Richard Barthelmess endeavored to follow the family tradition established by his actress mother Carolyn Harris, appearing in amateur theatricals while attending Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1916, the 21-year-old Barthelmess was invited to appear in films by a family friend, actress Alla Nazimova. His first film was the silent serial Gloria's Romance (1916). He joined D.W. Griffith's company in 1918 at the behest of Dorothy Gish, appearing opposite Dorothy's sister Lillian in the 1919 Griffith classic Broken Blossoms. Though he played a Chinese holy man in this film, Barthelmess was generally found in all-American roles; many historians consider his portrayal of a backwoods teen-aged mail carrier in Tol'able David (1921) (produced by Barthelmess' own Inspiration Film Co.) to be his finest effort. During the 1920s, Barthelmess was one of the biggest stars at First National Studios, pulling down $375,000 per year for such vehicles as The Patent Leather Kid and The Drop Kick (both 1927). He remained with First National when it was absorbed by Warner Bros. in 1928, continuing to star in such early talkies as The Dawn Patrol (1930) and Cabin in the Cotton (1932). Despite possessing a high, reedy voice, Barthelmess made a successful transition to sound; but after so many years on top, his popularity inevitably began to wane in the early 1930s. His last film performances were in character roles, often unsympathetic in nature; he was particularly effective as the disgraced pilot in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939). After serving as a lieutenant commander in World War II, Richard Barthelmess retired to a wealthy, comfortable existence, thanks to wise real-estate investments in the Long Island area.