Actress Agnes Ayres is probably best-know for her starring role opposite Rudolf Valentino in the 1921 romantic melodrama The Sheik. In fact, Valentino's leading lady was afforded top billing in that film, and while The Sheik was the film that made Valentino a star, it was originally intended as a vehicle for Ms. Ayres. While a teenager in Chicago, Agnes made her film debut at that city's Essanay Studios. Moving to New York, Agnes rose to stardom after she was cast in the attention-getting role of Alice Joyce's younger sister in Richard the Brazen (1917). Signed by Paramount in 1920, Agnes became one of the stalwarts of the Cecil B. DeMille unit, with major roles in such DeMille films as The Affairs of Anatol (1921) and Forbidden Fruit (1921); in the director's 1923 The Ten Commandments, Ms. Ayres appeared briefly as "the Outcast" in the film's closing Nativity tableau. Soon afterward, Agnes' stardom waned. She rallied briefly in 1926, repeating her Sheik role in Valentino's Son of the Sheik, but within a year she had to settle for a leading role in the Hal Roach 2-reel comedy Eve's Love Letters (1927). Director Frank Capra gave Agnes a substantial part in his first talkie The Donovan Affair (1929), but nothing much came of it. Left penniless by the stock market crash, Agnes toured in vaudeville, then was hired by Paramount to make a personal-appearance tour in conjunction with the reissue of Son of the Sheik. Her last roles were unbilled bits at MGM, where she had a stock-player contract. Agnes Ayres died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 42.
by Hal Erickson biography