Irene Rich

Irene Rich
Born Irene Frances Luther
(1891-10-13)October 13, 1891
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Died April 22, 1988(1988-04-22) (aged 96)
Hope Ranch, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1918-1949
Spouse(s) Elvo Deffenbaugh
(1909-1911; divorced)
1 child (Frances)

Charles Rich
(1912-1916; divorced)
1 child (Jane)

David F. Blankenhorn
(1927-1931) (divorced)
George Henry Clifford
(1950-1959; his death)

Irene Rich (October 13, 1891 April 22, 1988) was an American actress who worked in both silent films and talkies, as well as radio.

Early life

Born Irene Frances Luther in Buffalo, New York,[1] to Mabel A. (née Robinson) and William Martin Luther. Luther was raised in the Buffalo area and then Stites, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington with her older half-brother Edwin Darius Luther (1884-1961) and younger brother, Richard Robinson Luther.

She married Elvo Elcourt Deffenbaugh at All Saints' Cathedral in Spokane, Washington on February 17, 1909,[2] after her parents talked about sending her to boarding school. Irene and Elvo had one child, Frances Rich, who became a stage and film actress in the 1930s before becoming a noted sculptor.[1] Elvo was a salesman who traveled a lot. The young family moved to the Bay Area of San Francisco, where the marriage ended after two years.[1]

Next she married Charles Henry Rich, who was then a lieutenant in the United States Army (became a major during World War I and was later a lieutenant colonel), in Portland, Oregon on January 9, 1912. The two had met when he was stationed with the 25th Infantry at Fort George Wright in Spokane.[3] They had one daughter Martha Jane (b.December 13, 1916 in San Francisco[4]). The marriage ended after four years. Luther went into real estate to feed herself and her two daughters. She then went to Hollywood in 1918 and got work as an extra.[1]


Rich with Will Rogers and Theodore Lodi in Down to Earth, 1932

Rich worked for Will Rogers, who used her in eight pictures, including Water Water Everywhere (1920), The Strange Boarder (1920), Jes' Call Me Jim (1920), Boys Will Be Boys (1921) and The Ropin' Fool (1921). She often portrayed society women, such as in the 1925 adaptation of Lady Windermere's Fan and also in Queen of the Yukon (1940).

In two of her last films she played a frontier wife and mother. She was the mother of Gail Russell's character 'Penelope Worth', in John Wayne's Angel and the Badman as well as in John Ford's cavalry story Fort Apache in which she portrayed Mrs. O'Rourke, the wife of Sergeant O'Rourke (Ward Bond).

In the 1930s, Rich did much work in radio. From 1933 to 1944, she hosted a nationwide anthology program of serialized mini-dramas, Dear John (aka The Irene Rich Show). Her leading man was actor Gale Gordon, (who later played Lucille Ball's apoplectic boss "Mr. Mooney" on TV). In the early 1940s, Rich starred in Glorious One on NBC Blue.[5]

Rich appeared in stage productions, including Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935) which starred George M. Cohan, the creator of the play, and later As the Girls Go in 1948.

Personal life, death, and tribute

Rich married for the third time on April 6, 1927, in Del Monte, California, to real estate mogul David Ferguson Blankenhorn (1886-1969), at the home of William May Garland. Blankenhorn was well known in the Los Angeles real estate market, was a longtime resident of Pasadena and San Francisco, and handled the transaction of William Wrigley, Jr. purchasing Catalina Island in 1919.[6] Rich and Blankenhorn separated at least three times in the summer and fall of 1931,[7] they filed for divorce on October 30, 1931,[8] they were divorced that November.

She became involved in a deadly love triangle in 1949 when Agnes Elizabeth Garnier shot and killed wealthy businessman John Edwin Owen (1881-1949). Owen, formerly a businessman and politician from Michigan, was president of the National Apartment House Owner's Association, among other business interests, including cattle and horse ranching in Gunnison, Colorado and Riverside, California. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigator said that Garnier killed Owen (who was married, but estranged and separated from his wife) and blamed Rich for coming between them. Garnier, Owen's personal secretary, told the district attorney that the gun went off accidentally and she took the gun from an intoxicated Owen as he was going to bed. Rich said that she was not in love with Owen and that they were just friends.[9] Garnier, plead not guilty,[10] the prosecutor decided not to try for first degree murder,[11] and she was found guilty of manslaughter, and received a sentence of "one-to-ten" years.[12] Garnier, after losing her appeal in January 1950,[13] was released from Tehachapi Prison after serving less than a year-and-a-half, in May 1951.[14] She died in San Diego in 1990 at the age of 93.[15]

