Beatrice Roberts

Active - 1936 - 1949  |   Born - Mar 7, 1905   |   Genres - Science Fiction, Adventure, Action, Fantasy, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Beatrice Roberts only ever had one notable acting role in a career lasting a little more than 15 years. But she started out with a lot of hope and encouragement, growing out of her partial success in beauty pageants while in her late teens. She was born Alice Beatrice Roberts in New York City in 1905. And she was clearly a striking beauty and also advanced for her years, as she married cartoonist Robert L. Ripley (of believe-it-or-not fame) in 1919, a union that only lasted three months, but which wasn't dissolved officially until 1926. They evidently never saw each other again after 1919, and Roberts competed in the Miss America pageants of 1924 and 1925, as Miss Manhattan and Miss Greater New York. She won awards in both years as "Best Dressed Girl In Evening Gown," an honor that, with its implications of a dignified, imperious quality, seemed to point toward her one significant contribution to the screen, a little more than a decade later.

She arrived in Hollywood in 1933 and, after appearances in a few low-budget productions (including the serial The Return of Chandu, starring Bela Lugosi), she landed at MGM. She seldom ascended above smaller, uncredited supporting roles in the studio's productions; typical was her portrayal of one of the three graces in the 1935 fantasy/comedy The Night Life of the Gods. Offscreen, however, she was one of the most notable women on the studio lot, as the mistress of studio chief Louis B. Mayer. They were together for two years, ending in 1936, and she continued to work in MGM films in small roles for another few years. It was at Universal in 1938, however, that Roberts got the most prominent and enduring role of her career, as Queen Azura in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. She brought startling beauty as well as an imperious evil to the role of the witch queen, who is an ally of the evil Emperor Ming (Charles Middleton) and also responsible for the curse upon the Clay People. It might not have been a heavy-lifting acting assignment, but she was just about as memorable within the context of the Flash Gordon serials as Priscilla Lawson's wild-eyed, lustful Princess Aura in the first chapterplay or Anne Gwynne's devious Lady Sonya in the third serial. In those days, regardless of the worth of one's performance, serial work was not conducive to an advancing career in features, and Roberts never did get another starring role. She continued to appear in movies, mostly at Universal, until 1949, after which she retired.

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