Lois Moran (1909-90), photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1932
In the original screen version of that warhorse soap opera, STELLA DALLAS (1925), which The Film Society of Lincoln Center is screening on February 13, Moran, playing Stella’s daughter, Laurel, actually outshines Belle Bennett’s legendary but really rather overblown performance in the title role. Possessing a fine-boned Irish beauty, she is convincing in the early scenes as a 10-year-old (she was sixteen when she played this) and makes the birthday party scene – when none of her friends show up because of her raffish, overdressed Mom – really heartbreaking, much more wrenching than the way saccharine Anne Shirley did it in the 1937 King Vidor remake.
Moran had a brief Hollywood affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who dubbed her “the most beautiful girl in Hollywood” and based the character of starlet Rosemary Hoyt in TENDER IS THE NIGHT on her, driving wife Zelda even more than usually crazy. When she was ten her family moved to Paris where she began dancing at an early age, attracting the attention of artists like Man Ray and film director Marcel l’Herbier who cast her in LA GALERIE DES MONSTRES (1924) when she was 15. Producer Sam Goldwyn discovered her in Paris and cast her in STELLA DALLAS, when a planned ROMEO AND JULIET film did not come off.
She did not make a successful transition to talking films from silents and retired from Hollywood in 1935 when she married Clarence M. Young, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics under President Hoover. Her lack of success in the sound era is all the more bewildering considering the fact that in 1931, she conquered Broadway by appearing the Gershwin musical OF THEE I SING, following that up with its sequel LET ‘EM EAT CAKE (1933). She made one final film in Germany, ALICE IN DEN STADTEN (1974). She was born in Pittsburgh and died in Sedona, Arizona, which is as illustrative a twentieth century life trajectory as you can get.
For info about the STELLA DALLAS screening go to http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/gs_stella_dallas.html
A BEAUTIFUL FAIRY TALE: The Life of Actress Lois Moran, by Richard Buller, available on Amazon