Virginia Bruce

Virginia Bruce


Also Known As
Helen Virginia Briggs
Birth Place
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
September 29, 1910


Virginia Bruce was a pretty, dreamy-eyed blonde with a vibrant soprano who seemed poised for major stardom yet never quite reached those heights, possibly because of a turbulent personal life. Her chief distinctions were playing the archetypal chorus girl in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), introducing Cole Porter?s ?I?ve Got You Under My Skin? in Born to Dance (1936) and, in real life, becomi...

Family & Companions

J Walter Ruben


Virginia Bruce was a pretty, dreamy-eyed blonde with a vibrant soprano who seemed poised for major stardom yet never quite reached those heights, possibly because of a turbulent personal life. Her chief distinctions were playing the archetypal chorus girl in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), introducing Cole Porter?s ?I?ve Got You Under My Skin? in Born to Dance (1936) and, in real life, becoming the fourth and final wife of silent-screen matinee idol John Gilbert. In addition to Gilbert she appeared onscreen with such leading men as James Stewart, Robert Taylor, James Cagney, Robert Montgomery and William Powell.

Bruce was born Helen Virginia Briggs in 1910 in Minneapolis, Minn. She moved with her family to Los Angeles, planning on attending the University of California but finding film work instead. She began in movies as an extra in 1929 and received her first screen credit in Slightly Scarlet (1930). In 1930 alone she performed in 10 more films, and in 1931 mixed Broadway appearances with her screen work. She became one of the 20 original ?Goldwyn Girls,? a musical stock company employed by Samuel Goldwyn to appear in musical films of the early ?30s.

It was while filming Downstairs (1932) at MGM that Bruce met John Gilbert, the star of the movie, and married him. Gilbert?s career had suffered from the advent of silent films, and he was struggling with alcoholism. The couple was divorced in 1934 after having a daughter, Susan Ann. (Gilbert died in 1936, at only 38.) Also at MGM, Bruce acted opposite Walter Huston in Kongo (1932), a well-received remake of the 1928 West of Zanzibar. At Monogram Pictures she was the first actress to play the title role in a sound version of Jane Eyre (1934), and for United Artists she played singer Jenny Lind to Wallace Beery?s impresario P.T. Barnum in The Mighty Barnum (1934).

Bruce?s banner year of 1936 at MGM with Born to Dance and The Great Ziegfeld was also the beginning of her downfall at the studio because Irving Thalberg, the young and dynamic producer who had been her mentor, died that autumn. It was said that studio head Louis B. Mayer had despised John Gilbert and transferred some of those feelings to his former wife. At any rate, Bruce?s roles began to diminish in such films as The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937), a Western in which she supported Beery, the film?s star. That movie introduced Bruce to her second husband, director J. Walter Ruben, and they remained a couple until his death in 1942. Bruce?s son by Ruben, Christopher, was born in 1941.

Bruce provides romantic interest for Melvyn Douglas in the title role in Arsène Lupin Returns and for Fredric March in There Goes My Heart (both 1938). Things looked up a bit in the patriotic musical Western Let Freedom Ring (1939), with Bruce playing opposite Nelson Eddy in a role once meant for Jeanette MacDonald; but she shares only a couple of songs, leaving Eddy to dominate. Bruce moved to Warner Bros. for Society Lawyer (1939) and Flight Angels (1940), but these were ?B? pictures that did little to restore her diminishing career.

In 1946 she married Turkish film writer Ali Ipar; they divorced in 1951, remarried in 1952 and divorced again in 1964. Bruce remained active in minor film roles and, later, on television through the 1940s and ?50s. On TV she landed an occasional plum such as the title role in Mildred Pierce on ?Lux Video Theater? in 1956. Her final big-screen appearance, after having made only one other movie in 26 years, was a bizarre one ? Andy Warhol?s Madame Wang?s (1981), in which she plays punk-club owner Madame Wang. She died in 1982 in Woodland Hills, Calif. Author Scott O?Brien details her personal struggles in his 2008 biography Virginia Bruce ? Under My Skin.



