One thing that’s both wonderful and painful about having so many issues of Photoplay at one’s fingertips is tracing the fleeting career arc of a star. We see the excitement of his/her discovery, the popular period when every other article seems to be about him/her…then, the mentions get fewer and further between, until finally his/her name is all but forgotten by the once-adoring public.
(All images are courtesy my favorite place on the internet, the Media History Digital Library.)
Jobyna Ralston was born on November 21, 1899. She first appeared on stage at age nine; by 1915 she was attending acting school, and eventually made her Broadway debut in Two Little Girls in Blue at age 21. Max Linder was in the audience and insisted she come to Hollywood -- she performed in many of his films, as well as the Marx Brothers' lost Humor Risk and Hal Roach shorts. First mention of her I could find was in 1922, in a blurb about Mildred Davis retiring as Harold Lloyd’s leading lady:
Just who is to follow Mildred…hasn’t been decided…[A] little extra girl named Jobyna – yes, truly – is being most seriously considered. Well, whoever follows Bebe Daniels and Mildred Davis, will be lucky, it would appear. [“Plays and Players”, Photoplay, September 1922]
With that, suddenly, in 1923, she was noticed:
[Photoplay, July 1923]
The prestige of being named a WAMPAS star, along with well-received performances in Why Worry? and Girl Shy put her on the map. She was profiled by Adela Rogers St Johns:
But oh, sang I, to be eighteen and just fresh from
and pretty. Jobyna is so Southern...[t]rying to alter her
speech would be just about as foolish as extracting the perfume from a
rose. I don’t know whether she’s got a
brain in her head, but brains are just excess baggage to girls like Jobyna. [I
guess that’s supposed to be positive?
Yeesh. –JR] I don’t know what to call it – but whatever it is, Jobyna’s got
it. [“Betty & Jobyna”, Photoplay, November 1923] Tennessee
She posed for fluff [a bob clause? Really?!]:
[“News and Gossip East and West”, Photoplay, July 1924]
She was officially presented to the public:
A man with an eye like [Harold Lloyd]’s doesn’t need any glass in his horn rims. I have never seen a more sensitive face. Expressions flutter over it, one after another, like ripples in a pond. A whimsical, engaging bit of fluff that’s liable to be wafted far. [Herbert Howe, “The Discovery of Jobyna Ralston”, Photoplay, August 1924]
And the portraits! Hardly a month went by without one:
[Photoplay, February 1924]
[Photoplay, August 1925]
[Photoplay, April 1926]
But then…one issue went by without Jobyna.
She was still working, both with Lloyd (she appeared in six of his pictures) and in other films, including the first Academy Award winning Best Picture, Wings, yet she didn't seem to garner attention. More issues went by with nary a word about her.
Her marriage to Richard Arlen, whom she met on the set of Wings, did gain a notice:
[Photoplay, July 1927]
Nothing else until four years later, when her prowess at dinner parties is discussed:
When Jobyna Ralston married Richard Arlen, she gave up a promising screen career to settle down and become merely “Dick Arlen’s wife”. [OUCH. – JR] Since then, Joby has turned her talents into housewifely channels…[Carolyn Van Wyck, “Jobyna and Dick Give a Party for Six”, Photoplay, May 1931]
She made three movies after sound came in, but talkies exposed one problem that even her sweet
Tennessee drawl couldn't
fix: a lisp. Due to this and her first child on the way, she retired permanently from the screen.
[Photoplay, August 1933]
Movies are mercurial by nature. It’s almost unfathomable to process how much films changed from the 20s to the 30s. It’s no wonder, then, that just ten short years after her discovery, Jobyna is part of a “where are they now” nostalgia article:
It’s easy to account for many former big stars who have found the answer in Hollywood marriages and screen retirement…Jobyna Ralston is satisfied with being just Mrs Richard Arlen. [Kirtley Baskette, “They, Too, Were Stars”, Photoplay, March 1934]
Sadly, the satisfaction didn't last forever; she and Arlen were divorced in 1945. In later years, her health declined dramatically, and she suffered from rheumatism and a series of strokes.
Jobyna Ralston succumbed to pneumonia on
January 22, 1967. She was only 67.