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Helen Twelvetrees

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Helen Twelvetrees
Studio portrait, 1933
Helen Marie Jurgens

December 25, 1908
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 13, 1958(1958-02-13) (aged 49)
Resting placeMiddletown Cemetery
EducationPublic School #119
Brooklyn Heights Seminary
Alma materAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1927–1951
Clark Twelvetrees
(m. 1927; div. 1931)
Frank Woody
(m. 1931; div. 1936)
Conrad Payne
(m. 1947⁠–⁠1958)

Helen Marie Twelvetrees (née Jurgens; December 25, 1908 – February 13, 1958) was an American actress. She starred in Hollywood films in the sound film era from 1929 to 1939. Many of her roles were of "suffering women". She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Movie Star Biography~Helen Twelvetrees
  • Millie (1931) | Pre-Code Drama | Helen Twelvetrees, Lilyan Tashman, Robert Ames
  • Thoroughbred (1936) | Full Movie | Helen Twelvetrees | Frank Leighton | John Longden
  • Ellery Queen in "The Spanish Cape Mystery" (1935) Donald Cook, Helen Twelvetrees, Berton Churchill
  • The Story of Temple Drake (1933)


Early life

Helen Marie Jurgens was born in Brooklyn, where she attended Public School 119. Her family moved to Flatbush, where her younger brother was born. In the winter of 1919, the family's four-bedroom apartment caught fire and her brother perished.[citation needed]

She attended Brooklyn Heights Seminary and then the Art Students League of New York, where she studied for a year before enrolling at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.[1] While attending AADA, she met actor Clark Twelvetrees, whom she married at age 19 in 1927. She adopted her husband's surname and used it as her professional name.[2]


Twelvetrees filming Thoroughbred in 1936

With some stage experience, Twelvetrees went to Hollywood with a number of other actors to replace the silent stars who could not or would not make the transition to talkies. Her first job was with Fox Film Corporation, and she appeared in The Ghost Talks (1929). After three films with Fox, she was released from her contract. However, she was signed by Pathé shortly thereafter, and along with Constance Bennett and Ann Harding, Twelvetrees starred in several lachrymose dramas, not all of which were critically acclaimed.

When Pathé was absorbed by RKO Radio Pictures, she found herself at various times miscast in mediocre films. With the arrival of Katharine Hepburn at RKO, Twelvetrees left the studio to freelance (Harding and Bennett would also subsequently depart).

The 1930 film Her Man set the course of Twelvetrees' screen career, and she was cast in a series of roles portraying suffering women fighting for the wrong men. Later she appeared with Spencer Tracy in Now I'll Tell (also known as When New York Sleeps); with Donald Cook in The Spanish Cape Mystery; and with Maurice Chevalier in Paramount's A Bedtime Story. She also starred in two Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films, which prompted author John Douglas Eames to note that she "had a gift for projecting emotional force with minimal visible effort."[3]

Helen Twelvetrees outside Cinesound Studios in Sydney, Australia (1936)

In 1936, Twelvetrees traveled to Australia to star in the Cinesound Studios production Thoroughbred, about the rise of a Melbourne Cup winning racehorse. The film was produced at Cinesound Studios in Bondi Junction. After filming completed, Twelvetrees returned home to Brooklyn, where she fell ill. After a slow recovery, she returned to acting in the USO production of The Man Who Came to Dinner.[4] She made her final two films, Persons in Hiding and Unmarried, in 1939.[5]

Twelvetrees left film in favor of summer stock and made her Broadway debut in Jacques Deval's Boudoir in 1941. The play folded after only 11 performances, and she largely retired after marrying for a third time. She continued to act occasionally, such as in the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire in summer stock in Sea Cliff, New York in August 1951.[5] Fellow cast member Naomi Caryl recalled that Twelvetrees had "... the saddest eyes I'd ever seen" and "... it was also obvious that she had an extremely fragile psyche."[6]

Personal life

Twelvetrees was married three times. She married her first husband, actor Clark Twelvetrees, in February 1927. During the marriage, her husband attempted suicide in the middle of a dinner party by jumping out of a Manhattan hotel window. He struck two awnings and then a parked taxi and was hospitalized for several months. In March 1930, she filed for divorce, citing mental cruelty.[7] During the divorce trial, Twelvetrees claimed that her husband was an alcoholic who was drunk when they married and beat her on four occasions.[8] Their divorce became final in March 1931.[9] Clark Twelvetrees died in August 1938 of a skull fracture after striking his head on a curb when a man, who witnessed him hitting a woman with whom he was arguing, attempted to intervene.[10]

Twelvetrees married again in April 1931 to Hollywood stuntman-turned-actor, real estate broker, and High-Sierra hunting and fishing guide Frank Woody.[11][9] They had a son, Jack Bryan Woody, born in October 1932 (died 2016),[12][13] who became a prominent USFWS wildlife biologist.[14][15] She divorced Woody in 1936.[16][17]

She married for a third and final time to farmer and Air Force captain Conrad Payne in 1947.[18] She spent her remaining years traveling around the world with her husband, who was stationed in the U.S. and Europe.[4]


On February 13, 1958, Twelvetrees was found unconscious on the floor of her living room at her home in Middletown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.[19] She was taken to Olmstead Air Force Base Hospital in Middletown, where she died. According to the county coroner, Twelvetrees had been suffering from a kidney ailment for some time and took an overdose of sedatives.[20][21] Her death was ruled a suicide.[21]

