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Esther Ralston; Silent Era ‘American Venus’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Esther Ralston, the beautiful blonde “American Venus” of silent films, has died at the age of 91.

Miss Ralston, who appeared in about 150 films, died last Friday in her Ventura home after a short illness, her brother, Carleton Ralston of Los Angeles, announced Wednesday.

One of Miss Ralston’s last public appearances was in September at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood for a showing of “Old Ironsides,” a patriotic film set in the early 1800s that she made in 1926.

She had been designated to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council on April 8, her brother said.

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A native of Bar Harbor, Me., Miss Ralston began performing at the age of 2 with prominent billing in the family theatrical troupe, the Ralston Family Metropolitan Entertainers With Baby Esther, America’s Youngest Juliet.

She made her screen debut in 1916 in “Phantom Fortunes” and took several small roles until she was picked to play Mrs. Darling in the 1925 version of “Peter Pan.”

Miss Ralston soon became one of the highest-paid actresses in silent films. She was publicized as the “American Venus,” the title of a film she made in 1926. She also earned the appellation of “Paramount Clotheshorse,” known for her extravagant lifestyle, which included riding about in a Rolls-Royce with a chauffeur uniformed in whatever color matched her dress.

Her credits included “Huckleberry Finn,” “Oliver Twist,” “Beggar on Horseback,” “A Kiss for Cinderella” and “Children of Divorce.”

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Miss Ralston played the Palace twice, headlining in the top vaudevillian venue as the “Golden Girl of the Silver Screen.”

Unlike many silent actresses, Miss Ralston moved easily into “talkies” and continued her film career until the early 1940s.

Later, she acted occasionally in radio soap operas. But after three failed marriages and the loss of her film fortune, she also supported herself working in a department store, a talent agency and an Upstate New York utility company.

Miss Ralston married and divorced George Webb, a publicist and agent; Will Morgan, who was with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, and newspaper columnist Ted Loyd.

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In addition to her brother, she is survived by three children, Mary, Judy and Ted, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


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