Helen Twelvetrees, Perfect Ingenue
Rediscovering a 1930s Movie Star and Her 32 Films
At her peak, Helen Twelvetrees was leading lady to legends like John Barrymore and Spencer Tracy. Other early co-stars who were billed below her included Joan Blondell, John Wayne, and Clark Gable. Twelvetrees broke out in Her Man (1930) and affirmed her stardom in Millie (1931). Her ten-year Hollywood career is highlighted by a run of starring roles in pre-Code era melodramas, but Helen Twelvetrees kept working long after movie audiences had forgotten her.
She lost momentum for a variety of reasons. External factors such as typecasting, studio anarchy, and Production Code enforcement, combined with an independent attitude that spurred inconvenient headlines and whispers of temperament are among those that kept her career from progressing. At her peak she chose to follow natural impulses and start a family, but in terms of her career, her pregnancy couldn’t have come at a worse time. When she returned to the screen it was with a new studio, and the types of films she was known for were not as popular as they had been before her maternity leave. Afterward, time itself may have been Helen Twelvetrees’ greatest enemy: one can only remain an ingenue for so long.
Helen Twelvetrees, Perfect Ingenue is one-half biography, one-half film retrospective. Presented here are the life, loves, and career of an unexpectedly modern woman. An extensive collection of notes supports corrections and new findings about Twelvetrees, including her accurate birth-date and a previously unreported marriage, while also supplying additional background about each of her thirty-two movies: the good, the bad, and the lost.
Foreword by Dan Van Neste, author of The Whistler: Stepping Into the Shadows.
Illustrated with still photographs from the author’s personal collection.