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Betty Balfour

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  • Betty Balfour

    i read that Betty died almost forgotten. I believe her grave is in Weybridge? Does anyone know if she had any family or what she was doing after she appeared to stop acting?

  • #2
    I’m re posting this as I am really interested in Betty. Can anyone help please ?


    • #3
      Originally posted by googiefan View Post
      I’m re posting this as I am really interested in Betty. Can anyone help please ?
      I saw your original post last year, googiefan, and it set me off on a quest to try and 'find' Betty! It turned out to be one hell of a task but finally her story started to emerge. The problem is I have so much information that I'm finding it daunting to try and assemble it into a cohesive narrative! But your new post has prompted me to realise that I really must try and make the effort to do something, otherwise all that research is going to waste!

      I really will try and put my mind to it very soon!



      • #4
        Euryale you are a tease! Perhaps you could give Googiefan a taster of what you've found...


        • #5
          Thanks Tigon and yes Euryale that would be great. I’m in communication with the British silent film society about getting Betty’s grave restored. It is I believe in Weybridge cemetery. I would love Betty to have a website and have been a huge fan of hers for years.
          Last edited by Nick Dando; 14th June 2018, 12:03 PM.


          • #6
            I hear she was Britain's most successful silent actress.


            • #7
              Thanks Tigon and yes Euryale that would be great. I’m in communication with the British silent film society about getting Betty’s grace restored. It is I believe in Weybridge cemetery. I would love Betty to have a website and have been a huge fan of hers for years.


              • #8
                Yes Jamal she was and now she is virtually forgotten. Hope the silent film society take up my suggestion of restoring her grave. That would be a good thing.


                • #9
                  A recent entry to the Oxford DNB....other early film personalities in there as well.....

                  Balfour, Betty
                  • by Christine Gledhill
                  • Published online: 14 June 2018

                  Betty Balfour (1902–1977), by Sasha, 1927

                  Balfour, Betty (b. 1902?, d. 1977), actress, was, according to her death certificate, born in London on 23 March 1902, though other sources give 27 March 1903 (1939 register). There is no evidence to corroborate these dates, or to identify her parents. In later interviews she stated that her mother had died when she was nearly two and that she had been brought up by her uncle and aunt, Colonel and Mrs Wood. Her aunt claimed connection with the Balfour family of Pilrig (Daily Sketch, 5 March 1929). This suggests her aunt was Helen Mackintosh Balfour (1860/61–1936), whose maiden name was Woods and who was the widow of John Mackintosh Balfour, who in turn was the son of the physician George William Balfour and related to the Balfours of Pilrig. Whatever her connection with Colonel Wood, Helen Balfour remained an inseparable companion to Betty Balfour throughout her film career, was known in the film industry as ‘Auntie’, and later helped Betty set up her own production company.
                  Blessed with an irrepressible gift of mimicry, and soon introduced to theatre by her firm but liberal guardians, the golden-haired, large-eyed, ‘puck-like’ Betty was from age three onwards in demand as an entertainer—singing, dancing, and reciting—for at-homes held by her aunt’s society acquaintances. Participation in an amateur pantomime, which included her unscripted imitation of Vesta Tilley, led between 1914 and 1916 to show-stealing performances in music hall and in revues at the Ambassadors under C. B. Cochran. Here she was spotted by the film producer T. A. Welsh, who, after the war, tracked her to the Alhambra, where she was playing in the operetta Medorah, and this led to a five-year collaboration with Welsh–Pearson under director George Pearson.
                  Balfour achieved almost instant stardom in her first film, Nothing Else Matters (1920), in a small role as a romance-reading skivvy who lets her employers’ son get lost. Calls for her at its trade show told Pearson she ‘had undoubtedly stolen the film’ (Pearson, 90). Her first entrance, tripping over a cat and taking a ‘headlong plunge’ down a lodging-house staircase, ‘amidst a shower of broken crockery’ marked the beginning of the spirited escapades for which she became beloved (p. 88). Pearson’s problem was finding the role to match her skills and personality. Coolness towards her more sentimental part in their next film, Mary Find the Gold (1921), convinced Pearson that ‘comedy was essential, the humour of ordinary folk, the laughter of hard-working people’ (p. 95). This he found in Squibs (1921), named after its vivacious flower-selling Cockney heroine, supporting a reprobate drinking-and-betting father and defending wayward sister, Ivy. Balfour’s Squibs combined comic defiance of social-class attitudes and established authorities with cheerfully good-hearted efforts to protect those weaker than herself. Reviewers were soon to note in Balfour’s mischievous skivvy a piquant combination of sentiment and humour, laughter and tears, contraries Pearson pushed further in Squibs Wins the Calcutta Sweep (1922).
                  Two more Squibs films were made: Squibs MP, about a woman elected to parliament and fighting for ‘babies not battleships’, and the film to finish the series, Squibs’ Honeymoon, both trade-shown in 1923. In between came the film both Pearson and Balfour valued above others, Love, Life and Laughter (1923), a tragicomic fantasy inspired by an article on Marie Lloyd that set a trend of casting Balfour in music-hall or entertainer roles.
                  The end of the Squibs series posed problems for the Pearson–Balfour team. While the following film, Reveille (1924), enabled Balfour to extend her range in the role of an unwed mother, news of whose soldier–lover’s death arrives on armistice night. Its focus was on post-war unemployed soldiers. The next year, a pirate film, Satan’s Sister (1925), shot in the West Indies with Balfour now credited as co-producer, gave her a cross-dressed role that combined tomboy fun and empathic femininity. But by now the British film industry was in trouble, and since her films had done well in France and Germany, Balfour, a fluent French speaker, left Pearson to work in Anglo-French or German co-productions: Monte Carlo (1925) and Cinders (1926)—explicitly staking out later Cinderella roles—both under Louis Mercanton; the Anglo-German co-production A Sister of Six (1927) involving more cross-dressed escapades, followed by Little Devil-May-Care (1927), in which the French director Marcel Herbier found ‘new ways of exploiting her characteristic gaminerie’ (Bioscope, 6 Jan 1927, 99), in a darker role as a defiant if ‘reformed female hooligan’ (Empire News, 18 Dec 1927). Mercanton’s circus film, Monkey Nuts, followed in 1928, in which the always game Betty performed her own trapeze and animal acts.
                  Quickly designated ‘Britain’s Queen of Happiness’, Balfour was Britain’s top film star through the 1920s, topping star polls in 1924, 1927, and 1929. She was a committed ambassador for the British film industry, which she promoted in trade press articles, fan magazines, after-dinner speeches, and BBC broadcasts. She cemented her appeal to fans by refusing offers from Hollywood. In 1925 she made Somebody’s Darling for Gaumont British, which like Monte Carlo attempted to recast her image in society roles, but reviewers missed her ‘essential Cockney … in … shabby dress’ (Picture Show, 25 Sept 1926, 21). In 1926 her gamine persona was given more perverse treatment in Graham Cutts’s The Sea Urchin, which, opening in a sadistically run orphanage, found Balfour leading a revolt. In 1928 she was contracted at £500 a week by British International Pictures (Westminster Gazette, 15 Oct 1927), her first film role for them breaking new ground as the hilarious vamp to Sydney Chaplin’s husband-on-the-loose, in A Little Bit of Fluff. Hitchcock’s Champagne (1928), made in tandem with the American Denison Clift’s Paradise, similarly played Balfour against type as a spoilt little rich girl, briefly disinherited by her father. These films set a trend in scenarios that enabled Betty to combine glimpses of Squibs with a glamour more characteristic of Hollywood. Thus Géza von Bolváry’s The Vagabond Queen (1929) combined Balfour’s boarding-house skivvy with her comical impersonation as coronation stand-in for a Ruritanian queen abducted by political enemies.....


