Billy Dove, the onetime artist’s model and Ziegfeld Girl who was publicized as “the American Beauty” in the halcyon days of silent films, has died at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills. She was believed to be 97 and died Wednesday.
Born Lillian Bohney, she was married twice--to a film producer and rancher--but was better known for her longtime romance with Howard Hughes. Their relationship brought her as much publicity as did her pictures.
At the height of the Roaring ‘20s, Louis B. Mayer acclaimed her the “most beautiful woman in Hollywood” while Hughes supposedly spent a fortune trying to win her as his bride. He ultimately bought her contract from First National Pictures in an attempt to secure their marriage.
“Our love affair lasted for 3 1/2 years,” she told The Times in 1990, and “we both carried torches for a long, long time.”
She began her career as a teenager, modeling for a skin emulsifier when Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld saw her picture. He not only hired her but made her the highest-paid chorine in his Follies.
In 1926, she was chosen to appear opposite Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in an early color spectacular “The Black Pirate.” Her exquisite features were enhanced by the camera and she went on to appear in many other silent and sound films before retiring in 1932.
Among them were “Beyond the Rainbow,” “Polly of the Follies,” “Wanderer of the Wasteland,” and “One Night at Susie’s.” In 1962 she returned to pictures for a brief appearance in “Diamond Head.”
She made 50 pictures before retiring to Palm Springs and Pacific Palisades.
Her survivors include a daughter, Gail Adelson, and a grandson. A funeral service will be held Jan. 10 at Forest Lawn in Glendale. Contributions in her name are asked to AIDS-related causes.