Cast (Feature Film)

Madame Wang's (1981)
Madame Wang
Strangers When We Meet (1960)
Mrs. Wagner
Two Grooms for a Bride (1957)
Dr. Laura Weeks
State Department File 649 (1949)
Marge [Waldon]
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948)
Love, Honor and Goodbye (1945)
Roberta Baxter, also known as Fleurette
Brazil (1944)
Nicky Henderson
Action in Arabia (1944)
Butch Minds the Baby (1942)
Susie O'Neill
Careful Soft Shoulder (1942)
Connie Mathers
Pardon My Sarong (1942)
Joan Marshall
Adventure in Washington (1941)
Jane Scott
The Man Who Talked Too Much (1940)
Joan Reed
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Kitty Carroll
Flight Angels (1940)
Mary Norvell
Hired Wife (1940)
Phyllis Walden
Society Lawyer (1939)
Pat Abbott
Let Freedom Ring (1939)
Maggie Adams
Stronger Than Desire (1939)
Elizabeth Flagg
There's That Woman Again (1938)
Sally Reardon
There Goes My Heart (1938)
Joan Butterfield [also known as Joan Baker]
The First Hundred Years (1938)
Lynn [Claymore] Conway
Woman Against Woman (1938)
Maris [Jenny] Kent [Holland]
Arsene Lupin Returns (1938)
Lorraine de Grissac
Yellow Jack (1938)
Frances Blake
The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937)
Loretta Douglas
When Love Is Young (1937)
Wanda Werner
Women of Glamour (1937)
Gloria Hudson
Wife, Doctor and Nurse (1937)
Steve [Miss Stephens]
Between Two Women (1937)
Patricia Sloan
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Audrey Dane
The Garden Murder Case (1936)
Zalia Graem
Born to Dance (1936)
Lucy James
Times Square Lady (1935)
Toni Bradley
Let 'Em Have It (1935)
Eleanor Spencer
Murder Man (1935)
Mary Shannon
Here Comes the Band (1935)
Margaret [Jones]
Shadow of Doubt (1935)
Trenna [Plaice]
Metropolitan (1935)
Anne Merrill [Beaconhill]
Society Doctor (1935)
Madge [Wilson]
Escapade (1935)
Gerta [Keller]
Jane Eyre (1934)
Jane Eyre
Dangerous Corner (1934)
Ann [Peel]
The Mighty Barnum (1934)
Jenny Lind
The Miracle Man (1932)
Margaret Thornton
A Scarlet Week-End (1932)
Winner Take All (1932)
Joan Gibson
Downstairs (1932)
Kongo (1932)
Ann [Whitehall]
Sky Bride (1932)
Ruth Dunning
Paramount on Parade (1930)
Only the Brave (1930)
Safety in Numbers (1930)
Alma McGregor
Slightly Scarlet (1930)
Enid Corbett
Young Eagles (1930)
Florence Welford
Whoopee! (1930)
Galas de la Paramount (1930)
Lilies of the Field (1930)
The Love Parade (1930)
Woman Trap (1929)

Music (Special)

You're the Top: The Cole Porter Story (1990)
Song Performer

Cast (Short)

Cavalcade of the Academy Awards (1940)
Hollywood Hobbies (1939)
Hollywood Goes to Town (1938)
"Behind the Movie Lens" Subject: On Location with The Bad Man (1937)
A Dream Comes True The Making of an Unusual Motion Picture (1935)
Pirate Party on Catalina Isle (1935)

Life Events

Photo Collections

Flight Angels - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for Warner Bros' Flight Angels (1940). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.