                  Last edited by julian_craster; 17th June 2018, 03:14 PM.


                  • #10
                    Part Two:

                    By this time the film industry was converting to sound. Balfour, it was claimed, had a good speaking and singing voice. But, although she was reputedly the first major star to make a full-feature talkie, Raise the Roof (1930), her career faltered. In 1930 she set up her own production company, with her aunt and constant companion, Helen M. Balfour, as co-director, reprising Squibs’s mischief as a cross-dressed burglar boy in The Brat. After its failure Balfour disappeared from the screen for nearly three years. In 1932 she secretly married, in France, the songwriter and publisher Jimmy Campbell, born James Alexander Campbell-Tyrie (1903–1967); he was the son of James Campbell Tyrie, builder, and had assumed the additional name Balfour by deed poll in 1930, when he was living with Balfour and her broad-minded aunt in London. She later attributed her screen absence to her husband’s wish that she stay at home (Daily Herald, 25 Jan 1952). To press excitement, she returned two years later in Victor Saville’s musical Evergreen (1934), as a characteristically spirited music-hall entertainer, supporting Jessie Matthews’s more refined lead.
                    But Squibs proved difficult for Balfour to escape; it was to Squibs she kept returning and whom press articles in the 1930s nostalgically remembered. When in 1937 she and Campbell had a son, the press greeted him as ‘Squibs’s baby’. In 1935 she attempted a partial remake of Squibs, directed by Henry Edwards. Although she assured Film Weekly (9 Nov 1934) that Squibs was a born talkie character, the film lacked Pearson’s ironic twists, was conservative in tone, and stodgily written and directed. Her last notable film, 29 Acacia Avenue, released in 1945, was a pleasant family comedy, in which Balfour played a placid mother in a scenario contrasting modern youth’s romantic adventures with the staid conservatism of their parents.
                    Balfour divorced Campbell-Tyrie in 1941 and declared in 1952 that she would ‘never marry again’ (unidentified clipping, BFI). That year she attempted a return to live theatre, playing the mother of a dying son in The Golden Grain. It ended after ten nights. A year later Balfour was reported hospitalized after an ‘accidental’ overdose of sleeping tablets. Thereafter, she lived as a recluse until her death, of diverticulosis, on 4 November 1977 in Weybridge Hospital. She was buried in Weybridge cemetery.
                    Betty Balfour was fortunate in starting her film career with George Pearson, who gave much thought to developing her screen persona. Her youth, vitality, and versatile comic skills, nurtured by music-hall and revue experience, enabled her to embody in the Cockney Squibs the resilience of a working-class figure combined with the appeal of ‘the girl’ as mischievous sign of modernity. Often likened to Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, Balfour worked the boundaries of class difference through doubled roles and cross-gender/cross-class dressing; but unlike Pickford, Balfour found it rare for her character not to return to roots in imagined community life. Hence, with the blurring of character and performer, Balfour could appeal as a recognizably national star, against American dominance. By the late 1920s and through the 1930s her early films were nostalgically evoked in the press, alternating between promise of a ‘new’ more ‘strongly emotional’ Betty Balfour and her reversion to Squibs-type roles. But the persona no longer worked; not only was Balfour herself physically maturing, the appeal of ‘whimsical’ girlishness off-setting mischievous gaminerie was overtaken by the more abrasive and down-to-earth class identity and forthright sexiness of Gracie Fields, who took over the role of national heroine.

