Helen Burgess Profile

Helen Burgess
Helen Burgess
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(Helen Margarite Burgess)
26 April 16 is born in Portland, Oregon, to Frank T. and Estella / Fanny L. (nee Hayden) Burgess. Her father is the district agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York, a staunch supporter of the Republican Party, and the director of the Kiwanis Club. She has an older sister, Stella Mary / Mae / May.
20s her father is transferred to Tacoma, Washington, where she and her sister attend the Annie Wright Seminary. She dislikes school because she is very shy and self-conscious. As a result, she gets bad grades. It is torture when she has to get up in front of the class and recite. She prepares for oral presentations and when called upon by the teacher, she says she is unprepared.
26 moves from Tacoma to Los Angeles, California. Her interest in school seems to decrease after attending public school in Los Angeles. She detests the rules and regulations and hates being told what to read and study. She passes up subjects that do not interest her.
Early 30s attends Los Angeles High and later Hollywood High. She cuts class almost as often as she attends. She usually ends up at the movies or in the public library.
34 her father dies
Mid-30s within a half a year of graduation, she sits down with her mother and discusses going to dramatic school. After seeing so many movies, she thinks she has at least a little talent and would enjoy studying to become an actress. Her mother agrees, and she and her sister enroll at Clark’s Los Angeles Dramatic School for one year. Here, besides acting in plays, she learns diction and carriage. She does not play hooky often. She also enjoys attending the plays put on by the school as another way to gain more experience. She now dreams of seeing her name in lights on Broadway.
sings but does not dance. She is 5 ft. 1-½ inches tall and weighs 103 pounds.
her first stage experience not directly under the supervision of school instructors is a dramatic role in The Seventh Year at the Spotlight Theater in Los Angeles. The play runs two weeks and is about to close when she receives word that Jack Murton, a Paramount Studio talent scout, is coming to the theater to see her in the play. She thinks at first it’s a mistake—Mr. Murton’s interest must be in the play itself or in some more prominent member of the cast. She thinks someone is playing a cruel joke on her. But they keep the play going an extra night so that Murton can see it. He goes backstage afterwards and meets her. They talk for a little while and then he makes an appointment for her to go to the studio. A screen test follows and she is signed. She expects to immediately get a part in a picture or at least be called on to play atmosphere in a film or two, but no such thing. Even though she doesn’t know it, the studio machinery is working, and she is being offered to various producers, among them Cecil B. DeMille. Jack Murton knows that DeMille is looking for someone to play the role of Louisa Cody, Buffalo Bill’s society girl wife in The Plainsman, and he recommends her. The film has a million-dollar budget and means everything to DeMille’s career.
Cecil B DeMille sees her sitting in the studio restaurant but does not know who she is. “Just the type for Louisa Cody in The Plainsman,” he tells an aide. He gives her a screen test. Phyllis Loughton, DeMille’s secretary, helps her with some lines from The Plainsman. She is on time and enters the director’s office, a hushed, walnut-paneled room in a small buff bungalow. She feels apologetic for taking up his time. Books on Wild Bill Hickok and his period stand in rows on a table at the left. There is a leather divan and other furnishings on the right. Directly ahead is DeMille’s desk. Also present are DeMille’s executive assistant William H. Pine, the casting director, assistant directors, Miss Loughton, and others. Actor James Ellison, who plays Buffalo Bill Cody in the film, works opposite her in the audition. She is very nervous at the beginning, but as the audition progresses, she gains more confidence. She is sure nobody can tell from her voice that she is shaking. The first part of the audition goes fine. DeMille gives them a couple more scenes to learn and asks them to come back in an hour. The second portion goes even better. He tells her to come back for a screen test.

