Rosetta Brice

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Rosetta Dewart Brice (a.k.a. Betty Brice) was born on the 4th of August, 1888 (not 1892 as often reported), the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Lincoln Brice, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. She was raised in Washington, D.C. and completed her education there. A striking young woman with Titian-red hair, green eyes, and a petite 5’6”, 124 lb. figure, Miss Brice showed considerable dramatic talent in her youth and received training for the stage as well. After making her theatrical debut in Washington at the age of fifteen, she went on to appear in numerous stock company productions in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

In 1913, while performing with the Orpheum Stock Company at the Rosetta Brice2Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, Miss Brice decided that she wanted to try acting in movies and requested an interview with the general manager of the Lubin Film Company. After putting the actress through a screen test, Ira M. Lowry immediately offered her a job. Miss Brice would later frankly admit that she entered movies so she could watch herself act. “In a general sort of way I knew how I acted,” she told a reporter for the Dramatic Mirror in 1915, “but I never saw myself….[and] I’ve never gotten over it, and I daresay I never will fail to feel that little thrill that comes when I see myself on the screen.”

Her first role for Lubin, and her first appearance in a motion picture, came in the Betzwood production of The Price of Victory, a two-reel Civil War drama made in the summer of 1913. Her first day on the job found Miss Brice dressed in 1860s attire, jumping fully clothed into the Perkiomen Creek to play a scene in which the heroine valiantly blows up a bridge during a pitched battle and is killed by the collapsing timbers. Far from being put off by the physical rigors of her new venture, the actress was exhilarated. An athletic woman, who loved to ride and swim, she reveled in the pleasures of “the outdoor life” that working at the Betzwood studio provided. In addition to The Price of Victory, her Betzwood film with Thurston Hall and Octavia Handworth, Sweeter Than Revenge, also survives.

Rosetta Brice had a feisty independent streak, a fiery temper, and was not bound by conventional standards of feminine behavior.  In 1908, at the age of twenty, her engagement to society scion, Horace Carpentier Hurlbutt, was announced in the Washington newspapers. When her fiancé objected to her acting career, she broke off the engagement and abruptly married John O. La Gorce, Secretary of the National Geographic Society, instead. That marriage ended in divorce after only a few years. In 1915, she was hauled into court in Philadelphia by a man who claimed that she had stolen two diamond rings from him. Her defiant attitude in court created a minor sensation in the press. She was equally defiant when asked by a Dramatic Mirror reporter in 1915 whether movie actresses had loose morals. Already well-known at the studio for the wild parties she occasionally threw, the actress firmly stated that “Morals are traits that each and every woman must define for herself.  Certainly a woman’s profession is not indicative of her morals!”

When the Lubin Company hired a new actor/director, John H. Pratt, in 1915, Rosetta Brice was placed under his direction. Pratt guided her through several successful films and her work for Lubin generally received high marks from movie critics. Their close work together soon led to a marriage between Miss Brice and the much older “Smiling Jack” Pratt.  The couple continued to work for Lubin until the company folded in 1916, after which both returned to the theater. Eventually they went to Los Angeles to resume working in movies.

For reasons unknown, Miss Brice stopped appearing in films in the early 1920s, though her husband continued to seek work as an actor. Her final role was a minor character in the 1924 production of Beau Brummel, with John Barrymore. She died in van Nuys, California, on February 15th, 1935, at the age of forty-six.

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