Who Is Betty Jewel?
Close-Up of the Photo on the Wall
Who Is Betty Jewel?
There are photos that set themselves apart from all others, photos that draw you in by the mere power of their uniqueness, connecting and communing with something found buried within your own innermost reaches that identifies with that person in the photo. You can’t help looking at them more than once, because a passing glimpse does not satisfy the “whats” and “whys” that arise the second you stare at the face with an unknown, yet somehow familiar, ethos radiating from the face and eyes. The photo speaks volumes in a second, and you stare more than once wondering what it is about this person that is so mystifying and intriguing. And thus it is that I found myself sitting there in my favorite restaurant, the Cracker Barrel in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, having my breakfast, and there on the wall beside my table was just such a photo. Obviously dated, appearing to be from the twenties, a closer inspection showed a simple inscription beneath the photo of a woman attired in the luxuriously high fur collar so popular in the upper society of that long gone era. The words were brief. In the immediate center was the name, “Betty Jewel,” beneath which was written in slightly smaller type, “Film Star.” In even smaller type below this were the words, “Photograph by Eugene Robert Richee.” That is all there was...and now I had to ask, “Who is Betty Jewel?”
Betty Jewel - Film Star
Searching The Past
Was this just someone who had high hopes and aspirations, went to Hollywood, had a photo produced that made her look like she was a star, then disappeared, like countless others, into the dust bins of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises? Betty Jewel? Never heard of her. But the melodramatic pose in that photo pulled me in. She was either someone who had pretended she was a star, and the photo remained as a silent testimony to fruitless vanity and unrequited ego, or she was a star whose story was no longer being told. I had to know, because that pose and that face said that this lady deserved her day on stage. I dug into the past.
Famous Photo by Alfred Chaney Johnston
From Nebraska to Long Island
Betty Jewel did indeed make movies. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 29, 1899, her real name was Julia Baroni. At some point in her early years, she moved to Long Island, New York, where she studied at the Academy of St. Joseph. In 1907, Florenz Ziegfeld decided to copy the lavish shows of the Follies Bergeres of Paris, and he started the famous Ziegfeld Follies of Broadway. The Ziegfeld Follies would run from 1907 until 1931, so by the time the five-feet, four inches tall, one hundred and eighteen pounds that made up Julia Baroni was old enough to audition, the Ziegfeld Follies was the biggest show around. With her beautiful dark brown eyes and coal black hair, Julia won herself a spot with the Ziegfeld Follies show girls...and she was off to becoming a star.
From Julia Baroni to Betty Jewel
Julia Baroni got noticed by the right people, and she won some non-credited work in silent movies, one of which was having several scenes in “Way Down East,” which was released in 1920, making Julia just twenty-one, and already heading for that marquee. Next, she appeared in “Orphans of the Storm,” in 1921, but once again, she was not given any screen credits for her role. This did not stop her from pursuing her dream. Julia forged ahead, and at some point, adopted the stage name of Betty Jewel.
Photo From Broadway Brevities, August 1922Click thumbnail to view full-size
In 1922, she was featured on page 9 of the August 1922 Broadway Brevities wearing an enormous Marie Antoinette-style wig, and she is here listed as Actress Betty Jewel. Betty went on to make eight movies. She was Molly in “Mile-a-Minute Romeo,” 1923, followed by her character, Delores, in “The Silent Command” in 1923. 1925 brought her an untitled role in “The New Commandment,” and the same year, she played Belle in the movie, “Necessary Evil.” She played Hattie Potash in the 1926 hit, “Partners Again.” In 1927, she was featured in three movies, one as Dorothy King in “The Mysterious Rider,” the second as Janet Lane in “The Last Outlaw,” and she finished these three with her character of Ann Winslow in “Arizona Bound,” a film she shared with an upcoming young actor named Gary Cooper. That same year, she was photographed by the famous photographer, Alfred Chaney Johnston, who had photographed all of the Ziegfeld Follies girls, including Fanny Brice and Ruby Keeler, as well as such famous actors and actresses of that era as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles and Tallulah Bankhead, to name just a few. However, this is where the mystery begins, because the beautiful actress, Betty Jewel, never made another film after this. She disappears off the books, and the only note we find of her is that she died in Alton, Illinois, on October 20, 1963. The actress that D.W. Griffith had intended to make into the next Lilian Gish simply disappeared...never to be heard from again.
On The Wall At My Table
That Photo Has a New Fan
I know that I will go back to my favorite restaurant, the Cracker Barrel in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I will ask for the table that sits next to her picture on that wall. And I am going to look up at that melodramatic pose of that once very young, ambitious lady, and I am going to tell her this: “Betty Jewel, I know who your are, and you are indeed a star!”
September 13, 2017