Day Six of Noirvember: On the Occasion of Selena Royle’s Birth
Selena Royle. Recognize the face but not the name? Believe me, you know her.
You’ve seen her as the matriarch in the WWII hit The Sullivans (1944), and in a number of other popular feature films including the Greer Garson vehicle Mrs. Parkington (1944); another wartime drama, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), starring Spencer Tracy; The Harvey Girls (1946), a Judy Garland starrer; Night and Day (1946), where she played the mother of Cary Grant’s Cole Porter; Cass Timberlane (1947), with Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner; Joan of Arc (1948), with Ingrid Bergman in the title role; and The Heiress (1949), in which she was seen as the aunt of Olivia deHavilland.
But I know her best from her film noir appearances in Moonrise (1948), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950), He Ran All the Way (1951), and Murder is My Beat (1955).
In honor of Royle’s birthday, November 6, 1904, today’s Noirvember post takes a look at this versatile character actress.
A native of Manhattan, Royle was born into a family of artists. Her mother, Selena Fetter, was an actress, and her father was Edwin Milton Royle, a playwright whose works included The Squaw Man (1905), which was adapted twice into feature films (the first, in 1914, was the first motion picture directed by Cecil B. DeMille). Her sister, Josephine, was an actress as well. Royle’s mother once recalled that she used to take little Selena with her to performances. One night, Selena went missing and the play was held up while Mrs. Royle searched for her daughter, only to find her dressed in one of her mother’s costumes, bowing to the audience.
“That is the first time I was ever on stage,” Royle later said, “and I liked it so well I stayed.”
Royle reportedly studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (although the website for the AADA doesn’t mention her), and her father later wrote the play Launcelot and Elaine in 1921 to provide his daughters with Broadway roles. She went on to appear in numerous Broadway productions, including Peer Gynt with Joseph Schildkraut and Edward G. Robinson, Yellow with Spencer Tracy (incidentally, there were rumors of an affair between Tracy and Royle – years later, she said that she was in love with him, but she denied that they ever slept together), and When Ladies Meet, with Frieda Inescort and Spring Byington. She was also heard on a variety of radio programs.
After a small role in a Claudette Colbert vehicle during the early 1930s, Royle didn’t appear in another feature film until the 1940s, when her screen career exploded with appearances in close to 30 pictures between 1943 and 1949. Between film assignments, Royle was a major co-sponsor of Times Square’s Stage Door Canteen, which provided refreshments and entertainment for military personnel in World War II, and was a founder of the Actor’s Dinner Club, where meals were served at no cost to players who were temporarily without jobs. It was strategically organized so that the volunteers and those who came for the meals were indistinguishable from each other. She was also one of a number of actors, producers and writers who formed a committee called An Actor’s Wardrobe, which focused on buying new clothes for needy actors. She was married for 10 years, from 1932 to 1942, to actor Earl Larrimore, a cousin of actress Laura Hope Crews, and with whom she co-starred on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s Days Without End. In 1948, she married actor Georges Renavent, who can be seen in small parts in such classics as Queen Christina (1933), Jezebel (1938), and Sullivan’s Travels (1941). Royle and Renavent remained together until the actor’s death in 1969.
In 1951, Royle was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. When she refused to testify about her alleged Communist sympathies, her name was listed in the infamous publication Red Channels and her screen career came to an abrupt halt. Although she sued Red Channels and the American Legion (publisher of the magazine), the damage had been done. She was only seen in two more films, including a low-budget sci-fi feature called Robot Monster (1953). She and her husband relocated to Mexico, where she converted her home to a salon that encouraged painters, writers and composers. She also spent her time writing cookbooks and books about Mexico, including The Gringa’s Guide to Mexican Cooking and Guadalajara, As I Know It, Live It, Love It.
After a brief illness, Royle died in a nursing home in Guadalajara in 1983. She was 78 years old.
Now that you can match Selena Royle’s name with her face, treat yourself by taking in one of her films – and if you’ve never seen The Damned Don’t Cry or He Ran All the Way, I recommend that you start with those!
And join me tomorrow for Day Seven of Noirvember!