Publicity photo of Rubens from Stars of the Photoplay (1924)
Alma Genevieve Reubens|
February 19, 1897
San Francisco, California, U.S.
January 21, 1931 (aged 33)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Lobar pneumonia and bronchitis|
|Resting place||Mountain View Cemetery|
(m. 1918; div. 1919)
Daniel Carson Goodman
(m. 1923; div. 1925)
(m. 1926; separated 1930)
Alma Rubens (February 19, 1897 – January 21, 1931) was an American film actress and stage performer.
Rubens began her career in the mid 1910s. She quickly rose to stardom in 1916 after appearing opposite Douglas Fairbanks in The Half Breed. For the remainder of the decade, she appeared in supporting roles in comedies and drama. In the 1920s, Rubens developed a drug addiction which eventually ended her career. She died of lobar pneumonia and bronchitis shortly after being arrested for cocaine possession in early January 1931.
She was born Alma Genevieve Reubens to John B. and Theresa (née Hayes) Rueben in San Francisco, California. Her father, John Ruebens, born in 1857 in Germany, was Jewish, and emigrated to the United States in 1890. Alma vehemently denied any Jewish heritage throughout her lifetime however. Her mother was of Irish Catholic descent. She and her elder sister, Hazel (born 1893) were raised in their mother's faith and attended Sacred Heart Convent in San Francisco.
Some biographies erroneously state that her birth name was Genevieve Driscoll. That name was in fact a pseudonym that she later used in a non-professional capacity, as Genevieve was her middle name and Driscoll was her maternal grandmother's maiden name.
Her first stage opportunity came when a chorus girl in a musical comedy theater troupe became ill. Rubens was chosen to take her place and joined the troupe as a regular performer. There she met Franklyn Farnum who was also a member. He later convinced Rubens to leave the troupe and try her hand at film acting.
In 1916, Rubens signed with Triangle Film Corporation. Her first film for the company was the comedy-drama Reggie Mixes In, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Later that same year, Rubens was re-teamed with Fairbanks for cocaine comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, The Half Breed and The Americano. The next year, Rubens co-starred in two westerns, Truthful Tolliver with William S. Hart and The Firefly of Tough Luck with Charles Gunn. In 1918, she announced that she was changing the spelling of her last name of Rueben to "Rubens" because it caused too much confusion in the movie industry and in publications. She later told Photoplay magazine, "As a matter of fact my name is not the same [spelling] as the painter's. It's either Reubens or Ruebens—I forget which. I never could spell it. Couldn't remember where the 'e' came. So I let it go Rubens."
In 1920, Rubens signed with William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Productions. The studio promoted Rubens as their newest starlet, falsely claiming she was a descendant of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. Her first film for the studio was Humoresque, which became the studio's only hit that year. Later that year, she starred in dramas The World and His Wife, opposite Montague Love, and Thoughtless Women, both of which further solidified her popularity. By 1921, Rubens had developed an addiction to heroin after she was prescribed morphine by a doctor for a physical ailment. Due to her drug use and difficult behavior on set, William Randolph Hearst removed her from a film she was set to star in but kept her on the payroll for the next two years. There were rumors that Hearst continued to pay her a salary because the two were romantically involved. Hearst denied this claiming he continued to pay Rubens because he had invested a substantial amount of money promoting her as the studio's leading lady and that good lead actresses were difficult to find. Rubens returned to the screen in 1922 with roles in Find the Woman and The Valley of Silent Men. Her final film for Cosmopolitan Productions was the historical drama Under the Red Robe, in 1923. Hearst released Ruben from her contract that same year.
In 1924, she starred in The Price She Paid for Columbia Pictures Corporation and had a supporting role in the Associated First National production Cytherea. From 1925 to 1926, she worked for Fox Film Corporation. While at Fox, she starred in the hit melodrama East Lynne (1925) opposite Edmund Lowe and Lou Tellegen. She also had roles in The Gilded Butterfly with Bert Lytell and Siberia (both 1926), the latter of which re-teamed Rubens with Edmund Lowe and Lou Tellegen. Her final film for Fox was 1927's Heart of Salome, after which she decided to work freelance.
Drug abuse and decline
By late 1927, Rubens' drug addiction had severely impacted her career as she was frequently admitted to sanitariums for treatment for months at a time. One of her final roles was as Julie in the 1929 part sound film version of Show Boat, her next-to-last film roles and one of her few sound films. The soundtrack for the portion in which she spoke, however, has apparently been lost.
