Richard Barthelmess

Richard Barthelmess


Also Known As
Richard Semler Barthelmess
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
May 09, 1895
August 17, 1963
Cause of Death
Throat Cancer


One of the bright lights of the silent era, Richard Barthelmess began in supporting roles and gradually worked his way up to lead parts. He hit the big time with D.W. Griffith's hit film "Broken Blossoms or the Yellow Man and the Girl" (1919), in which he gave a compelling performance as a Chinese man in love with a Caucasian woman (Lillian Gish). The following year, he reunited with Gri...

Photos & Videos

Only Angels Have Wings - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Broken Blossoms - Lobby Cards
The Dawn Patrol (1930) - Behind-the-Scenes Photo

Family & Companions

Mary Hay
Ziegfeld chorus girl. Born in Fort Bliss, Texas on August 22, 1901; married in June 1920; divorced in 1926; died in Inverness, California on June 4, 1957.
Jessica Stewart Sargent
Married in 1929; survived him.


One of the bright lights of the silent era, Richard Barthelmess began in supporting roles and gradually worked his way up to lead parts. He hit the big time with D.W. Griffith's hit film "Broken Blossoms or the Yellow Man and the Girl" (1919), in which he gave a compelling performance as a Chinese man in love with a Caucasian woman (Lillian Gish). The following year, he reunited with Griffith and Gish for "Way Down East" (1920), the highlight of which featured Barthelmess risking his life for real by jumping from one unsteady ice floe to another in the midst of a winter storm. The New York native continued his string of successes with pictures like "Tol'able David" (1921) and was one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Although he made the transition to talkies, his popularity eventually began to wane. To try and ensure continued employment, Barthelmess underwent plastic surgery, but the procedure failed and left him scarred. After three years away from acting, Howard Hawks convinced him to return in "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939) and Barthelmess gave a strong turn with his facial imperfections in plain view at the director's request. Largely forgotten in later years, Barthelmess deserved the notoriety he gained at the height of his career and was also worthy of later celebration beyond the core of silent film enthusiasts who helped keep his memory alive.

Richard Semler Barthelmess was born in Southampton, NY on May 9, 1895. His mother, Caroline Harris, was a veteran stage actress and Barthelmess decided to try his hand at acting while attending Trinity College. Some work as an extra led to Barthelmess making his official film debut in "War Brides" (1916), he found additional parts in such pictures as "The Streets of Illusion" (1917) and "Rich Man, Poor Man" (1918). The handsome young performer demonstrated sufficient poise and charisma that he progressed to lead roles in the likes of "Three Men and a Girl" (1919) and "Peppy Polly" (1919). Around this same this same time, Barthelmess began collaborating with acclaimed director D.W. Griffith, who went on to helm two of his best remembered vehicles. Barthelmess' fame skyrocketed when he was cast in Griffith's "Broken Blossoms or the Yellow Man and the Girl" (1919). As the empathetic "Yellow Man" of the title, Barthelmess portrayal of a Chinese man seemed awkward and politically incorrect in later years, but his interpretation captivated audiences of the time, as did the film's flirtation with the theme of forbidden love between that character and heroine Lillian Gish, who would later say her co-star possessed "the most beautiful face of any man who ever went before the camera."

Among the most famous silent movies of its era, Griffith's "Way Down East" (1920) featured an incredible and classic scene where Barthelmess saves co-star Gish by jumping across a series of ice flows and grabbing the stricken heroine just before she goes over a waterfall to certain death. Performed in the middle of a very real winter with no stunt doubles, the masterfully shot and edited sequence beautifully displayed its director's advanced techniques and, perhaps, lack of concern for the safety on the set. One of Barthelmess' co-stars in "Way Down East" was Mary Hay and he married the actress and former Ziegfeld girl in 1920. The couple went on to have a daughter during their seven years together. Now among the most popular and highest-paid performers, Barthelmess decided to take a more hands-on role in producing his movies by co-founding Inspiration Pictures. He starred in the company's first production, "Tol'able David" (1921), as a young man who takes revenge against a family of criminals. The movie was a major success and Barthelmess followed up with the several other strong efforts, including the adventure "Fury" (1923) and the touching romantic drama "The Enchanted Cottage" (1924). He also joined Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson, Dorothy Gish, Ethel Barrymore and other luminaries of the period in a short adaptation of Alexander Dumas' "Camille" (1926).