On February 28, 1950, Rich married George Henry Clifford (1881-1959), a public utilities executive, at the Sherry-Netherlands Hotel in New York City. He was president of Stone & Webster Service Corporation.[16] The couple bought a ranch at Hope, near Santa Barbara, in 1956,[17] where they lived out the remainder of their lives.

Rich was married four times. She had two daughters, Frances and Jane.[1]

On April 22, 1988, Rich died at age 96 of heart failure in Hope Ranch, California.[1]

Rich has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her contribution to the motion picture industry at 6225 Hollywood Boulevard and one for her contributions to the radio industry at 6150 Hollywood Boulevard.


Year Film Role Notes
1918 A Desert Wooing Bit Role (uncredited) print survives
The Girl in His House Betty Burlingham lost
A Law Unto Herself Stephanie print survives
1919 Todd of the Times Janet Milton lost
A Man in the Open Kate lost
Diane of the Green Van Keela
The Silver Girl Julia Raymond print survives
Castles in the Air Mrs. Owen Pauncefort lost
The Lone Star Ranger Mrs. Laramie lost
The Blue Bonnet Martha Drake lost
The Sneak Enid Granley lost
Wolves of the Night Juanita lost
Her Purchase Price Marda lost
The Spite Bride Eileen Moore print survives
1920 The Street Called Straight Drusilla Fane lost
Water, Water, Everywhere Hope Beecher lost
The Strange Boarder Jane Ingraham lost
Jes' Call Me Jim Miss Butterworth print survives
Stop Thief Madge Carr print survives
Godless Men Black Pawl's Wife print survives
Just Out of College Miss Jones lost
1921 Sunset Jones Marion Rand lost
One Man in a Million Madame Maureveau lost
Boys Will Be Boys Lucy lost
A Tale of Two Worlds Mrs. Carmichael print survives
Desperate Trails Mrs. Walker lost
A Voice in the Dark Blanche Walton print survives
The Invisible Power Laura Chadwick lost
The Poverty of Riches Mrs. Holt lost
1922 The Call of Home Alix Lansing lost
Strength of the Pines Linda lost
One Clear Call Maggie Thornton print survives
The Trap The Teacher print survives
A Fool There Was Mrs. Schuyler lost
The Yosemite Trail Eve Marsham lost
The Ropin' Fool (short) The Girl ?
Brawn of the North Marion Wells lost
While Justice Waits Nell Hunt lost
The Marriage Chance Mary Douglas lost
Fruits of Faith (short) Larry's Wife
1923 Dangerous Trails Grace Alderson print survives; Lobster Films
Brass Mrs. Grotenberg/ aka Mrs. G print survives
Snowdrift Kitty lost
Michael O'Halloran Nellie Minturn lost
Yesterday's Wife Megan Daye lost
Rosita The Queen print survives
Defying Destiny Beth Alden print survives
Lucretia Lombard Lucretia Lombard print survives
Boy of Mine Ruth Latimer lost
1924 Pal o' Mine Julia Montfort print survives
Beau Brummel Frederica Charlotte, Duchess of York print survives
Cytherea Fanny Randon lost
Being Respectable Suzanne Schuyler lost
Captain January Isabelle Morton print survives
A Woman Who Sinned Mrs. Ransdell lost
Behold This Woman Louise Maurel private collector; abridged version
What the Butler Saw Mrs. Barrington ? (*this is a British by Gaumont)
This Woman Carol Drayton print survives; Lobster Films
A Lost Lady Marian Forrester lost
1925 My Wife and I Mrs. James Borden lost
The Man Without a Conscience Shirley Graves print survives
Eve's Lover Eva Burnside lost
The Wife Who Wasn't Wanted Mrs. John Mannering lost
Compromise Joan Trevore lost
Pleasure Buyers Joan Wiswell print held; Museum of Modern Art, New York
Lady Windermere's Fan Mrs. Erlynne print survives
1926 Silken Shackles Denise Lake lost
The Honeymoon Express Mary Lambert lost
My Official Wife Helene, Countess Orloff lost
1927 Don't Tell the Wife Mrs. Cartier lost
The Climbers Duchess of Arrogan lost
Dearie Sylvia Darling/aka "Dearie" lost
The Desired Woman Diana Maxwell lost
The Silver Slave Bernice Randall lost
1928 Beware of Married Men Myra Martin print survives, incomplete (1 reel only)
Across the Atlantic ?undetermined lost
Powder My Back Fritzi Foy lost
Craig's Wife Mrs. Craig lost
The Perfect Crime Stella lost...*first Irene Rich film to have dialogue, a part-talkie from FBO.
Women They Talk About Irene Mervin Hughes lost
Ned McCobb's Daughter Carol lost
1929 Daughters of Desire ?
The Exalted Flapper Queen Charlotte of Capra lost
They Had to See Paris Idy Peters
Shanghai Rose Shanghai Rose *final pure silent film;including versions with Movietone or Vitaphone
1930 So This Is London Mrs. Hiram Draper
On Your Back Julianne
Check and Double Check Mrs. Blair
1931 Beau Ideal Lady Brandon
Father's Son Ruth Emory
Strangers May Kiss Celia
Five and Ten Jenny Rarick
The Mad Parade Mrs. Schuyler
Wicked Mrs. Luther
The Champ Linda
1932 Down to Earth Idy Peters
Her Mad Night Joan Manners
Manhattan Tower Ann Burns
1934 Spitfire Woman Uncredited(scenes cut)
1938 Hollywood Handicap Woman at Racetrack uncredited ; (short)
That Certain Age Dorothy Fullerton
1939 The Right Way Mrs. Martin short
Everybody's Hobby Mrs. Myra Leslie
1940 The Mortal Storm Amelie Roth
The Lady in Question Michele Morestan
The Queen of the Yukon Sadie Martin
Keeping Company Mrs. Thomas
1941 Three Sons o' Guns Mrs. Margaret Patterson
1942 This Time for Keeps Mrs. Bryant Alternative title: Over the Waves
1947 Calendar Girl Lulu Varden Alternative title: Star Dust and Sweet Music
Angel and the Badman Mrs. Worth
New Orleans Mrs. Rutledge Smith
1948 Joan of Arc Catherine le Royer
Fort Apache Mary O'Rourke
Year Title Role Notes
1949 The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre 1 episode