before the screen test, there are fittings in wardrobe, long hours in the makeup department, and additional hours at the hands of Lenore Sabine, head of the hairdressing department. The test is made on one of the monitor stages. DeMille screens the test at his home as soon as it is developed, and the next day she’s notified she has the part. DeMille will later say: “I broke a rule of 25 years’ standing when I chose Miss Burgess for the part of Louisa Cody. It was the first time that I have cast a player without previous screen experience in an important role. But, as soon as I saw Miss Burgess, I realized that she had the making of a strong and appealing screen personality.”
over a nation-wide broadcast, Cecil B. DeMille introduces her as “the greatest screen find in my career. She is the finest natural actress I have ever seen.” In her turn before the microphone, she says that she considers Tacoma as her home and informs her listeners of the beauty of Puget Sound.
meets Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur on the set on the first day of production. Cooper tells her, “Just don’t take it too seriously. Acting is only as hard as you make it.” She says, “I have never known such excitement as we witnessed on the set that day,” and finds that she doesn’t mind working in front of the camera. The real anxiety comes when they go to see the “rushes” at night. “Jimmy Ellison had already been in a number of pictures, but he was as concerned as I. When we were walking over to the projection room to see the day’s work, we were about as cheerful as a couple of people going to be hanged, because everything depended on that first day’s work. It was Jimmy’s big break as well as mine, and we had to make good. When we arrived at the projection room Mr. DeMille and the others were already there. Mr. DeMille had Jimmy and me sit right in front of him so that we could hear every comment he made. It gave me such a ghostly feeling of seeming to be in two places at once as I watched myself on the screen—and I was so surprised at the sound of my voice coming from behind the screen that I don't think I heard many of Mr. DeMille’s observations. I was afraid to look at him after the screening was over and got out of the projection room as fast as I could. ‘What do you suppose he thought of us Jimmy?’ I asked my screen husband outside. ‘He thought you were swell,’ said Jimmy. ‘And how about you?’ ‘Well, he didn't seem to have a complaint in the world, so maybe we can at last consider ourselves as really down on the list with the other DeMille discoveries—you know Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid. Ramon Novarro and all the rest.’ And we both gave a great big sigh of relief.”
27 July 36 Gary Cooper today proved to the film colony that he still retains some of his cowhand lore, which he applied to rescue a fair maiden in typical western style. Cooper was driving a six-horse stagecoach in his current picture with Jean Arthur beside him in the driver’s seat and James Ellison and Helen Burgess in the rear section when the frisky horses bolted, knocking over three bit players. Cooper used all his “hoss” lore to rein in the lunging horses after a run across the huge ranch where the film company was on location. Arthur was reported “bruised and shaken.” Cooper, Ellison, and Burgess were uninjured. Three bit players, Earl Askam, Bill Washington and Edward Brown were bruised and cut by the impact of the stagecoach.
December 36 hosts Russell Weber of Tacoma, who won a trip to the Rose Bowl football classic
3 January 37 in a syndicated newspaper article, writer Eleanor Packer does a feature page on her. She writes: “The surprising thing about Helen’s sudden leap from obscurity into fame is the fact that she has no trace of the startling, dramatic beauty which the world associates with Hollywood actresses. She is almost what is called ‘plain,’ or ‘homely.’ She would pass unnoticed in a crowd of most typical Hollywood girls. Why then did DeMille pick her out? She has something greater than mere beauty. Something more important to the screen than a standardized prettiness. She possesses what cameramen call a ‘photogenic face,’ one capable of revealing ‘inner emotions’ to the eye of the camera.”
“Only a trained eye like Mr. DeMille’s could have seen the photographic possibilities in Helen Burgess’ face,” says Victor Milner, award-winning cameraman for The Plainsman. Helen said she thought of the stage because she had seen all the beautiful women around the studios and didn’t think she was pretty enough.