One of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Barthelmess was represented in the line-up for the first Academy Awards ceremony and, ironically, competed against himself. He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for both "The Patent Leather Kid" (1927) and "The Noose" (1928) and ended up losing to Emil Jannings, who was also nominated for two different productions simultaneously. Barthelmess and Hay divorced in 1927, and the actor wasted no time remarrying Jessica Sargent the following year, who would remain his wife for the remainder of his life. The drama "Scarlet Seas" (1928) was the actor's first sound feature and he had little difficulty adjusting to a medium that had spelled career doom for a number of previously popular headliners. Barthelmess found steady employment at Warner Bros./First National, where he toplined such enterprises as Howard Hawks' World War I actioner "The Dawn Patrol" (1930) and the racial prejudice drama "Son of the Gods" (1930), where he played a Chinese man who could pass for white. Also of note was "The Cabin in the Cotton" (1932), an early outing for up-and-comer Bette Davis, and Barthelmess had one his best parts in William A. Wellman 's affecting drama "Heroes for Sale" (1933), as a man who manages to continue moving forward despite being constantly beaten down by life.

He was given another chance to portray a different ethnicity in "Massacre" (1934), as a Sioux Indian-rodeo star who helps his people counter discrimination, before the actor traveled to Britain to topline the costume drama "Spy of Napoleon" (1936). While he did quality work more often than not, Barthelmess' drawing power had started to fade. In an effort to retain his youth, he had plastic surgery, but an infection resulted in scarring that could only be hidden with make-up. After an absence of three years, Barthelmess resumed silver screen duties with a strong supporting turn in the Howard Hawks adventure "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939). In the film, he played a pilot who was disfigured; not surprisingly, Barthelmess left the facial blemishes intact in order to sell that aspect of the character. The quality of his performance helped earn him additional roles in the courtroom drama "The Man Who Talked too Much" (1940) and the John Wayne/Randolph Scott oater "The Spoilers" (1942). Following his appearance in the RKO musical "The Mayor of 44th Street" (1942), Barthelmess left show business behind to help with America's war effort, serving in the Naval Reserve. When the fighting concluded, Barthelmess, who had decided that he no longer enjoyed making movies, became a private citizen and lived off his accumulated wealth, which included sizeable real estate holdings. He was content to remain out of the spotlight during his later years, though Barthelmess did write in to correct a New York newspaper that had referred to him as deceased in 1959. Barthelmess succumbed to throat cancer on Aug. 17, 1963.

By John Charles



Cast (Feature Film)

