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Movie Star Mystery Photo

September 18, 2009 |  9:00 am

Sept. 14, 2009, Mystery Photo
 Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Our mystery guest is Esther Ralston, above, in 1923.

Esther Ralston; Silent Era 'American Venus'

 January 21, 1994


Esther Ralston, the beautiful blonde "American Venus" of silent films, has died at the age of 91.

Miss Ralston, who appeared in about 150 films, died last Friday in her Ventura home after a short illness, her brother, Carleton Ralston of Los Angeles, announced Wednesday.

One of Miss Ralston's last public appearances was in September at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood for a showing of "Old Ironsides," a patriotic film set in the early 1800s that she made in 1926.

She had been designated to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council on April 8, her brother said.

A native of Bar Harbor, Me., Miss Ralston began performing at the age of 2 with prominent billing in the family theatrical troupe, the Ralston Family Metropolitan Entertainers With Baby Esther, America's Youngest Juliet.

She made her screen debut in 1916 in "Phantom Fortunes" and took several small roles until she was picked to play Mrs. Darling in the 1925 version of "Peter Pan."

Miss Ralston soon became one of the highest-paid actresses in silent films. She was publicized as the "American Venus," the title of a film she made in 1926. She also earned the appellation of "Paramount Clotheshorse," known for her extravagant lifestyle, which included riding about in a Rolls-Royce with a chauffeur uniformed in whatever color matched her dress.

Her credits included "Huckleberry Finn," "Oliver Twist," "Beggar on Horseback," "A Kiss for Cinderella" and "Children of Divorce."

Miss Ralston played the Palace twice, headlining in the top vaudevillian venue as the "Golden Girl of the Silver Screen."

Unlike many silent actresses, Miss Ralston moved easily into "talkies" and continued her film career until the early 1940s.

Later, she acted occasionally in radio soap operas. But after three failed marriages and the loss of her film fortune, she also supported herself working in a department store, a talent agency and an Upstate New York utility company.

Miss Ralston married and divorced George Webb, a publicist and agent; Will Morgan, who was with Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians, and newspaper columnist Ted Loyd.

In addition to her brother, she is survived by three children, Mary, Judy and Ted, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Just a reminder on how this works: I post the mystery photo on Monday and reveal the answer on Friday ... or on Saturday if I have a hard time picking only five pictures; sometimes it's difficult to choose. To keep the mystery photo from getting lost in the other entries, I move it from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday, etc., adding a photo every day.

I have to approve all comments, so if your guess is posted immediately, that means you're wrong. (And if a wrong guess has already been submitted by someone else, there's no point in submitting it again).

If you're right, you will have to wait until Friday. There's no need to submit your guess five times. Once is enough. The only prize is bragging rights. 

The answer to last week's mystery star: Lance Fuller!

Sept. 15, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Esther Ralston in "The Best People," 1925.

Here's another photo of our mystery guest. I have snipped out something to keep the playing field level.

Sept. 16, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Esther Ralston in "Mister Dynamite," 1935.

Here's another picture of our mystery guest. Please congratulate Eve Golden, Suzy Q and Mary Mallory for identifying her! Tilting a portrait to turn it into a one-column mug shot was standard procedure at The Times for decades.

Sept. 17, 2009, Mystery Photo
Los Angeles Times file photo

Update: Esther Ralston in an undated photo, modeling a hat she designed.

Here's another photo of our mystery guest. Please congratulate Mike Hawks for identifying her!

Sept. 18, 2009, Mystery Photo Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Esther Ralston in 1979.