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Billie Dove: Last Years of Silent Movie Star at Motion Picture Country House

Billie Dove

In TheWrap, writer and television producer Irma Kalish writes about Billie Dove's last years at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, inland from Malibu.

The article is a great read. Billie Dove, though not the “Queen of Silent Movies” as claimed in Kalish's piece, was a popular star in the 1920s. Not one of her fifty or so movies could be called a classic, but Dove did appear in a number of well-regarded and/or box office friendly vehicles.

Among her films of that era were All the Brothers Were Valiant (1922), with Lon Chaney; The Black Pirate (1926), an early two-strip Technicolor adventure starring Douglas Fairbanks; Kid Boots (1926), in which she supports Eddie Cantor and Clara Bow; and American Beauty (1927), in the title role.

No wonder Howard Hughes was fascinated with her. According to Hollywood lore, Hughes paid Dove's husband, director Irvin Willat, to divorce the actress so she'd be free to hang out with the multimillionaire.

Every once in a while, a Billie Dove movie pops up on Turner Classic Movies. In Blondie of the Follies (1932), she supports Marion Davies. Blondie isn't the greatest of movies, but Davies has a very funny scene in which she imitates Greta Garbo, while Dove has what may well be one of her most memorable on-screen moments: mouthing “son of a bitch” to a bunch of kids.

Billie Dove died on Dec. 31, 1997, at the Motion Picture Country House. She was 94. Below is a snippet from Kalish's article:

“She must have been in her early 90s then, but her voice was steady and her mind was focused. The charm was evident. We spoke at length, comparing notes on the movie business then and now. I confess that her end of the conversation far outshone mine. Those early years of Hollywood cinema are known as the Golden Silents, and here was 'The American Beauty' (as she was nicknamed) sharing some of her 14-carat memories.”

The Motion Picture Country Fund has proposed closing down its Long-Term Care facilities, which once housed the likes of Billie Dove. “My dearest hope then – the hope of many, many others – is that the doors of Long-Term Care will remain open…” writes Kalish.

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