The Great Chase (1962)
The Spoilers (1942)
Bronco Kid [Farrow]
The Mayor of 44th Street (1942)
Editor Kirby
The Man Who Talked Too Much (1940)
J. B. Roscoe
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Bat MacPherson
Four Hours to Kill! (1935)
Tony Mako
Massacre (1934)
Joe Thunder Horse
A Modern Hero (1934)
Pierre [Radier later known as Paul Rader]
Midnight Alibi (1934)
Lance McGowan/Robert Anders
Heroes for Sale (1933)
Tom [Holmes]
Central Airport (1933)
Jim [Blaine]
Alias the Doctor (1932)
Karl Muller
Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
Marvin Blake
The Finger Points (1931)
Breckinridge Lee
The Last Flight (1931)
Cary Lockwood
The Lash (1930)
Francisco Delfino
The Dawn Patrol (1930)
Dick Courtney
Son of the Gods (1930)
Sam Lee
The Show of Shows (1929)
Weary River (1929)
Young Nowheres (1929)
Albert Whalen [Binky]
Drag (1929)
David Carroll
Scarlet Seas (1929)
Out of the Ruins (1928)
Lieut. Pierre Dumont
Wheel of Chance (1928)
Nickolai Turkeltaub/Jacob Talinef [born Schmulka Turkeltaub]
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1928)
Chad Buford
The Noose (1928)
Nickie Elkins
The Patent Leather Kid (1927)
The Patent Leather Kid
The Drop Kick (1927)
Jock Hamill
Ranson's Folly (1926)
Lieutenant Ranson
The White Black Sheep (1926)
Robert Kincairn
The Amateur Gentleman (1926)
Barnabas Barty
Just Suppose (1926)
Prince Rupert
Soul-Fire (1925)
Eric Fane
New Toys (1925)
Will Webb
Shore Leave (1925)
"Bilge" Smith
The Beautiful City (1925)
Tony Gillardi
Classmates (1924)
Duncan Irving, Jr.
The Enchanted Cottage (1924)
Oliver Bashforth
Twenty-One (1923)
Julian McCullough
The Fighting Blade (1923)
Karl Van Kerstenbroock
The Bright Shawl (1923)
Charles Abbott, an American
Fury (1923)
Boy Leyton
The Seventh Day (1922)
John Alden, Jr.
Sonny (1922)
Sonny [Charles Crosby]/Joe
The Bond Boy (1922)
Peter Newbolt/Joe Newbolt, his son
Tol'able David (1921)
David Kinemon
Experience (1921)
The Love Flower (1920)
Bruce Sanders
The Idol Dancer (1920)
Dan McGuire
Way Down East (1920)
David Bartlett
Scarlet Days (1919)
Three Men and a Girl (1919)
Christopher Kent
Peppy Polly (1919)
Dr. James Merritt
I'll Get Him Yet (1919)
Scoop McCreedy
The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919)
Ralph Grey
Broken Blossoms (1919)
The Yellow Man
Boots (1919)
Hit-the-Trail Holliday (1918)
Bobby Jason
Wild Primrose (1918)
Jack Wilton
Rich Man, Poor Man (1918)
Bayard Varick
Sunshine Nan (1918)
MacPherson Clark
The Hope Chest (1918)
Tom Ballantyne
The Soul of a Magdalen (1917)
Louis Broulette
Bab's Diary (1917)
Tommy Gray
The Seven Swans (1917)
Prince Charming
Nearly Married (1917)
Dick Griffon
For Valour (1917)
Henry Nobbs
Bab's Burglar (1917)
Tommy Gray
The Valentine Girl (1917)
Robert Wentworth
The Moral Code (1917)
Gary Miller
The Eternal Sin (1917)
The Streets of Illusion (1917)
Donald Morton
Just a Song at Twilight (1916)
George Turner
War Brides (1916)

Cast (Short)

Starlit Days at the Lido (1935)
How I Play Golf by Bobby Jones No. 1 The Putter (1931)

Life Events


Film acting debut (bit) in serial, "Gloria's Romance"


Discovered by Russian actress Nazimova while she was being taught English by his mother; cast in leading role opposite her in "War Brides"


Founded Inspiration Pictures which produced some 15 features in five years; 12 starring Barthelmess, eight directed by Henry King


Sold Inspiration to First National, though some films continued to be released as Inspiration productions


Received Oscar nomination for first film under acting contract to First National, "The Patent Leather Kid"


Acted in his first talking picture, "Weary River"


Appeared on the New York stage in "The Postman Always Rings Twice"


Returned to film after almost four years to play supporting role in Howard Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings"


Last film, "The Spoilers"


Joined the Naval Reserve

Photo Collections

Only Angels Have Wings - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Only Angels Have Wings - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Broken Blossoms - Lobby Cards
Broken Blossoms - Lobby Cards
The Dawn Patrol (1930) - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a still taken behind-the-scenes during production of Howard Hawks' The Dawn Patrol (1930 - aka Flight Commander), starring Richard Barthelmess.
Richard Barthelmess - State Express Cigarette Card
This is a small cigarette card of actor Richard Barthelmess. These cards were included in Cigarette packs in the 1930s and were collectible items. Customers could even purchase books to organize and collect these cards. State Express was an active Cigarette Card producer, creating a wide range of cards featuring famous people of which film stars were an often popular draw.


