A list of Betty's movies can be found at the Internet Movie Database. This doesn't list some of the films mentioned in these pages; on the other hand the database does mention 1962's Who's Got the Action? in which she is supposed to play the part of the wife of Judge Boatwright. I can't see her in that film though.
Very few of Betty's films are now available: in fact, Peter Pan is the only one
easily obtained now in which she has a major role.
Are Parents People? has moments of good humour, such as when Lita and her school roommate are lightening quick to portray how absorbed they are in their homework when the stuffy school mistress makes an unexpected visit to their room, hoping to catch them not studying. And as William Everson mentions in American Silent Film, there is some creative filming when, for example, Lita considers whether to run away from home, which we see only by how her ankles swivel and cross as she walks to her door wondering whether she should go ahead with her plan.
In this film we see Betty post Peter Pan's boyishness. She still shows the
style of Peter Pan, but at the same time is beginning to portray a young lady dressed in
the fashions of the twenties.
Mary's appearance sidesaddle on a donkey has a magnetism that takes all those who see her by surprise, such as the stable owner who changes his mind and finds room for them after initially demanding that they sleep under the stars like all the other visitors to Bethlehem. The filming here is very attractive, as shown by for instance the doves that flutter about Mary as Joseph leads her donkey along. The understatement of several scenes is especially well done. The camera panning along with the tired legs of both Joseph and the donkey as they walk toward the stable is very effective, as are the few seconds showing just Mary's hand as she touches a rail in the stable and declares "The place is sanctified".
The Nativity scene itself is really very beautiful, and was shown in colour along with several other key scenes (apart from the chariot race, for which about 40 hours of film was condensed into ten minutes on screen: the cost of doing this in colour would've been astronomical!).
Betty's calm composure forms the centre of this first part of Ben-Hur, from her tired
bent-over figure on the donkey to her central position in the stable, complete with
beautiful halo and wonderful colours.
In The Singing Fool, Betty plays the part of waitress Grace, secretly in love with singer Al Stone (Jolson) who has rescued her from a patron's amorous advances early in the film. She stands by Al in his hour of need as his farcical marriage falls apart, shyly telling him to look beyond the current problems he is having.
Betty's appearances in this movie are sprinkled throughout, which is a pity since it means we need to sift through what feels like an interminable amount of watching Jolson be Jolson. They didn't work well together, which says a lot for Betty. She doesn't sing in this movie (although one web site with no contact details says she does; a bad case of Chinese whispers, since that site has clearly gotten its information from this one!).
Although Betty had a perfectly good voice for talkies, her real talent lay in
pantomime, and the parts she played in the late twenties were not enough to showcase her
abilities to any great extent.
Betty is not involved with this; she plays the secondary, likable role of innocent Helen Reagan, beloved sister of the husband. She has walked into a complicated web by wishing to run off with the man who unbeknown to her is her sister-in-law's old flame, whom her brother and his wife both detest, though each for their own reasons. But she knows nothing of this past history.
Betty looks like she's having fun playing her part in this film, and she has a good
manner. For example when she first appears, where she and her brother are kidding
each other about the jewelry he has bought for his wife. "Oh dear, to be loved, to
be smothered in diamonds, and rubies and furs!" she says. "Jealous?" he asks.
"Me? I should say not!" she replies. This was a good role and Betty displayed
a style that suited it well.
Betty plays Mamie Goltz, the hard-working daughter of a local mean spirited shop owner who cares little for her future. She catches the eye of smooth talking Harvey, who buys a box of sweets from her, asks her to engrave it for his sweetheart (to Mamie's dismay), and then presents it to her. Although he sees her at first as something akin to just another conquest, he soon falls in love with her as she has already done with him. Meanwhile, Mamie's father has decided to marry her off to a man she detests, but Harvey saves the day at the last minute by appearing with the local celebrant, who marries them and sends them off into the sunset.
The Medicine Man is an easy film to watch. Betty has a dominant role, certainly
very much bigger than in The Singing Fool and The Locked Door, and with a lot more
speech. She always carries this off in the same delicate way in which she typically
plays her parts.
Betty appears briefly in two scenes at the end of the film as the wife of the mayor of
New York. Apple Annie has had no choice but to arrange a society party, which looks
like it might fail, but is saved at the last moment thanks to some wrangling on the part
of Dave the Dude when New York's glitterati shows up. Specially briefed by "the
Dude"--leaving Apple Annie speechless--the city's notables all play their parts in setting
her up in her role-for-a-night. We can see the obvious fun Betty's having as she
makes her entry to the party arm in arm with the mayor after being announced, and she
pretty obviously was relishing her return to the cameras.
In Betty's initial appearance welcoming Kelly to her house, we can see the ease with
which she uses her trademark body gestures to play the role as she did so well in the days
of the silents. She recites a poem about a family heirloom to Kelly, then takes her
by the hand and presents her to the mirror in the boarding room, telling her that Kelly's
best reference as a would-be boarder is her honest face, and then speaking of her own one
time fiance who was killed in the war of twenty years before. A good movie and a
good role, but again far too short!
Betty has a cameo in this movie, as one of the Foy children's long suffering
schoolteachers. She appears only briefly: first, as the placid teacher listening
attentively to one of the Foy girls during a classroom speech session, only to leap onto
her chair screaming when the girl accidentally sets a pet mouse free; and later, she
appears again with the rest of the teachers gathered in the principal's office after it
has been decided that the children are just too much to handle. There, as was her
way, Betty delivers her short dialogue with carefully enunciated style.
Betty was silent film and stage material par excellence in that she was so very suited to using her body to communicate and express emotion in a way that went out of fashion with the coming of talkies. Her silent film work was part of a style of performance that sadly really vanished at the end of the twenties.
Few forms of entertainment have ever vanished: music and orchestras survive, and modern films are certainly in no danger. But the silents, with their expressive faces and full body movements, really disappeared. A whole trade was gone, wiped out almost overnight with the arrival of sound, along with the warm sepia tones that proved to be incompatible with the new sound technology.
There was still stage work of course for silent film players, but the niche itself had gone, and like so many others, Betty made her career just when these changes were under way.
The roll call of Betty's films is all too short here, and we can only hope that more
will one day turn up to be seen by a new generation of silent movie fans.
Life beyond the movies
Betty's available films
This site is copyright © 2001 Don Koks.