Oscar Actors: Chatterton, Ruth–Social Background, Career, Awardstions

Research in Progress (Oct 3, 2021)
Ruth Chatterton  Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: upper middle; father architect


Family: Parents separated when she was young

Education: dropped out of school to pursue stage career, regional Milwakee, aged 16


Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut: 1911, age 19; big success in 1919; aged 27

Film Debut: Sins of the Fathers in 1928; aged 36

Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role:

Other Noms: 2 noms, Madam X, Sarah and Son, 1929 and 1930; aged 38 and 39

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image:

Last Film: A Royal Divorce, 1938; aged 46

Career Output: s

Film Career Span: 1928-1938, 10 years

Comeback: theater, novelist

Marriage: one actor; 3 husbands

Politics: NA

Death: 1968; aged 61

Ruth Chatterton was born on December 24, 1892 in New York City on Christmas Eve 1892 to Walter, an architect, and Lillian (née Reed) Chatterton.

She was of English and French extraction. Her parents separated while she was young. Chatterton attended Mrs. Hagen’s School in Pelham, New York.

In 1908, Chatterton and her friends attended a play in Washington, D.C., after which she criticized the lead actress; her friends challenged her to become stage actress herself or “shut up.”

A few days later, she joined the chorus of the stage show, and soon dropped out of school to pursue a stage career.  Aged 16, Chatterton joined the Friend Stock Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she remained for six months.

In 1911, age 19, Chatterton made her Broadway stage debut in “The Great Name.”

Her greatest success onstage came in 1914, when she starred in “Daddy Long Legs,” adapted from the novel by Jean Webster.

Chatterton married her first husband, actor Ralph Forbes in 1924 in Manhattan. They moved to Los Angeles, and with the help of Emil Jannings, she was cast in her first film, Sins of the Fathers in 1928. That same year, she was signed to a contract by Paramount Pictures, where she made her first sound film, The Doctor’s Secret, in 1929.

Later in 1929, Chatterton was loaned to MGM, where she starred in Madame X. The film was a critical and box-office success, for which Chatterton received her first Best Actress Oscar nomination.

In 1930, she starred in Sarah and Son, as an impoverished housewife who rises to fame and fortune as an opera singer. The film was another critical and financial success, and Chatterton received a second Best Actress nomination.

Later that year, Chatterton was voted the second female star, behind Norma Shearer, in a poll conducted by the West Coast film exhibitors.

In 1933, Chatterton starred in the successful Pre-Code comedy-drama Female. She left Paramount for Warner Bros., along with Kay Francis and William Powell.

She co-starred in the film Dodsworth (1936), for Samuel Goldwyn, her finest film, giving an Oscar-worthy performance, although she was not nominated.

Due to her age and the studios’ focus on younger, bankable stars, she moved to England and continued to star in films there.

Chatterton’s final film was A Royal Divorce (1938), after which she retired from the big screen and moved back East, where she lived with her third husband, Barry Thomson.

Stage Comeback

In 1940, she returned to the Broadway stage to star in John Van Druten’s Leave Her to Heaven. She continued acting in Broadway productions and appeared in the London production of The Constant Wife.


Chatterton raised French poodles and began a successful writing career. Her first novel, “Homeward Borne,” was published in 1950 and became a best seller.

She went on to write three more novels: The Betrayers (1953), The Pride of the Peacock (1954), and The Southern Wild (1958).

Chatterton came out of retirement in the 1950s, and appeared on TV in several plays, including an adaptation of “Dodsworth” on Prudential Playhouse, alongside Mary Astor and Walter Huston.

Her last TV appearance was as Gertrude in a 1953 adaptation of Hamlet, with Maurice Evans in the title role, on the anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame.

She died of a cerebral hemorrhage on November 24, 1961, age 68.