Movie Clip

Arsene Lupin Returns (1938) -- (Movie Clip) I'm Out Of Circulation Joining Melvyn Douglas, as gentleman farmer Farrand in France, though we suspect he’s the jewel-thief title character, visited by pals (Nat Pendleton as Joe, E.E. Clive as Alf) about a New York heist, then by the almost-victim, his neighbor-girlfriend Lorraine (Virginia Bruce) and her private sleuth pal Steve (Warren William), in MGM’s Arsene Lupin Returns, 1938.
Arsene Lupin Returns (1938) -- (Movie Clip) The Gentleman With The Gun Hot-shot New York federal lawman Steve Emerson (Warren William), who just quit because he was getting too much publicity, attends to his first private client, Jack Norton the hotel manager, Virginia Bruce, Monty Woolley and John Halliday the bound crime victims, in Arsene Lupin Returns, 1938, starring Melvyn Douglas in the title role.
Arsene Lupin Returns (1938) -- (Movie Clip) France Will Reward You Arriving in Paris, Virginia Bruce as Lorraine, Monty Woolley her cousin, John Halliday her uncle, and Warren William the private eye from New York brought to investigate the attempted theft of their major jewel, greeted by her beau, Melvyn Douglas as the title character, though that hasn’t been revealed, George Davis the guard restraining him, in Arsene Lupin Returns, 1938.
Murder Man, The (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Cynical Drunken Bum First appearance for the much sought after murder specialist reporter Steve Grey (Spencer Tracy), returned from a bender and visiting Mary (Virginia Bruce) and Robins (Robert Barrat) in the newsroom, in The Murder Man, 1935.
Murder Man, The (1936) -- (Movie Clip) I'll Be At Sing Sing Advice columnist Mary (Virginia Bruce) drops in on vacationing crime reporter Steve (Spencer Tracy), not realizing Shorty (James Stewart) has arrived in her rumble seat with a message from their editor, in The Murder Man, 1935.
Kongo (1932) -- (Movie Clip) The Swamp Is Wholesome Compared To You Having sent an assistant in a goofy mask to frighten the simple natives, Walter Huston as crippled ivory trader Flint abuses Virginia Bruce as Ann, the daughter of a rival whom he snatched years earlier from a convent school, his mistress Lupe Velez asking mercy, in MGM’s nasty pre-Code Kongo, 1932.
Kongo (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Have You Ever Seen Such An Adonis? Opening MGM’s pre-Code dark jungle revenge-exploitation drama, Walter Huston is Flint, with aides Cookie and Hogan (Forrester Harvey, Mitchell Lewis) Lupe Velez his mistress Tula, his motives not yet clear but his character well-drawn, William Cowen directing, in Kongo, 1932.
Let Freedom Ring (1939) -- (Movie Clip) Working On The Railroad Railroad baron Knox (Edward Arnold) separates Maggie (Virginia Bruce), top citizen of the Western town he’s taken over, from friend Rutledge (H.B. Warner), then some chat about not-yet-seen star Nelson Eddy, then the arrival of labor enforcer Mulligan (Victor McLaglen), in MGM’s Let Freedom Ring, 1939.
Great Ziegfeld, The (1936) -- (Movie Clip) A Pretty Girl The second of two shots by cinematographer Ray June making up the famous Wedding Cake number, Virginia Bruce at the top, with Irving Berlin's A Pretty Girl, leading up to the intermission in MGM's The Great Ziegfeld, 1936.
Downstairs (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Complete Satisfaction In a screen story he wrote for himself, John Gilbert (as Austrian chauffeur Karl), arrives and plays the consummate cad, with a maid (Marion Lessing), a bride (Virgina Bruce), a Countess (Hedda Hopper) and a Baroness (Olga Baclanova), opening Downstairs, 1932.
Downstairs (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Forgive Me For Watching You First day on the job, conniving chauffeur Karl (John Gilbert) insinuates himself with just-married maid Anna (Virginia Bruce, who was Mrs. Gilbert at the time), her honeymoon on hold, as her husband, butler Albert (Paul Lukas) is required for emergency service, in Downstairs, 1932.


J Walter Ruben