In February 1929, Rubens' addiction became publicly known when she attempted to stab a physician who was taking her to a sanitarium for treatment. She was ordered to undergo treatment at the Spadra facility shortly thereafter. She later escaped despite being under the watch of four nurses and two male guards. She was then admitted to a sanatorium in Pasadena but left after ten days. On May 15, 1929, Rubens' husband Ricardo Cortez and her mother had Rubens committed to Patton State Hospital for treatment after she resumed her drug habit. Rubens was released from Patton State Hospital in late December 1929.
She made her first public appearance since her release on January 30, 1930 in a role in a play produced at the Writer's Club in Hollywood. Her performance was well received by the audience and she received eight curtain calls. After the show, Rubens gave an interview to United Press stating that she was cured of her addiction. During the interview, she described her descent into drug abuse and her experiences at the sanatoriums.
In early February 1930, Rubens traveled to New York where she announced she was now free of drug addiction and planning a comeback with a vaudeville tour in the East. She made an appearance on stage with her husband while there, but returned to California the same month. She was there less than two weeks when, on January 5, 1931, she was arrested by Federal officers in San Diego for cocaine possession and conspiracy to smuggle morphine from Mexico into the United States. Rubens claimed she was being framed and physicians attested to her statements that she was not taking drugs. She was later released on $5,000 bail, and appeared for a preliminary hearing the second week of January 1931.
Rubens married three times. Her first marriage was to actor Franklyn Farnum, nearly twenty years her senior, in June 1918. Rubens and Farnum were married secretly and separated about two months later. According to Rubens' divorce petition, Farnum physically abused her and once dislocated her jaw. Their divorce was finalized in December 1919. In November 1923, she married Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, an author and film producer. They separated in late 1924 and Rubens filed for divorce in January 1925.
Rubens third and final marriage was to actor Ricardo Cortez, whom she married on January 30, 1926 in Riverside, California. As her divorce from Goodman was not yet finalized, the new marriage was considered invalid. They were remarried on February 8.
While touring the vaudeville circuit in mid-1930, the couple separated. At the time of her death, Rubens was suing Cortez for divorce. Cortez claimed he had not been notified of his wife's death, and later remarked that he had not seen her for several months and was unaware that she was seriously ill.
Shortly after her release from jail, Rubens contracted a cold that quickly developed into lobar pneumonia and bronchitis. She fell into a coma at the Los Angeles home of her friend, Dr. Charles J. Pflueger. She died on January 21, 1931 at the age of 33 having never regained consciousness. A funeral service was held on January 24 at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. Her body was then shipped to Fresno where a second service was held at the Christian Science Church on January 26. She is interred in a mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery in Fresno.
In popular culture
Rubens' memoirs, This Bright World Again, was serialized in national newspapers in 1931. The text details Rubens' career and her struggle with drug addiction. The full text, along with a biography and filmography by Gary D. Rhodes and Alexander Webb entitled Alma Rubens, Silent Snowbird: Her Complete 1930 Memoir, with a New Biography and Filmography, was published by McFarland in 2006.
