Featured in DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ : Silent Film Star Leatrice Joy Dies at 91

Times Staff Writer

Leatrice Joy, one of Hollywood’s leading silent screen stars and the last surviving featured player from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 epic “The Ten Commandments,” died Monday in a Riverdale, N.Y., convalescent home.

The former wife of screen idol John Gilbert was 91. She died at High Ridge House, a Christian Science residence.

Miss Joy, a favorite leading lady of DeMille’s, made her screen debut as an extra when she was only 14, after answering a newspaper advertisement by a Connecticut film company.

In most of the nearly 50 silent films she made, she generally was cast as a career girl in mannish clothes or a sophisticated society type whose dark eyes and milk-white skin enchanted a series of leading men ranging from Conrad Nagel to Adolphe Menjou and Walter Pidgeon.

With dancer Irene Castle, she was among the first to appear publicly with bobbed hair, sending millions of American women to their beauticians for similar styling.


She recently was interviewed for a documentary about DeMille and last February was on the stage of New York’s Radio City Music Hall for “Night of 100 Stars II,” a benefit for the Actors’ Fund of America. That evening, she wore an Adrian-designed white sequined evening gown and wrapped herself in a white feather boa. It was the same outfit she appeared in on stage at the Palace Theatre in New York in 1927.

Miss Joy was the second wife of Gilbert. He and Rudolph Valentino were considered the two great lovers of the silent screen. She married Gilbert in 1922 and they were divorced two years later when their daughter was a year old. Newspaper accounts of their wedding indicated that she then was an even better-known star than he was.

Miss Joy made about 60 films between 1918 and 1951 and DeMille directed many of them. Her early feature credits included ‘Pride of the Clan” with Mary Pickford in 1917. The next year, she began making a string of comedies with Billy West and Oliver Hardy and came to DeMille’s attention. In 1922, she made “Saturday Night” and “Manslaughter” for him, followed by “The Ten Commandments” and then “Triumph” in 1924.

Other Leading Men

Among her other leading men were Charlie Ray, Sidney Blackmer and William Boyd.

Her sound pictures included “Of Human Hearts” in 1938, “First Love” in 1939 and her last, “Love Nest,” in 1951. In her final picture she teamed with another screen veteran, Frank Fay.

Miss Joy was married three times. After Gilbert, she wed William Hook, a Los Angeles businessman, and then Arthur Westermark, an engineer. Both of those marriages also ended in divorce. She had lived quietly in Connecticut for the last 30 years.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.