Twelvetrees' remains were later cremated. Her funeral service was attended by only her widower and a close friend, Geraldine Uglow, who was also living on the base with her military husband. Her ashes were interred in a grave in Middletown Cemetery. The gravesite was left unmarked until January 2013, when her family placed a headstone.[19]

For her contribution to the motion-picture industry, Twelvetrees has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6263 Hollywood Boulevard.[22]

In popular culture

The play I'm Looking for Helen Twelvetrees explores Twelvetrees' life through the eyes of another actor who saw her perform on Long Island. Parallels are explored between the life of Helen Twelvetrees and the character whom the other actor played (Blanche DuBois).[23]


Year Title Role Notes
1929 The Ghost Talks Miriam Holt Lost film
1929 Blue Skies Dorothy May episode 2
1929 Words and Music Dorothy Blake
1930 The Grand Parade Molly
1930 Swing High Maryan Garner
1930 Her Man Frankie Keefe
1930 The Cat Creeps Annabelle West Lost film
1931 The Painted Desert Mary Ellen Cameron Clark Gable's first major role
1931 Millie Millicent "Millie" Blake Maitland
1931 A Woman of Experience Elsa Elsbergen Alternative title: Registered Woman
1931 Bad Company Helen King Carlyle
1932 Panama Flo Flo Bennett
1932 Young Bride Allie Smith Riggs
1932 State's Attorney June Perry Alternative title: Cardigan's Last Case
1932 Is My Face Red? Peggy Bannon
1932 Unashamed Joan Ogden
1933 Broken Hearts
1933 A Bedtime Story Sally
1933 Disgraced! Gay Holloway
1933 My Woman Connie Riley Rollins
1933 King for a Night Lillian Williams
1934 All Men Are Enemies Katha
1934 Now I'll Tell Virginia Golden Alternative titles: Now I'll Tell You
When New York Sleeps
1934 She Was a Lady Sheila Vane
1934 One Hour Late Bessie Dunn
1935 Times Square Lady Margo Heath
1935 She Gets Her Man Francine
1935 The Spanish Cape Mystery Stella Godfrey
1935 Frisco Waterfront Alice Alternative title: When We Look Back
1936 Thoroughbred Joan
1937 Hollywood Round-Up Carol Stevens
1939 Persons in Hiding Helen Griswold
1939 Unmarried Pat Rogers

Further reading

  • Eames, John Douglas (1979). The MGM Story. New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc.
  • Eames, John Douglas (1985). The Paramount Story. New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc.
  • Jewell, Richard B. (1982). The RKO Story. New York City: Arlington House, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc.
  • Katz, Ephraim (1981). The Film Encyclopedia. New York City: Harper Perennial.


  1. ^ Parish, James Robert; Leonard, William T. (1976). Hollywood Players, The Thirties. Arlington House. p. 516. ISBN 0-87000-365-8.
  2. ^ Brettell, Andrew; Imwold, Denis; Kennedy, Damien; King, Noel (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather. Barrons Educational Series. p. 287. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
  3. ^ Eames, John Douglas (1975). The MGM Story: The complete History of Fifty Roaring Years (3 ed.). Octopus Books. p. 85. ISBN 0-904230-14-7.
  4. ^ a b Lowry, Cynthia (August 1, 1955). "For Nine Years No Tears After Long, Briny Career". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Staggs, Sam (2005). When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of "A Streetcar Named Desire". Macmillan. p. 275. ISBN 0-312-32164-3.
  6. ^ Caryl, Naomi (January 17, 2006). "Streetcar".
  7. ^ "Helen Twelvetress Is Granted Divorce". The Lewiston Daily Sun. March 26, 1930. p. 4. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  8. ^ "Actress Divorced". The Pittsburgh Press. March 26, 1930. p. 8. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Actress Keeps Secret 3 Weeks". The Deseret News. April 17, 1931. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  10. ^ "Painter Held In Death Of Clark Twelvetrees". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 23, 1938. p. 3. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  11. ^ Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary, 2d ed. By Gene Scott Freese
  12. ^ "Helen Twelvetrees Becomes Mother of Seven Pound Boy". Chicago Daily Tribune. October 27, 1932. p. 22.
  13. ^ "Actress Poses With Baby Son". Chicago Daily Tribune. November 20, 1932. p. 13.
  14. ^ "Remembering Jack Woody | Turtle Island Restoration Network". 13 May 2016.
  15. ^ Haederle, Michael (January 20, 1994). "Not Your Basic Pretty Pictures". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 26, 2014. His father was a wildlife biologist
  16. ^ "Helen Twelvetrees, Husband Part". Rochester Journal. March 24, 1969. p. 1. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  17. ^ "Decree to Helen Twelvetrees". The New York Times. April 16, 1936.
  18. ^ Dixon, Hugh (December 20, 1947). "Hollywood". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 8. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  19. ^ a b Roberts, Jerry (2012). The Hollywood Scandal Almanac: 12 Months of Sinister, Salacious and Senseless History!. The History Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-60949-702-6.
  20. ^ "Helen Twelvetrees, Movie Star Of 1930s". The Miami News. February 14, 1958. p. 4A. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  21. ^ a b "Death Called Suicide". The News-Dispatch. Jeannette, Pennsylvania. February 18, 1958. p. 4. Retrieved February 25, 2013 – via Google newspapers.
  22. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  23. ^ "Review: 'I'm Looking for Helen Twelvetrees' Explores the Life of an Early Talkies Movie Star". The New York Times. Retrieved March 22, 2015.

External links

This page was last edited on 30 August 2023, at 07:04
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