Nance O’Neil (October 8, 1874 – February 7, 1965) was an American actress of stage and cinema of the early 20th century.
She transitioned successfully from the theatre to silent movies and on to sound movies into the early 1930′s.
Nance O’Neil was associated with Lizzie Borden from 1904-1905, and it is often asserted or speculated they were lovers although no credible evidence of any sort has ever surfaced to validate that claim.
She was featured in many films from 1913 to 1932 The two most referenced and easily available on VHS are Cimmaron and The Royal Bed both in made in1931.
The years 1930 and 1931 were very productive film years for Miss O’Neil. She worked with some very well known, even legendary, actors, such as Barbara Stanwyck, Basil Rathbone, Anita Louise, Zasu Pitts and Edgar Kennedy. She also acted with a young Lawrence Olivier in Westward Passage, one of her last films made in 1932.
It was quite unusual for a Broadway tragedienne of the early 1900′s to have such a long career in transitioning to movies. O’Neil must have had a terrific agent or good connections. Or perhaps, because she had been such a big star on the stage, producers thought her name would be an added draw to audiences.
I am offering here three films of Nance O’Neil from the 1930′s on DVD:
The Secret Service (1931) with Richard Dix. I just loved this movie. It holds up after 80 years! Think of Richard Dix as Agent 007. Nance plays his mother in this exciting film full of dramatic tension and surprises! Easy to see why Dix was such a popular actor aside from his Westerns.
I must say she looks like a man wearing a wig in this film, particularly in this scene.
Ladies or Leisure (1930) directed by Frank Capra is a wonderfully engrossing drama starring Barbara Stanwyck. Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves, Submarine) is the wealthy son of stuffy but permissive parents who allow Jerry to follow his ambition to be a painter. When he hires party girl Kay Arnold (Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity) to be a model for one of his paintings, the two fall in love despite their obvious differences. But eventually, class distinctions push Kay away back toward her old life, one just shy of prostitution. Directed by Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), LADIES OF LEISURE was also one of Stanwyck’s first roles and the one that made her a star. Newly remastered.
Nance O’Neil plays the mother of Jerry Strong and has some terrific scenes with super closeups. In one she trys to convince “Kay” to let go of her love for the betterment of his life. It is quite touching and highly dramatic. One can easily see O’Neil’s acting chops in this film.
Both Stanwyck and O’Neil have been perceived as lesbians. It’s true Stanwyck had an abortion at 15, married two times. Her second husband, actor Robert Taylor, was also rumored to be Gay. That marriage was arranged by Louis B. Mayor of MGM when both were stars there.
In what seemed like an inappropriate “thank you dear for seeing my point” kiss, Nance plants one smack on Barbara’s lips. It almost looked like it to Babs unexpectedly, and she gently seems to push O’Neil back.
As a loves story, this movie holds up, not corny at all.
Floradora Girl has a similar theme as Ladies of Leisure only this time the girl wants to get rich. Here again, O’Neil plays the wise woman to set the girl on the moral high ground. This movie stars Marion Davies and was produced through her film company established by William Randolph Hearst to showcase her stardom. Perhaps O’Neil met the august Hearst during this time.
Yep, the 1890′s and early 1900′s were the American Theater’s heyday, and the 1930′s were Hollywood’s Golden Years. And Nance O’Neil rode the crest of the former and was still afloat for the latter.
EACH IS $20.00 OR $45.00 FOR ALL THREE! IF INTERESTED, EMAIL ME AT:
POSTAGE WILL DEPEND UPON LOCATION AND BUYER’S PREFERENCE FOR DELIVERY.