Bessie Love, Silent Screen Actress Discovered in 1915, Dies at 87

Times Staff Writer

Bessie Love, a demure actress who managed to stretch her career from the silent screen well into the era of television despite a lengthy series of pedestrian roles, has died in London.

Her daughter said she was 87 when she died in Mount Vernon Hospital Saturday night. She had been in declining health for several years.

She was born Juanita Horton in Midland, Tex., the daughter of an itinerant bartender father who moved his family through Arizona, New Mexico and finally to Los Angeles, where his 16-year-old daughter talked her way onto the set of “Intolerance.”

D.W. Griffith, the director of “Intolerance,” “Birth of a Nation” and other silent epics, fancied her brazenness and cast her as the Bride of Cana in the Judean segment of his four-part treatment of prejudice.

Griffith biographers say that when the autocratic film giant questioned her on her reasons for wanting an entertainment career, she replied that her family was poor, she needed a job during school vacation, and “Mama said I wasn’t trained to do anything, so there was nothing left for me but acting.”


Griffith renamed her Bessie Love “because nobody east of the Rockies knows how to pronounce Juanita.” The success of his 1915 film made her an overnight star.

It was one of several times in Miss Love’s career that she was to rise to the top of the acting profession, only to suffer from the less consequential roles that came later.

She was cast in a series of parts she once described as “sunbonnet girl next door” in “Nina the Flower Girl,” “The Great Adventure,” “The Yankee Princess,” “Human Wreckage” and three dozen more before becoming a self-professed “sequined and spangled showgirl” in “The Broadway Melody.” That 1928 production was the first talking picture ventured by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film, also believed the industry’s first sound musical, brought her an Academy Award nomination.

In 1929 she married film producer William B. Hawks, brother of director Howard Hawks, and their Pasadena wedding party included a cast that reflected what MGM was then boasting of its studio--"More stars than there are in heaven.”

The bridesmaids included Mary Astor, Norma Shearer, Bebe Daniels, Carmel Myers and Blanche Sweet. Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer’s “boy wonder” executive at MGM, was an usher, as was brother Howard Hawks.

Miss Love and Hawks were divorced six years later.

After her divorce she moved to London, where she was seen in the television mini-series “Edward and Mrs. Simpson” and such films as “Isadora” in 1968 and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” in 1971. Her final picture was “Ragtime” in 1981.

Miss Love, who never remarried, is survived by a daughter, Patricia.