Born into the upper class of New York City, she dropped out of high school and began looking for work as an actress. She quickly found work as a model and in advertising shorts, then in 1916 began playing extras in New York-based feature films. She debuted as an actress in Hate (1917), and within two years was playing leading ladies. A successful performance in Sentimental Tommy (1921) led to an invitation to Hollywood; already an established star when she was subsequently signed by Paramount, she increased her popularity playing innocent heroines. In 1923 she refused to appear scantily-dressed in a Cecil B. DeMille film, after which she had fewer and less important roles. She bought out her contract and began free-lancing at high prices; intelligent and discriminating in her choice of movies, she did very well. She made history by playing Al Jolson's leading lady in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first major talkie. She retired from the screen to get married in 1929; some have suggested that her career ended in the sound era because she lisped, but she denied this. In 1940 she was signed by MGM, but appeared only as an extra and in bit parts in a handful of films over the next two decades; it is said she signed to work as a lark.