(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Claudia Dell Smith
1909 - 1977
Claudia Dell Smith was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1909 and was the only child of Oliver W. Smith and Mary Kathleen Woods Smith. Father "Ollie" was a salesman and circa 1920, his job required him to travel to various locales in Mexico. Her aunt was Claudia Coleman (1886-1938), vaudeville performer and later, a movie actress. Coleman was the impetus that brought Claudia to New York and introduced her to the stage. The Newspaper Archive had a bunch of 1920s articles from the San Antonio Light and San Antonio Express newspapers which reference Claudia's early years. A few mentions follow:
- San Antonio Express from April 3, 1923: "The Blue Bonnet Concert Quintet, five little maids from Main Avenue High School, with ages ranging from 14 to 17 ... will present the concert tonight over (radio station) WOIA ..." Playing violin with the Blue Bonnets was Claudia Dell Smith.
- San Antonio Express from February 24. 1924: "... Washington's Birthday celebration ... program and dance at Beethoven Hall. Music was furnished by Claudia Dell Smith's orchestra."
- San Antonio Light from December 24, 1924: "Claudia Dell Smith left Friday ... for New York to spend the winter with her aunt, Miss Claudia Coleman ... "
- San Antonio Light from August 26, 1925: Headline: "Dancer Heads Chorus of Big Musical Comedy at Age of 16." "Six months ago, an inexperienced dancing student of New Wayburn's in New York. Today, one of the leading stars in ... J. J. Schubert's ... Gay Paree, playing at Schubert's Theater in New York." "... Miss Claudia Dell Smith, 16, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. O. W. Smith, 1036 Rigsby Avenue, of this city (meaning San Antonio)." "Had she remained in San Antonio, Miss Smith would have been graduated from Main Avenue Senior School next year." ; "... Claudia Coleman, the youthful star's aunt, and her grandmother, Mrs. Eleanor Coleman. It was through her aunt the San Antonio girl became interested in the stage."
- San Antonio Light from June 24, 1928: "Mrs. O. W. Smith returned ... from New York City where she spent two years with her daughter, Claudia Dell."
- San Antonio Light from January 23, 1929: "Claudia Dell Smith of San Antonio, who has been a member of the cast of 'Rio Rita', the Florenze Ziegfeld production, the past season, has been assigned the lead in the London production, 'Merry Merry.' She left recently for London in company with her aunt, Claudia Coleman, a well-known actress."
- San Antonio Light from December 6, 1929: Headline: "Former Main Avenue High School Girl Goes to Hollywood." "Miss Claudia Dell Smith, known to Broadway as merely Claudia Dell, a former resident of San Antonio and one time student of Main Avenue High school, will soon begin work on her first motion picture ..."
In addition to the above, there are trade ads from 1925 with fifteen year old Claudia Dell playing vaudeville with the Harry Carroll Musical Revue at B. F. Keith's Palace in New York City. Moving up the success ladder, seventeen year old Claudia became a Ziegfeld Follies girl circa 1927. January and February, 1929 issues of Variety mention Claudia exiting "The Midnight Frolic"; appearing in "Showboat"; and heading to London for a role in "Merry Merry" ... but everything wasn't Merry as she didn't get the role and returned home.
The beautiful lady with blonde tresses came to Hollywood in 1930, and her 40+ film career lasted into the mid 1940s. But the bulk of her movie work occurred from 1930-1939. She signed with Warners and her earliest starring assignments were in SWEET KITTY BELLAIRS (Warners, 1930) and with Al Jolson in BIG BOY (Warners, 1930). Released by Warners in 1931, she found leads and character/support jobs for many A and B production companies including Tiffany, Mayfair, Chesterfield, Puritan, Reliable, Universal, RKO, and Paramount.
Claudia was the heroine in a few westerns: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (Universal, 1932) with Tom Mix; TRAILS END (Black King Prod/William Steiner, 1935) with Conway Tearle; GHOST PATROL (Puritan, 1936) with Tim McCoy; and BOOTS OF DESTINY (Condor/Grand National, 1937) with Ken Maynard. She was also the leading lady to Kane Richmond in THE LOST CITY (Super Serial Prod/Regal, 1935), perhaps the worst sound serial ever filmed. I chuckled at a 1935 review of THE LOST CITY in Harrison's Reports: "... it is too far-fetched to appeal to intelligent adults, but it should thrill the younger folk because of the ingenious electrical contraptions used by William Boyd in his efforts to destroy the world ..." (That's William (Stage) Boyd, not William Boyd of Hopalong Cassidy fame.)
Above is Claudia Dell, Tony Jr. and Tom Mix in a crop from a lobby card from DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (Universal, 1932). This was the first of nine sound films that Mix did at Universal during 1932-1933.
In the 1940s, there were a few movie jobs (including a Sidney Toler/Charlie Chan at Monogram).
