May 17, 2016

Helen Vinson

Helen Vinson was born Helen Rulfs in Beaumont on September 17, 1907, the daughter of an oil company executive. The family eventually settled in Houston, where her passion for acting was ignited. While in her teens, she married Harry N. Vickerman, a man fifteen years her senior, who came from a well-to-do Philadelphia family. Although she was not accepted into the drama department of the University of Texas, she persevered by earning parts in local theater productions. She eventually made her Broadway debut in a walk-on role in a production entitled Los Angeles (1927). The stock market crash of 1929 ruined her husband's business and the stress and anguish precipitated divorce proceedings after only five years. Helen gained further notice on Broadway in Berlin starring Sydney Greenstreet and The Fatal Alibi (1932) with Charles Laughton. During this time she was also noticed by Warner Brothers talent scouts who ushered the svelte blonde straight to Hollywood.

She played both lead and support roles in pre-Code films, making a strong impression trading insults as the aloof "other woman". Often unsympathetic, self-involved and frequently backstabbing, she was not above using her feminine wiles to get her way. She played Kay Francis' epicurean friend in the mild comedy Jewel Robbery (1932), and stood between Loretta Young and David Manners happiness as his wealthy fiancée in the soap-styled drama They Call It Sin (1932). In the classic I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), she had a role as the stylish woman Paul Muni leaves Glenda Farrell for.

More film work came Helen's way alongside some of Hollywood's most popular and virile leading men. She played Warner Baxter's castoff wife in Frank Capra's Broadway Bill (1934) and Gary Cooper's problematic mate in The Wedding Night (1935). She appeared with Charles Boyer in Private Worlds (1935); Humphrey Bogart in Two Against the World (1936); James Cagney in Torrid Zone (1940) and even lightened it up a little bit in the Bob Hope/Paulette Goddard comedy Nothing But the Truth (1941). One of Helen's best known film roles, however, came with the plush drama In Name Only (1939) starring Cary Grant and Carole Lombard.

When Helen married British Wimbledon tennis champion Fred Perry in 1935, she moved to England. While there she made the films Trans-Atlantic Tunnel (1935), King of the Damned (1935) and Love in Exile (1936), which resulted in little fanfare. They relocated to Los Angeles a couple of years later so she could find more work, and Perry also hoped he could parlay his sports fame into a movie career. Their highly publicized marriage was short-lived, lasting only five years after Perry failed to click onscreen. After marrying her third husband, stockbroker Donald Hardenbrook, in 1945, Helen gave up her career completely according to the wishes of her husband. The couple remained together until his death in 1976. She had no children from her three marriages. For the remainder of her life, she split home life in both Chapel Hill, North Carolina and on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Helen passed away in Chapel Hill in 1999 of natural causes at the age of 92 and was buried in the Rulfs family plot in Nacogdoches, Texas.

GPS Coordinates
31° 36.197, -094°° 38.885

Oak Grove Cemetery

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