Filled Under: Billie Dove

Billie Dove: The American Beauty


“When you’re up there on that film, you are that person completely all the time. You think the way that person thinks, you do what that person does and you’re not acting. You’re actually living it.” – Billie Dove


Billie Dove

Billie Dove was born Lillian Bohny on May 14, 1903 in New York City, New York to Swiss parents Charles and Bertha Bohny who emigrated to New York City before she was born. She was educated in private schools in Manhattan. By the time she was fifteen she was helping to support the family by working both as a photographer and model. Already known for her beauty and sensuality, Florenz Ziegfeld hired her to appear in his follies when she was in her mid teens. Although she wasn’t a very good singer or dancer, she was soon given solo entrances in his shows and also appeared as one of Ziegfeld’s beauties in his sideshows, the ‘Midnight Frolics’ and ‘Nine O’Clock Revues’. Dove also recieved a part as a dancing replacement in Ziegfeld’s Broadway Show “Sally” in 1921. After becoming suspicious of a budding affair between Billie Dove and Ziegfeld, Billie Burke (Ziegfeld’s wife) arranged for the beautiful young starlet to appear in films in Hollywood. Dove made her Hollywood debut in the 1921 movie “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford”. The camera and audiences fell in love with her and she immediately starred in her second film, “At The Stage Door” (1921).

Billie Dove


From there she went on to co-star with some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men over the next few years, including John Gilbert, Warner Baxter, Lon Chaney, and Douglas Fairbanks. Under the direction of legendary female director Lois Weber, Dove starred in “The Marriage Claus” (1926) and “Sensation Seekers” (1927). Both of these movies were considered to be two of Dove’s best. She was nicknamed ‘The American Beauty’ after starring in the movie of the same name, “The American Beauty” in 1927. By the time she starred in the silent classic adventure “The Black Pirate” (1926) opposite Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Billie Dove was as popular and famous a star as Mary Pickford and Clara Bow.

Billie Dove

During this time Dove had married Irvin Willat in 1923, who was a director of several of the movies she starred in. They divorced in 1929 and Dove became involved with the young eccentric multi-millionare Howard Hughes. The affair lasted three years and Dove and Hughes were actually engaged to be married when she broke off the affair in 1932. While they were together she appeared in two of Hughes movies, “The Age For Love” (1931) and “Cock Of The Air” (1932). After making “Blondie Of The Follies” in 1932 which starred Marion Davies, Dove became discouraged and dismayed when much of her role in the film was ‘trimmed’ and ‘re-done’ due to the urging of the highly influential William Randolph Hearst who was Davies lover at the time.

Billie Dove – During her Ziegfeld days before movies c.1918-20

“Blondie Of The Follies” turned out  to be her last film as she retired from the screen and in 1933 married Robert Kenaston, a rancher, oil executive, and real estate broker. They had one son, Robert Alan, and adopted a daughter, Gail. After thirty-seven years of marriage they divorced in 1970. A third marriage to architect John Miller also ended in divorce after only a few months. Other than a small uncredited part in the movie “Diamond Head” (1963) starring Charlton Heston, Dove never returned to the screen. She died of pneumonia on December 31, 1997 in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 94. Billie Dove has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6351 Hollywood Blvd.


A Pictorial of Billie Dove set to music.


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