Helen Menken

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Helen Menken
from the film Stage Door Canteen (1943).
Born Helen Meinken
(1901-12-12)December 12, 1901
New York City, New York
Died March 27, 1966(1966-03-27) (aged 64)
New York City, New York
Spouse(s) Humphrey Bogart
(m.1926–1928; divorced)
John Swanson
(m.1928-1932; divorced)
Henry T. Smith
(m.1932–1947; divorced)
George N. Richard
(m.1948–1966; her death)

Helen Menken (December 12, 1901 – March 27, 1966) was an American actress.

Early years[edit]

Menken was born Helen Meinken in New York City, to a German-French father, Frederick Meinken, and an Irish-born mother, Mary Madden. Her parents were deaf, and her early communication came via sign language. She did not begin talking until age 4.[1]


Originally a teenage actress who made her Broadway theatre debut in Parlor, Bedroom and Bath in 1917.[2] Her greatest stage triumphs were Seventh Heaven in 1922–1924 (Janet Gaynor played her role of Diane in the 1927 classic film); Mary of Scotland in 1933–1934 as Elizabeth I opposite Helen Hayes in the title role (Katharine Hepburn played Mary in the 1936 film version); and The Old Maid, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that starred Menken and Judith Anderson in 1935. Bette Davis would recreate Menken's role as the spinster with a secret in the 1939 film version. Menken's final Broadway appearance was in an unsuccessful play named The Laughing Woman, which ran for less than a month in 1937.

Her performance as Irene De Montcel in the first English-language production of The Captive, Edouard Bourdet's lesbian-themed drama, led to her arrest (along with the rest of the cast) on February 9, 1927. This arrest, reflecting 1920s attitudes about homosexuality, contributed to her lack of a film career and (probably) to her divorce from Bogart.

Menken was a major presence behind the scenes in the theater world, especially at the American Theatre Wing. She served as its chairman during World War II and began serving as president of the group in 1957.[1]


Menken was active on radio in the 1940s (starring as Brenda Cummings in Second Husband[3] and notably recreating her performance opposite Judith Anderson in a 1946 radio adaption of The Old Maid).


Menken made a short film in New York City in 1925 for Lee DeForest, filmed in the short-lived DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process. The film is preserved in the Maurice Zouary collection at the Library of Congress.


Menken received a special Tony Award posthumously in 1966 "for a lifetime of devotion and dedicated service to the Broadway theatre."[4]

Personal life[edit]

The first of her four husbands was actor Humphrey Bogart. She was Bogart's first wife. They were married at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City on May 20, 1926, and she divorced him November 18, 1927. She married Dr. Henry T. Smith on July 12, 1932 and divorced him in 1947, then in October 1948 married George N. Richard who survived her.


Menken died of a heart attack at a party at The Lambs on March 27, 1966,[1] at the age of 64.


  1. ^ a b c "Helen Menken, Actress, Dies". The Daily Capital News. The Daily Capital News. Associated Press. March 29, 1966. p. 14. Retrieved July 28, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read
  2. ^ "Parlor, Bedroom and Bath-Cast". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 29 July 2016. 
  3. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4. P. 299.
  4. ^ "Search Results: Helen Menken". Tony Awards. Retrieved 29 July 2016. 

External links[edit]