|1915||Banzai||Mirami - Daughter of a Samurai||Short film|
|1914||Narcotic Spectre||Short film|
|1914||The Gangsters and the Girl||Molly||Short film|
|1915||The Birth of a Nation||Belle of 1861||Uncredited|
|1915||The Lorelei Madonna||Alma - the Lorelei Madonna||Short film|
Credited as Alma Ruben
|1915||Peer Gynt||Bit Role||Uncredited|
|1915||A Woman's Wiles||Lucile Bergere - a Parisian Model||Credited as Alma Ruben|
|1916||Reggie Mixes In||Lemona Reighley|
|1916||The Mystery of the Leaping Fish||Gang Leader's Female Accomplice||Short film|
|1916||Judith of the Cumberlands||Alternative title: The Moonshine Menace|
|1916||Intolerance||Girl at the Marriage Market||Uncredited|
|1916||The Children Pay||Editha, their stepmother|
|1916||The Americano||Juana de Castalar|
|1917||Truthful Tolliver||Grace Burton|
|1917||A Woman's Awakening||Cousin Kate||Credited as Alma Rueben|
|1917||An Old Fashioned Young Man|
|1917||Master of His Home||Millicent Drake||Credited as Alma Ruben|
|1917||The Cold Deck||Coralie|
|1917||The Firefly of Tough Luck||Firefly|
|1917||The Regenerates||Catherine Ten Eyck||Credited as Alma Reuben|
|1917||The Gown of Destiny||Natalie Drew|
|1918||I Love You||Felice|
|1918||The Answer||Lorraine Van Allen|
|1918||The Love Brokers||Charlotte Carter|
|1918||The Painted Lily||Mary Fanjoy|
|1918||The Ghost Flower||Giulia|
|1919||Restless Souls||Marion Gregory|
|1919||Diane of the Green Van||Diane Westfall|
|1919||A Man's Country||Kate Carewe|
|1920||Humoresque||Gina Berg (formerly Minnie Ginsberg)|
|1920||The World and His Wife||Teodora|
|1920||Thoughtless Women||Annie Marnet|
|1922||Find the Woman||Sophie Carey|
|1922||The Valley of Silent Men||Marette Radison|
|1923||Enemies of Women||Alicia|
|1923||Under the Red Robe||Renee de Cocheforet|
|1924||Week End Husbands||Barbara Belden|
|1924||The Rejected Woman||Diane Du Prez|
|1924||Cytherea||Savina Grove||Lost film|
|1924||The Price She Paid||Mildred Gower|
|1924||Gerald Cranston's Lady||Hermione, Lady Gerald Cranston|
|1924||Is Love Everything?||Virginia Carter|
|1925||She Wolves||Germaine D'Artois|
|1925||A Woman's Faith||Nerée Caron|
|1925||The Winding Stair||Marguerite|
|1925||East Lynne||Lady Isabel|
|1926||The Gilded Butterfly||Linda Haverhill|
|1926||Marriage License?||Wanda Heriot|
|1927||One Increasing Purpose||Uncredited|
|1927||The Heart of Salome||Helene|
|1928||The Masks of the Devil||Countess Zellner||Lost film|
|1929||She Goes to War||Rosie|
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 25)
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 26)
- "Rise to Fame in Films Was Meteoric for Alma". The Milwaukee Sentinel. February 16, 1929. p. 4. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 11)
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 305)
- (Nasaw 2000, p. 306)
- "Alma Ruben Tells Story Of Drug Cure". The Border Cities Star. January 30, 1930. p. 16. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- (Nasaw 2000, pp. 306–307)
- (Nasaw 2000, p. 330)
- Soloman, Aubrey (2002). Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 8. ISBN 0-810-84244-0.
- (St. Romain 2008, p. 139)
- Hennessey, Duane (May 17, 1929). "Film Star Goes To Insane Ward For Drug Cure". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 29. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- "Alma Rubens Goes Back To Los Angeles". The Milwaukee Journal. December 29, 1929. p. 4. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
- ""I'm Coming Back," Says Alma Rubens". The Southeast Missourian. February 15, 1930. p. 2. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 32)
- "Death Ends Career of Alma Rubens, Actress". Berkeley Daily Gazette. January 22, 1931. p. 2. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- "Alma Rubens Arraigned On 3 Narcotic Charges". The Lewiston Daily Sun. January 7, 1931. p. 11. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 4)
- "Says Marriage Came Too Soon". The Evening Independent. February 2, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
- "Divorce? Not At Present Says Alma". The Milwaukee Sentinel. June 9, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
- (Slide 2010, p. 63)
- (Rubens, Rhodes, Webb 2006, p. 35)
- "Friends Pay Homage At Rubens Bier". The Los Angeles Times. January 23, 1931.
- "Final Rites Held For Alma Rubens". Berkeley Daily Gazette. January 26, 1931. p. 9. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- "Hollywood Star Walk". latimes.com. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- "My Life Story by Alma Rubens". Rochester Evening Journal. March 4, 1931. p. 10. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
- Nasaw, David (2000). The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (1 ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0-395-82759-0.
- Rubens, Alma (2006). Rhodes, Gary D.; Webb, Alexander, eds. Alma Rubens, Silent Snowbird: Her Complete 1930 Memoir, with a New Biography and Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-42413-3.
- Slide, Anthony (2010). Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-604-73414-0.
- St. Romain, Theresa (2008). Margarita Fischer: A Biography of the Silent Film Star. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-43552-6.
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