Some Claudia biographies have her in many Lux Radio Theater broadcasts in the 1940s. I found nothing on her in either the Handbook Of Old-Time Radio, A Comprehensive Guide To Golden Age Radio Listening And Collecting by Jon D. Swartz and Robert C. Reinehr (Scarecrow Press, 1993) and On The Air, The Encylopedia Of Old Time Radio by John Dunning (Oxford Press, 1998). However, J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website does have Claudia in the cast of a few 1943-1944 Lux Radio Theater episodes which originated from Hollywood.
In 1932, Claudia became the 'lady with the twin globes' logo for World Wide Pictures in 1932 (more on that at the bottom of this webpage).
There's also scuttlebutt that Claudia may have been one of the models for the Columbia Pictures 'standing lady with the torch' logo that was used by that studio in the 1930s and later. That rumor is generally credited to actress Bette Davis who indicated in her 1962 The Lonely Life autobiography that "Little Claudia Dell" was the model for the Columbia Pictures torch lady. Bette also reported that Claudia had committed suicide ... and Dell filed a lawsuit in 1963.
There were three marriages:
June 27, 1928 issue of Variety: "Claudia Dell ... to Phil Offin, in business with his uncle, Max Hayes, ... in Yonkers, N. Y. June 7 (1928)." (Hayes and Offin were New York City agents and vaudeville show bookers. June 28, 1930 Variety noted that Claudia claimed dessertion and obtained a divorce from Phillip G. Offin.)
January 1, 1935 issue of Variety: "Claudia Dell, film actress, to Eddie Silton, agent, in Los Angeles, Dec. 29 (1934). Second marriage for each." (Silton became Claudia's Hollywood agent circa 1930. They divorced in 1947.)
December 17, 1947 issue of Variety: "Claudia Dell to Daniel Emmett [sic], Hollywood, Dec. 13 (1947). Bride is a screen actress." (Newspaper reports indicate Emmet was an executive with a chewing gum manufacturer.)
I found no mention of Claudia having any children.
Claudia's life from the mid 1940s through 1960 is a question mark. We do know that third husband Dan Emmet passed away in 1956. Circa 1961, she embarked on a new career with the John Robert Powers School of Modeling. Excerpts from the November 15, 1973 Van Nuys (California) The News newspaper: "CLAUDIA DELL, new student director of the John Robert Powers Charm and Modeling School in Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills Promenade." ; "... Miss Dell's experience in the field includes 12 years as director of the John Robert Powers School in Beverly Hills. Internationally known as a singer and actress, Miss Dell was educated in Mexico City. As a young woman, she moved to New York City where she studied singing at Juliard ..."
Claudia passed away September 5, 1977 in Hollywood, California and a month later, the October 5, 1977 Los Angeles Times newspaper had a funeral notice: "EMMET, Claudia Dell. Services ... at Pierce Bros. Hollywood." Note the one month delay from her death until the funeral service - methinks there were problems locating a next of kin to care for her funeral and interment.
|On the right is a trade ad from 1922 for Claudia Dell's aunt, Claudia Coleman (1886-1938). She was a noted vaudeville performer and in the 1930s, did some films.|
Coleman's agent was Max Hayes in New York. When Claudia Dell went east to stage work and the Ziegfeld Follies, she was also represented by Hayes. And Dell's first husband was Phillip G. Offin, one of the agents on Hayes' staff.
Above - a 1931 newspaper ad from a San Antonio, Texas theater which has been customized to show "Claudia Dell (Smith), San Antonio's Own Star". 50 MILLION FRENCHMEN (Warners, 1931) starred the Olsen and Johnson comedy duo, William Gaxton and Helen Broderick. Claudia was sixth billed. YouTube has the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APIuPouq1VM
|From the August 6, 1932 issue of Hollywood Filmograph:|
"Miss Dell was selected by President Joe Brandt of WORLD WIDE PICTURES, to portray the living 'trade mark' which will be flashed on every screen when a WORLD WIDE PICTURE is shown. Attired in flowing classical robes, her blonde hair adorned with the traditional laurel wreath, Claudia Dell will be seen holding in each hand, a revolving sphere upon which is carved the name of the company ..."
From the August 4, 1932 issue of Film Daily:
"Joe Brandt, president of World Wide Pictures, has selected Claudia Dell for World Wide's trade-mark girl. An animated trade-mark, showing Miss Dell holding two revolving globes, will introduce each of World Wide's new features."