Movie Clip

Spoilers, The (1942) -- (Movie Clip) You Disappointed Corpse, You! Nome, Alaska, 1900, with escort Bronco (Richard Barthelmess), saloon owner Cherry (Marlene Dietrich) meets boyfriend Roy (John Wayne) at the boat, not expecting pretty Helen (Margaret Lindsay) with her uncle the judge (Harry Carey), as clowny miners Flapjack and Banty (Russell Simpson, George Cleveland) get into trouble, in The Spoilers, 1942, from a Rex Beach novel.
Spoilers, The (1942) -- (Movie Clip) The Only Luck In Poker Evening in the saloon run by shimmering Cherry (Marlene Dietrich) in Nome, Alaska, who chats testily with her mine owner boyfriend Roy (John Wayne), who's just back in town, joined by the new gold commissioner McNamara (Randolph Scott), and trouble, in The Spoilers, 1942.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) -- (Movie Clip) This Is Mr. MacPherson New pilot MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) meets colleagues (Allyn Joslyn, John Carroll) then gets recognized by their none-too-pleased South American jungle airline boss Carter (Cary Grant) in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings, 1939.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) -- (Movie Clip) Same Old Goo Pilot Bat (Richard Barthelmess) launches on a dangerous flight as his wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) visits with his new boss, her old flame, Carter (Cary Grant) and Bonnie (Jean Arthur) drops by, in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings, 1939.
Weary River (1929) -- (Movie Clip) Members Only Neat opening from director Frank Lloyd finds Richard Barthelmess (Jerry) and Betty Compson (Alice) as popular denizens of a speakeasy which, we learn, he owns, as we also discover he’s maybe mobbed-up, in the First National/Warner Bros. part-talkie/Musical Weary River, 1929.
Weary River (1929) -- (Movie Clip) Sung By Its Composer Starting at the speakeasy owned by incarcerated Jerry (Richard Barthelmess), director Frank Lloyd travels via radio to the prison where he’s performing (title song by Louis Silvers and Grant Clarke), Betty Compson his girl, Louis Natheaux a snarky rival, in the part-talking Weary River. 1929.
Broken Blossoms (1919) -- (Movie Clip) Temple Of Buddha Following an opening establishing a "Chinese Treaty Port," D.W. Griffith introduces his maybe-protagonist, "The Yellow Man" (Richard Barthelmess), getting square with his deity before his trip to the West, in Broken Blossoms, 1919.


Only Angels Have Wings - (Original Trailer) Cary Grant heads a team of flyers in a mountainous South American country in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939).
Finger Points, The - (Original Trailer) A naive reporter (Richard Barthelmess) takes payoffs for keeping a prominent gangster out of the papers in The Finger Points (1931) co-starring Fay Wray.
Massacre - (Original Trailer) A college-educated Sioux (Richard Barthelmess) goes to Washington to fight for his people's rights in Massacre (1934).
Heroes For Sale - (Original Trailer) A war hero becomes a "forgotten man" after he loses his job in Heroes For Sale (1933).
Cabin In The Cotton, The - (Original Trailer) A sharecropper (Richard Barthelmess) fighting for better working conditions succumbs to the boss's seductive daughter (Bette Davis).
Alias the Doctor - (Original Trailer) Brothers with different work ethics clash while attending medical school in Alias the Doctor (1932) starring Richard Barthelmess.
Lash, The - (Original Trailer) A Spanish nobleman (Richard Barthelmess) in Southern California turns to robbery to help the peasants in The Lash (1930).
Modern Hero, A - (Original Trailer) Richard Barthelmess plays A Modern Hero (1934) in the only American talkie directed by G.W. Pabst (Pandora's Box).
Man Who Talked Too Much, The - (Original Trailer) A defense lawyer (George Brent) sets out to topple a powerful gangster in this remake of The Mouthpiece (1932).
Central Airport - (Original Trailer) A World War I flyer (Richard Barthelmess) can only find work as chauffeur to a lady sky diver in William Wellman's Central Airport (1933).
Last Flight, The - (Original Trailer) A group of American vets damaged by World War I live it up in Paris after the war in the Hemingway-inspired The Last Flight (1931).
Midnight Alibi - (Original Trailer) An elderly recluse shelters a gambler on the run from bogus murder charges in Midnight Alibi (1934) starring Richard Barthelmess.


Caroline Harris
Actor, vocal coach.
Mary Hay Bradley
Mother, Mary Hay.
Stewart Barthelmess
Born to second wife and adopted by Barthelmess when they married.


Mary Hay
Ziegfeld chorus girl. Born in Fort Bliss, Texas on August 22, 1901; married in June 1920; divorced in 1926; died in Inverness, California on June 4, 1957.
Jessica Stewart Sargent
Married in 1929; survived him.