? resides at 1258 Flores Avenue in West Hollywood in a building built by DeMille for his employees
8 October 36 taking up where the Wampas organization left off a few years ago, press photographers of Hollywood and Los Angeles select ten young actresses from as many studios as those most likely to attain stardom. They are Cecilia Parker, MGM; Janice Jarrett, Universal; Kay Hughes, Republic; Joan Perry, Columbia; Mary Frances Gifford, Samuel Goldwyn; Rosina Lawrence, Hal Roach; Barbara Pepper, R.K.O.; Helen Wood, 20th Century-Fox; June Travis, Warner Brothers; and Helen Burgess, Paramount.
23 January 37 is not sunbathing anymore because she discovered that three of her hilltop neighbors bought telescopes
27 January 37 marries Herbert Rutherford, former Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident and current piano instructor, in Yuma, Arizona. Justice of the Peace Ed M. Winn performs the ceremony. They are accompanied by Bob Cason and Mrs. R. S. Buck. The couple returns to the coast by auto after the ceremony. Rutherford’s father is a Tulsa physician.
30 January 37 trains her dog to wipe its feet before entering the house
13 March 37 the press reports: “Big heartedly Ted Peckham, 22-year-old 'Gigolo King,' who values his art at $1000 per escort, donated an evening to Helen Burgess and staked her to supper and pink lemonade. The downy-chinned, freshwater college boy (from Ohio’s Western Reserve University) compromised on Burgess after Mae West showed no interest in his invitation. Clad in the sophomore class’ idea of sophisticated attire—lofty topper, blue evening clothes and a cape—Peckham paraded Miss Burgess to the premier of Lost Horizon and afterward to a supper club. The actress didn’t quarrel over the check. Peckham brought his schoolboy complexion here from New York, where he originated the escort service idea to help do a movie plot called Gentlemen for Hire. He has spent most of his time since then in the Paramount publicity department seeing that his name gets in the papers. Probably his sortie with Burgess is charged off to publicity.”
15 March 37 is granted an annulment of her three-hour / ten-hour marriage. She said her husband admitted to marrying her to “spite” another woman. “He said he had just married me to spite another woman, but he wouldn’t tell me who she was. He said I should go back to my mother and he would go back to his own place because he couldn’t support me.”
1 April 37 catches cold while working on her current film. In the following week her health worsens, and she is taken to a hospital, where lobar pneumonia develops.
7 April 37 takes a turn for the worse. In the morning she is placed in an oxygen tent, and her physician expresses fear she will soon die. She dies in the evening at her home / in the hospital.
9 April 37 while her body lies in state from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at a mortuary chapel, a sorrowing film company on the Paramount lot “shoots around” her scenes
10 April 37 last rites are conducted at the Little Church of the Flowers, Glendale / Wee Kirk O’the Heather. Funeral services had been planned as private, but more than 250 mourners attend. There is no eulogy. Actor and pilot John Trent, who starred with her in A Doctor’s Diary, is one of the pallbearers. She is survived by her mother, Mrs. Fanny Burgess, and her sister Stella Mae, 23. For two minutes, all work at Paramount Studios ceases as associates bow their heads in tribute.
14 April 37 Paramount may test her 23-year-old sister Mary Burgess
10 May 37 Harrison Carroll writes: “Shortly before pneumonia cut short her career, Helen Burgess played in a picture called King of the Gamblers and enacted a death scene that brought tears to the eyes of players on the set. One of these, Fay Holden, remarked to the actress on the realism of her dissembling. ‘I know death,’ replied the young player. ‘I have spent many uncomfortable hours in the past few weeks thinking of death.’ Superstitious Hollywood will interpret this as premonition.”
Tacoma Public Library, Kirk Crivello, Albuquerque Journal, Huntington Daily News, Kingsport Times, Nevada State Journal, The Billings Gazette, The Delta Star, The Fresno Bee Republican, The Galveston Daily News, The Hammond Times, The Lima News, The Modesto Bee and News-Herald, The Ogden Standard-Examiner, The Port Arthur News, The Portsmouth Times, The San Antonio Light, The San Mateo Times, The Yuma Daily Sun,,
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