Ina Claire, Famed Actress of N.Y. Stage in 1920s, Dies

From Times Wire Services

Ina Claire, an actress who achieved considerable fame in the 1920s and was once married to silent film star John Gilbert, has died at the age of 89.

She had been in declining health since a stroke 14 months ago and was found dead in her Nob Hill apartment Thursday.

Theater historians credited her with being among the pioneers of the natural style instead of the declamatory style of the Edwardian period. She used natural, chatty speech.

Miss Claire, a native of Washington, D.C., first appeared on the stage at age 13 and worked on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit before appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915.

For 25 years, she opened a new play every other year and during her peak in the 1920s earned $5,000 a week, appearing in productions that included David Belasco's comedy "Polly With a Past" and "The Awful Truth."

'Charming, Gracious'

In 1923, when she was in San Francisco in "The Awful Truth," a local newsman described her as "a charming woman, blithe, gracious, interesting; prettier, much at close range than across the footlights because of the delicacy of her face and the sparkle that comes with intimate conversation."

Her first husband was Chicago newsman and music critic James Whittaker, whom she married in 1916 and divorced six years later. She married Gilbert in 1929, a union she later described as "my biggest mistake."

In the 1930s, she more than held her own as a favorite of the sharp-tongued New York literary set and was a good friend and foil of legendary man of letters Alexander Woolcott.

She appeared in a few films, including "Two-Faced Woman," directed by George Cukor, and "Ninothcka" with Greta Garbo, but she later said ruefully, "I'm no good in pictures."

She married San Francisco socialite lawyer William R. Wallace Jr. in 1939. Wallace died in 1976.

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