A Tribute to Laura La Plante
The natural, down-home beauty of silent film actress Laura La Plante was matched by an easy going charm and personality. Her characterizations were generally wholesome and refreshingly light, a welcome relief from the exoticism of other leading ladies of the 1920’s.
Although mainly a comedienne, Laura’s early personal life was marked by poverty and her parents’ divorce seemed far from the antics of her screen characters. Born on November 1, 1904, in St. Louis, Missouri, Laura was not motivated by any artistic aspirations, but rather, the need to help with the family’s finances. Following a divorce, Laura’s mother moved her and her sister from St. Louis to California.
In 1920, Laura was sent to stay with her aunt in Los Angeles and obtained work with the Christie Comedy Company. Laura spent the formative years of her career developing her skills in short comedies, serials and westerns. At the age of nineteen, Laura was teamed with Reginald Denny in the comedy Sporting Youth (1924) and was on her way to the top.
Laura’s big break came when Charles Ray cast her as the love interest, Myrtle, in The Old Swimmin Hole (1921). After two minor films at Fox, Laura moved over to Universal, where she was to spend the rest of the decade. Laura was often in comedies, and her role as the feminine half of a couple striving for upward mobility was one she made all her own. In Skinner’s Dress Suit (1926), for instance, Laura and Reginald Denny are a young married couple living beyond their means as they “try to keep up with the Joneses.” In Poker Faces (1926) opposite Edward Everett Horton, Laura is a wife who takes a job to earn additional money to buy a new rug.
As the heroine of The Love Trap (1929) directed by William Wyler, Laura as a chorus girl married to a taxi driver, played by Neil Hamilton, exposes sexual hypocrisy, takes control of her life, and ends up demonstrating how much wiser and more mature she is than are the men around her. However, Laura was not always the clever wife outwitting a husband. She demonstrated her range in films like Smouldering Fires (1924), and The Midnight Sun (1926). In the Cat and the Canary (1927) Laura is charming as the heiress to an estate that includes a haunted house.
With the dawn of sound in 1929, Laura had the part of Magnolia, the romantic lead in the first version of Show Boat (1929) co-starring Joseph Schildkraut. Success seemed assured in talkies, but in 1930, Laura abruptly left Universal before her contract had expired. Amidst the upheavels caused by sound, the studio apparently lost interest in her career.
In 1933, Laura moved to Europe where she divorced her first husband, director William A. Seiter to marry Irving Asher, a former publicist who was then heading Warner Brothers’ British studio. Laura had not intended to make films in England, but at her new husband’s suggestion, she starred in five: Her Imaginary Lover (1933), The Girl in Possession (1934), The Church Mouse (1934) Widow’s Might (1935), and Man of the Moment (1935), the last opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Laura La Plante and Irving Asher might have remained in England had it not been for WWII, but they had two small children and they wanted to get to California.
Back in the United States, Laura made a few films through 1957, but she had no real interest in reviving her career. Laura and her husband retired to Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. Laura died at the Motion Picture Country Hospital on October 14, 1996. She was 91 years old.
It’s interesting to note that Laura La Plante was considered the Doris Day of her era because of her girl- next-door persona in an age of glamour queens.
Laura La Plante appeared in about 100 films in a career that spanned from 1920-1957.