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Flint, Peter B. (April 25, 1988), "Irene Rich, Silent-Screen Actress And Radio Personality, Dies at 96", The New York Times
  2. February 21, 1909, "Society", The Spokesman-Review, p. 2
  3. "Spokane Society Woman Becomes Bride Of Lieutenant From Fort", Spokane Daily Chronicle, p. 3, January 9, 1912
  4. California Birth Index. - California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research.
  5. "(photo caption)" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 14 (6): 26. October 1940. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  6. "Irene Rich Is Married", The Spokesman-Review, Associated Press, April 7, 1927
  7. Merrick, Mollie (October 30, 1931), "Stars And Talkies Of Hollywood", The Spokesman-Review, North American Newspaper Alliance, p. 5
  8. "Irene Rich Cruel, Charge", The Spokesman-Review, Associated Press, p. 1, October 30, 1931
  9. "Woman Held For Killing Wealthy Man", St. Petersburg Times, Associated Press, p. 1, April 24, 1949
  10. "Owen Case Witness Names Irene Rich", Los Angeles Times, p. 4, May 10, 1949
  11. Ryon, Art (June 17, 1949), "Garnier Case May Go to Jury Today", Los Angeles Times, p. 5
  12. Ryon, Art (June 18, 1949), "Mrs. Garnier Convicted of Manslaughter", Los Angeles Times, p. 1
  13. "Mrs. Garnier Must Go to Prison for Slaying", Los Angeles Times, p. 4, January 19, 1950
  14. "Mrs. Gamier Is Released From Prison", Los Angeles Times, p. A, May 9, 1951
  15. California Death Index. - California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research.
  16. "Irene Rich To Marry Again", The Hartford Courant, p. 2, February 28, 1950
  17. "Drama", Los Angeles Times, p. 26, March 5, 1956
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