                    • R. Low, The history of the British film, 4: 1918–1929 (1971)
                    • B. McFarlane, ed., The encyclopedia of British film (2003)
                    • G. Pearson, Flashback: the autobiography of a British film-maker (1957)
                    • LondG (4 Nov 1930)
                    • New York Times (5 Feb 1933)
                    • 1939 register
                    • d. cert.


                    • performance recording, BL NSA
                    • performance and current affairs footage, BFI NFTVA

                    • vintage print, 1920s, NPG
                    • vintage print, 1923, NPG
                    • vintage print, 1930s, NPG
                    • photograph, repro. in Daily Herald (1934)
                    • photographs, c.1920s–1930s, Getty Images
                    • photographs, c.1920s–1930s, Bridgeman Images
                    • photographs, c.1920s–1930s, Alamy
                    • B. Thomas, photograph, c.1930s, Cinema Personalities
                    • Sasha, photograph, 1927, Hult. Arch. [see illus.]
                    • print, 1934, repro. in Margrave, Meet the film stars (1935)
                    • W. D. & H. O. Wills, print, 1928, Cinema Stars Cigarette Cards
                    • lithograph playbill for Champagne, 1928, priv. coll.
                    • G. Elam, photographs, 1952, Rex Features
                    • J. Bacon, film still, 1923, Rex Features
                    • V. Console, photographs, 1928–, Rex Features
                    • F. Rust, photograph, 1929, Rex Features

                    Last edited by julian_craster; 17th June 2018, 03:16 PM.


                    • #11
                      Well Julian, this is brilliant thanks for doing this. It is as I’ve said before why Brit movie exists and is so good. It is interesting to see she was a real promoter and advocate for British film yet they appear to have forgotten her.
                      I do want to help get Betty’s grave restored and hope this can happen.
                      What happened to her son?


                      • #12
                        Here we have the first of two census entries for 1911:

                        The above is for 61 Somerleyton Road, Brixton and it shows Alfred Woods and his wife Lilian (nee Lilian Katie Hazelton) along with their two children Frank John Woods and Ellaline Balfour Woods. They had an older child Florence Lilian Woods and she is seen on the next census entry:

                        This record is for 6 Palmerston Mansions, Queens Club Gardens, West Kensington. Florence is living with Walter Frank Wood and Helen Vaughan Wood (more about these two people later). Florence Lilian Woods would later change her name to Betty Balfour.

                        I have Florence's birth certificate and it shows that she was born on 27th March 1902 at 112 Kennington Road, Lambeth. Her parents had married in 1901. Below is Florence's birth record from the GRO index:

                        Betty's father Alfred Woods lived 1868-1924.
                        Betty's mother Lilian Katie Hazelton lived 1876-1960. She did not die young as Julian's article suggested.
                        Betty's brother Frank John Woods lived 1908-1963.
                        Betty's sister Ellaline Balfour Woods lived 1905-1921. The Balfour part of her name has the same origin as Betty's adopted surname.



                        • #13
                          Thanks euryale that really is great stuff. It looks like Betty’s mother died only a decade or so before Betty did. Do you have any info on Betty’s later life? How did she end up in Weybridge? What about her son? This is really great info.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by googiefan View Post
                            Thanks euryale that really is great stuff. It looks like Betty’s mother died only a decade or so before Betty did. Do you have any info on Betty’s later life? How did she end up in Weybridge? What about her son? This is really great info.
                            Betty was adopted by a relative when she was very young. Her parents were both still alive and I have no idea why she was adopted since her two younger siblings continued to live with their parents. Whether Betty maintained any contact with her immediate family during her/their lifetimes I don't know.

                            Betty seems to have just lived quietly after her retirement from the screen. However, she appears to have been employed in some sort of clerical work. I'm getting this from The London Gazette, 3rd August 1982. Betty is listed in there under the bankruptcy procedures, so it would appear she was having financial issues just before she died:

                            As I recall, she had already undergone bankruptcy charges in the 1930s. I'm afraid I don't currently know what became of her son but I will take another look.



                            • #15
                              Thanks again. Wonderful stuff.