Richard Barthelmess (1895-1963)

Richard Barthelmess, Silent and Sound Actor

Richard Barthelmess was rumored to have been “discovered” by the actress Alla Nazimova, but it is much more likely that Richard (or “Dick” as he preferred to be called) discovered himself somewhere along the Thespian Road to success. He was a phenomenal acting talent, extremely popular in his day, though comparatively few people remember him today. Lillian Gish thought that Richard’s face was the most beautiful of any man who had ever been before the camera. D.W. Griffith thought that Richard made the perfect hero, and starred him in his memorable silent film features “Broken Blossoms” (1919) and “Way Down East” (1920), among others. Once you are familiar with Richard Barthelmess’s work on screen, you are bound to agree that few male actors could compare with him, then or now. He did indeed have a beautiful, expressive face, which came alive when the camera zoomed in on him.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in the heartbreaking “Broken Blossoms” (1919);
in my opinion Richard gave the most compelling performance of the silent era in this film.

Richard Barthelmess was born in New York City on May 9th, 1895, and started acting in amateur theater productions while attending Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Beginning his film career with the popular “War Brides” (1916), with Nazimova, Richard was immensely popular throughout the silent film era. One of his best known silent movies was the poetical and lovely “Tol’able David” (1921), which many consider to be a screen classic. In that year he formed his own production company, the Inspiration Film Company. He was nominated for an Academy Award in the first year that the Oscars were given out, 1927, for his work in two films: “The Patent Leather Kid” (1927), and “The Noose” (1928). Unlike many silent film actors, Richard had a pretty decent career in “talkies” through the early to mid 1930’s, then roles began to dry up for him as he got older and younger actors took his place as leading man. Some notable sound films for Richard were “The Dawn Patrol” (1930), “The Last Flight” (1931), “Cabin In The Cotton” (1932) with Bette Davis, “Central Airport” (1933) and “Heroes for Sale” (1933), two powerful pre-code dramas, and “Midnight Alibi” (1934). His last best film was “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939).

Richard married twice, to actress Mary Hay, from 1920 to 1927, a marriage which ended in divorce, and then to Jessica Sargent in 1928, a marriage that lasted until his death in 1963. He had a daughter, Mary, with his first wife, and a stepson, Stuart, he adopted from his second marriage to Jessica. To see a family portrait, please click HERE. Dick retired from the screen in 1942, joining the Naval Reserves and fighting in the war. After World War Two ended, he retired to Long Island, and lived off his many investments. Richard Barthelmess died of throat cancer on August 17th, 1963, in Southhampton, Long Island, New York. He is buried in Westchester, N.Y.

~ Copyright © 2004

Vintage Bio From “Who’s Who On The Screen” (1920): “Richard Semler Barthelmess was born in New York City in 1895 and is a graduate of Trinity College of Hartford, Conn. Mr. Barthelmess made his first screen appearance in the Herbert Brennon production of “War Brides”, after which he joined the Famous Players forces, appearing with Marguerite Clark in “Bab’s Burglar.” “Bab’s Diary”, “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “Three Men and a Girl.” He is the creator of one of the greatest roles ever seen on the screen – that of the China man in D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece “Broken Blossoms.” He has also appeared with Dorothy Gish in “Peppy Polly” and “I’ll Get Him Yet.” Richard Barthelmess is five feet seven inches high, weighs a hundred and thirty-five pounds, and has dark brown hair and eyes. He is a Griffith Player and the husband of Mary Hay of the same company.”

