Brooks. I haven’t seen many of his sound pictures, but his performance in ARTISTS AND MODELS makes me think the loss of his hearing had already begun to affect his acting. The description for MURDER IN GREENWICH VILLAGE sounds like a film I would like to see, as well as the films that paired him with Ida Lupino. I have one observation regarding the photo that you have captioned Richard with Clara from WINGS; I think that is in fact Virginia Bruce with him from a different film. Thanks again for sharing this wonderful tribute to Richard Arlen (I'm going to watch him and Elisha Cook, Jr. in WILDCATS), and I hope to hear from you, Karin.

  2. Hi WG,
    I'm glad you appreciate Richard Arlen as much as I do. I've looked at so many photos of Virginia Bruce within the last couple of weeks in preparation for a post on her but totally missed that being her with Arlen! If only a bit of her blonde hair had stuck out of her cap. She's just as adorable as Clara.

    Thats why I love hearing from so many very knowledgeable, old movie fans. It's great to read everyones stories, comments and film favorites.
    I enjoy your well written blog and hope to see you back.

  3. Hiya Page! I wanna thankya too. ya happen ta have bin the first follower for my blog (They had faces). Hot Socks, that was swell of ya! It made my day. Im so glad ya hava blog now, and i gotta say its just the beez kneez. Anywho, im sure yull go ova reeeal big. by the way, it would sure be grand of ya to do a clara bow movie reiview, It would make me soo happy. id sugest "It" because thats when she, and most of her critics, thought she was at her best. Lov-ya, bye!

  4. ^Oh also, if ya need a link to see some of her films, ive got links ta six of em on my blog (Includen "It").

  5. Apollo,
    I will definitely have a look at your links and do a review of one of Clara's films just for you.

    You're pretty swell yourself! : )

  6. He was a great actor,and what a long career!.

  7. I bought a box of 50 war films and last night enjoyed Arlen in Identity Unknown. It was low budget but surprisingly enjoyable. I never knew there are mountains near Knoxville, Ia.