Helen Ferguson

Active - 1919 - 1934  |   Born - Jul 23, 1901   |   Died - Mar 14, 1977   |   Genres - Drama, Western, Comedy, Crime, Romance

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A juvenile actress with Chicago's Essanay company at the age of 13, brunette Helen Ferguson became a star -- albeit a minor one -- in action-melodramas opposite the likes of William Russell and Buck Jones. She made four Westerns opposite the latter, including Just Pals (1920), filmed by John Ford with all the beauty and sense of folksy detail that later generations came to expect from him. It wasn't Ferguson's favorite film, however, that distinction going instead to Hungry Heart (1922), a drama of Russian Jewry's struggle in the New World. "It's the best picture I've worked in," she stated at the time. The drama earned her a 1922 WAMPAS Baby Star nod, the first time this annual selection took place.

Like many of her colleagues, Ferguson struggled valiantly to escape outdoor melodramas, but she was always more believable roughing it in a Hoot Gibson oater than appearing wistful in drawing rooms, and was especially effective in action serials, of which she did three. The most successful was Wild West (1925), made on a rugged location at the original 101 Ranch in Oklahoma and starring her new husband, the virile-looking William Russell.

Wedded bliss with Russell, alas, proved tragically short when the ex-athlete succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 42 in 1929. His widow turned to the legitimate stage for comfort and spent four moderately successful years on tour. Retired from acting, she returned to Hollywood in 1933 to become one of filmdom's most successful publicists, with a clientele ranging from Loretta Young -- with whom Ferguson co-authored the rather imprecise The Things I Had to Learn -- to Ed "Kookie" Byrnes. Said yet another client, legendary star Barbara Stanwyck: "I just think Helen Ferguson is a great human being. She has unfailing good sense and has always given me the best representation possible."

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