Born into an acting family, Genevieve Tobin was performing in children's pageants and plays as an 8-year-old with her brother George and sister Vivian. In summer of 1916 she and Vivian broke into vaudeville playing children's roles in a playlet, "The Age of Reason," at the Palace Theatre. By 1919 she was a featured performer on Broadway, appearing in "Palmy Days," a comedy set in the California mining camps. Her role as "Cricket" had acerbic Alexander Woolcut gushing about her radiance and winsomeness as a seventeen-year-old actress.
Wolcott's faith in Tobin's talent proved well founded the next year by her triumph in the costume drama, "In Little Old New York." Playing Patricia, Tobin first appears disguised as a boy, but over the course of three acts sheds the trousers, wins the love of a wealthy guardian, and has adventures with the likes of John Jacob Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Wolcott declared her the "new Maude Adams." She followed this with another success, "Polly Preferred" about a salesman who advertises a chorus girl (Tobin) into movie stardom.
Tobin was ambitious to expand her range from comedy. Despite a less than stellar singing voice, she scored a major hit as the female lead of the Jerome Kern/Howard Dietz musical, "Dear Sir," in 1924. Throughout the next several seasons, Tobin's career stalled, until the 1927 farce, "Muray Hill," written by co-star Leslie Howard, revived her luster. She performed one further drama, "The Trial of Mary Dugan," whose London premiere in 1927 won Tobin lavish praise from critics. Her stage career ended gloriously with the musical "Fifty Million Frenchmen." Having trained her singing voice, she brought off Cole Porter's "I'm in Love" with verve.
Tobin in 1929 set her sights on Hollywood, and landed in a Paramount drawing room comedy admirably suited to her skills, "A Lady Surrenders." Her professionalism, easy sense of ensemble, clear diction, and wit kept her before the camera throughout the decade. Indeed, she suffered something of over-exposure, appearing in 40 films from 1930 to 1940 with only a few – 1934's "Easy to Love" and "Dark Hazard," 1936's "Petrified Forest" – commanding enduring interest. By 1937 she had been relegated to supporting roles, and with the war, she left performing for good. David S. Shields/ALS