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on:|
Claudia Dell: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0217303/
Claudia's aunt, Claudia Coleman (1886-1938): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0170984
The Internet Archive has a half dozen Claudia Dell films which you view/stream/download: https://archive.org/details/feature_films?sort=-publicdate&and=%22claudia%20dell%22
YouTube has a three minute clip of Claudia (and Walter Pidgeon) from SWEET KITTY BELLAIRS (Warners, 1930): https://youtu.be/udZrTpAPqnM
The Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen website has a bio/timeline on Claudia: http://www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com/show/528/Claudia+Dell/index.html
The Internet Broadway Database has Claudia Dell in 1925-1928 productions of "Gay Paree", "Ziegfeld Follies of 1927", and "Rosalie": http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?id=37778
J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website has Claudia Dell in three 1943-1944 broadcasts of the Lux Radio Theater. When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select D, then scroll down for Claudia Dell's radio credits: http://radiogoldindex.com/
Jerry Murbach's Doctor Macro website includes several Ziegfeld photos of Dell (as a brunette): http://www.doctormacro.com/Movie%20Star%20Pages/Dell,%20Claudia-Annex.htm
Info on Dell (and others) who may have been the model for the Columbia standing lady with the torch logo: http://www.reelclassics.com/Studios/Columbia/columbia-article-logo.htm
1963 lawsuit against Bette Davis (and others) regarding Claudia Dell's suicide mention in Bette's 1962 "The Lonely Life" autobiography: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1817&dat=19631109&id=MP0cAAAAIBAJ&sjid=C5sEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1344,1144128
On the trail of Claudia Dell
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), and the California Death Index has information on Claudia Dell and family:
- 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - 22 year old O. W. Smith (born Georgia) and one year old daughter Claudie Smith (born Texas) reside in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas. His occupation is "Solicitor - Drygoods House". He's married but his wife is not listed: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M29R-3MM
- World War I draft registration for Claudia's father, 28 year old Ollie W. Smith - he was born January 9, 1889 in Georgia; home address is 125 Herbert, San Antonio, Texas; has a dependent wife and child; and he's a traveling salesman for the American Aluminum Mfg. Co., Lemont, Illinois: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYB9-185?i=1063&wc=9FH9-W38%3A928338201%2C928966901%3Fcc%3D1968530&cc=1968530
- 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet. The census taker has recorded their last name as Smidt. Renting in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas are 31 year old O. W. Smidt [sic] (born Georgia), his 28 year old wife Katerine [sic] (born Texas), 11 year old daughter Claudia (born Texas), his 65 year old mother Edda (born Kentucky), and 30 year old sister Edda May (born Texas). No occupation listed for father O. W.: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCMT-G1D
- 1920 passport application and assorted paperwork from September-October, 1920 for Ollie W. Smith - he was born January 9, 1889 in Georgia; he and wife live at 1120 Avenue B, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas; he is a salesman for the Southern Equipment Company (formerly the Fisk Company of Texas, Automotive and Garage Accessories and Equipment). Smith needs the passport to travel to various locations in Mexico: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99X3-3ZFH?i=278&wc=3XZH-FM3%3A1056306501%2C1056537101%3Fcc%3D2185145&cc=2185145
- 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - the census taker has recorded the middle initial before the given name. So Oliver W. Smith is listed on Family Search and Ancestry.com as W. Oliver Smith; Claudia D. Smith is recorded as D. Claudia Smith. Renting in Los Angeles are 41 year old Oliver W. Smith (born Georgia), 38 year old wife Kathleen M. (born Texas), 21 year old daughter Claudia D. Smith (born Texas) and 40 year old sister-in-law Ettie N. Woods (born Texas). Claudia's occupation is "Actress - Moving Pictures" and the occupation of her father is "Proprietor - Cold Drink Stand": https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCVH-XQW
- 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet for Claudia's second husband, Edward Silton. 28 year old Eddie Silton (born Illinois) is living with his parents and sister in Los Angeles. He is single; a World War I veteran; and his occupation is "Manager - Picture Artists": https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJ1-2XC
- December 29, 1934 Los Angeles marriage license of 44 year old Edwin Silton (born Chicago, Illinois; occupation manager) to 23 year old Claudia Dell Smith (born San Antonio, Texas; occupation actress). This was the second marriage for both. Her parents were Mary Kathleen and Oliver Walker Smith:
- 1940 census summary and census takers worksheet - 51 year old Eddie Silton (born Illinois) and 21 year old wife Claudia (born Texas) are renting at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Unit 309, Los Angeles. His occupation is "Agent - Motion Pictures". No occupation listed for Claudia: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9C6-FC2
- December 13, 1947 California marriage license for 33 year old Claudia Dell Smith (born Texas; occupation actress) and 43 year old Daniel Emmet (born New York; occupation sls mgr Chewing ???). This was his fourth marriage and her third. Her parents were Oliver Smith (born Georgia) and Mary Kathleen Woods (born Texas): https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8KK-B23
- California Death Index has a record for Claudia's aunt, vaudeville and movie actress Claudia Coleman. She was born about 1886 and passed away on August 18, 1938 in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKSM-TR2J
- California Death Index has a record for Claudia's second husband, Edwin Silton. He was born October 7, 1891 in Illinois, and he passed away on January 7, 1969 in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPCD-Z7S
- California Death Index has a record for Claudia's third husband, Daniel Emmet. He was born February 14, 1904 in New York and passed away November 18, 1956 in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPW3-24R
- California Death Index for Claudia's father, Oliver W. Smith. He was born January 9, 1890 in Georgia and passed away April 18, 1972 in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPHJ-9SF
- California Death Index for Claudia D. Emmet, born January 10, 1909 in Texas, and she passed away on September 5, 1977 in California: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPJ4-7NJ
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a photo of the grave marker for Claudia Emmet who is interred at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6693478