Richard Barthelmess Portraits

Photo One   Photo Two   Photo Three  Photo Four Photo Five Photo Six Photo Seven

 Photo Eight Photo Nine Photo Ten Photo Eleven Photo Twelve Photo Thirteen Photo Fourteen

Photo Fifteen

Richard Barthelmess Silent Films

Weary River (1929) …. Jerry Larrabee
Scarlet Seas (1928) …. Steven Dunkin
Out of the Ruins (1928) …. Lt. Pierre Dumont
Wheel of Chance (1928) …. Nilolai Turkeltaub/Jacob Taline
Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, The (1928) …. Chad Buford
Noose, The (1928) …. Nickie Elkins

Richard Barthelmess standing between Lillian and Dorothy Gish

Actor Richard Barthelmess standing between his two friends and co-workers Lillian and Dorothy Gish

Drop Kick, The (1927) …. Jack Hamill
Patent Leather Kid, The (1927) …. Patent Leather Kid
White Black Sheep, The (1926) …. Robert Kincarin
Amateur Gentleman, The (1926) …. Barnabas Barty
Ranson’s Folly (1926) …. Lt. Ranson
Just Suppose (1926) …. Prince Rupert of Koronia
Beautiful City, The (1925) …. Tony Gillardi
Shore Leave (1925) …. Bilge Smith
Soul-Fire (1925) …. Eric Fane
New Toys (1925) …. Will Webb
Classmates (1924) …. Duncan Irving Jr
… aka Winning Through (1924) (UK)

Richard Barthelmess and Betty Compson

Richard Barthelmess gets in close for a clinch to Betty Compson in “Weary River” (1929),
a silent film with some talking sequences and musical soundtrack

Enchanted Cottage, The (1924) …. Oliver Bashforth
Twenty-One (1923) …. Julian McCullough
Fighting Blade, The (1923) …. Karl Van Kerstenbroock
Bright Shawl, The (1923) …. Charles Abbott
Fury (1923) …. Boy Leyton
Bond Boy, The (1922) …. Peter Newbolt (father)/John Newbolt
… aka Bondboy, The (1922) (USA: poster title)
Sonny (1922) …. Sonny Crosby/Joe
Seventh Day, The (1922) …. John Alden Jr.

Richard Barthelmess’s production company made this classic of the silent cinema “Tol’able David” (1921)

Tol’able David (1921) …. David Kinemon
Experience (1921) …. Youth
Way Down East (1920) …. David Bartlett
Love Flower, The (1920) …. Bruce Sanders
Idol Dancer, The (1920) …. Dan McGuire
Scarlet Days (1919) …. Alvarez
I’ll Get Him Yet (1919) …. Scoop McCready
Broken Blossoms (1919) (as Mr. Richard Barthelmess) …. Cheng Huan
Peppy Polly (1919) …. Dr. James Merritt
Three Men and a Girl (1919) …. Christopher Kent
Girl Who Stayed at Home, The (1919) …. Ralph Grey
Boots (1919) …. Everett White
Hope Chest, The (1919) …. Tom Ballantyne
Wild Primrose (1918) …. Jack Wilton
Hit-the-Trail Holliday (1918) …. Bobby Jason
Rich Man, Poor Man (1918) …. Bayard Varick
Sunshine Nan (1918) …. MacPherson Clark
Seven Swans, The (1917) …. Prince Charming
For Valour (1917) …. Henry Nobbs
Nearly Married (1917) …. Dick Griffon
Bab’s Burglar (1917) …. Tommy Gray
Bab’s Diary (1917) …. Tommy Gray
Camille (1917/I) …. Bit Part
Streets of Illusion, The (1917) …. Donald Morton
Soul of a Magdalen, The (1917) …. Louis Broulette
… aka Soul of Magdalen, The (1917) (USA: copyright title)
… aka Soul of a Magdalene, The (1917) (USA)
Valentine Girl, The (1917) …. Robert Wentworth
Eternal Sin, The (1917) …. Gennaro
… aka Lucretia Borgia (1917)
… aka Queen Mother, The (1917)
Moral Code, The (1917) …. Gary Miller
Just a Song at Twilight (1916) …. George Turner
Snow White (1916/I) (uncredited) …. The Pie Man
War Brides (1916) …. Arno
Gloria’s Romance (1916) … extra (uncredited)

For more information on Richard Barthelmess see his profile on The Internet Movie Database

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