Richard Barthelmess

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Richard Barthelmess
Richard Barthelmess - publicity.JPG
in A Modern Hero (1934)
Born (1895-05-09)May 9, 1895
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died August 17, 1963(1963-08-17) (aged 68)
Southampton, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1916–1942
Spouse(s) Mary Hay (1920–1927) 1 daughter
Jessica Stewart Sargent (1928–1963)

Richard Semler "Dick" Barthelmess (May 9, 1895 – August 17, 1963) was an American film actor. He was nominated for the first Academy Award in the Best Actor category in 1928.

Early life[edit]

Barthelmess was educated at Hudson River Military Academy at Nyack and Trinity College at Hartford, Connecticut. His father, Alfred W Barthelmess[1] died when he was one year old[2] and his mother, Caroline Harris,[3] was a stage actress, so he worked in theatres in his early days, between schooling, doing "walk-ons". This led to acting in college and doing amateur productions. By 1919 he had five years in stock company experience.[4]

With Lillian Gish in Way Down East (1920)
Barthelmess in 1922

Russian actress Alla Nazimova, a friend of the family, had been taught English by Barthelmess's mother.[5] Nazimova convinced Barthelmess to try acting professionally and he made his debut screen appearance in 1916 in the serial Gloria's Romance as an uncredited extra. At this time he also appeared as a supporting player in several films starring Marguerite Clark. His next role, in War Brides opposite Nazimova, attracted the attention of legendary director D.W. Griffith, who offered him several important roles, finally casting him opposite Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms (1919) and Way Down East (1920).

He soon became one of Hollywood's highest paid performers, starring in such classics as The Patent Leather Kid (1927) and The Noose (1928); he was nominated for Best Actor at the first Academy Awards for his performance in both these films, and he won a Special Citation for producing The Patent Leather Kid. He founded his own production company, Inspiration Film Company, together with Charles Duell and Henry King. One of their films, Tol'able David (1921), in which Barthelmess starred as a teenage mailman who finds courage, was a major success.

With the advent of the sound era, Barthelmess' fortunes changed. He made several films in the new medium, most notably Son of the Gods (1930), The Dawn Patrol (1930), The Last Flight (1931), and The Cabin in the Cotton (1932), Central Airport (1933), then received facial plastic surgery the following year to offset his fading popularity at the box office, with an infection during the healing process leaving him permanently disfigured. He didn't work for three years until Howard Hawks persuaded him to accept a supporting role as Rita Hayworth's character's scarred husband, with his actual scars in full view, in Only Angels Have Wings (1939) starring Cary Grant. He played supporting parts in three more pictures before retiring, The Man Who Talked Too Much (1940), The Spoilers (1942) with Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne, and The Mayor of 44th Street (1942).

Post-acting career[edit]

Barthelmess failed to maintain the stardom of his silent film days and gradually left entertainment. He enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve during World War II, served as a lieutenant commander, and never returned to film, preferring instead to live off his investments.[citation needed]


Barthelmess died of cancer in 1963, aged 68, and was interred at the Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hartsdale, New York.


He and first wife, stage and screen star Mary Hay, had one daughter Mary Barthelmess.[6] In 1927, Barthelmess became engaged to Katherine Young Wilson, a Broadway actress.[7][8] However, the engagement was called off, possibly due to his affair about this time with the journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns,[9] and in 1928 he married Jessica Stewart Sargent (1900-1965). He would later adopt her son from a previous marriage, Stewart.


  • Composer Katherine Allan Lively dedicated her piano composition, Within the Walls of China: A Chinese Episode, to Barthelmess in the sheet music published in 1923 by G. Schirmer, Inc.[11] An article in The Music Trades reported that Mrs. Lively was inspired by a viewing of the film, Broken Blossoms, and performed the piece for Mr. Barthelmess and his friends in New York in the summer of 1922 [12]


Short subjects
  • Camille (1926) (home movie by cariacaturist Ralph Barton)
  • The Stolen Jools (1931)
  • How I Play Golf, by Bobby Jones No. 1: The Putter (1931)
  • Starlit Days at the Lido (1935)
  • Meet the Stars #5: Hollywood Meets the Navy (1941)


  1. ^ possibly, New York City Deaths, 1892-1902; Deaths Reported in April–May–June, 1896; Certificate #: 15666; Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1103; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0470; FHL microfilm: 1241103; U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007; Original data: Passport Applications, 1795–1905. NARA Microfilm Publication M1372, 694 rolls. General Records Department of State, Record Group 59. National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906–March 31, 1925. NARA Microfilm Publication M1490, 2740 rolls. General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59. National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Registers and Indexes for Passport Applications, 1810–1906. NARA Microfilm Publication M1371, rolls 1–2. General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  2. ^ "Tea With Mrs. Barthelmess – An Intimate Chat With the Mother of Dick" from The Home Movie Journal, June 1926
  3. ^ IBDb profile of Caroline Harris; Deaths Last Night, Ironwood Daily Globe (Ironwood, Michigan) April 24, 1937, p. 11, c. 2.
  4. ^ The Motion Picture Studio Directory, 1919; Page: 48. The 1900 US Census reported she ran a boardinghouse as housekeeper with a maid and butler. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series: M1490; Roll #: 1009.
  5. ^ A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen by Daniel Blum, ca. 1953, p. 111.
  6. ^ Profile at IBDb
  7. ^ Katherine Wilson's profile at IBDb
  8. ^ Barthelmess and Wilson's wedding announcement in "The Reading Eagle", August 24, 1927 (accessed 5 December 2011)
  9. ^ The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman, 1999, p. 305.
  10. ^ "History of the Academy: Original 36 founders of the Academy Actors". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website. 2008. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  11. ^ Published sheet music on-line at Maine Music Box.
  12. ^ (1922) The Music Trades, 64 (21 October), 40.
  • Hammond, Michael. War Relic and Forgotten Man: Richard Barthelmess as Celluloid Veteran in Hollywood 1922–1933, Journal of War & Culture Studies, 6:4, 2013, p. 282-301.
  • Meneffe, David. W. Richard Barthelmess: A Life in Pictures
  • Meneffe, David. W. The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era by David W. Menefee

External links[edit]