Six feet tall and blessed with Titian red hair, Jobyna Howland was one of the most striking of the stage beauties to appear at the end of the 19th century. Her initial fame came as an artists' model, sitting for LaFarge, Wenzell, Blashfield and most significantly for Charles Dana Gibson who modeled the "Gibson Girl" on her.
Born in Indianapolis, raised in Denver, she married writer Arthur Stringer while relatively young. She first appeared on the stage in an insignificant role in a second-rank Broadway theater in 1898. But her striking appearance and grace attracted the attention of producer Daniel Frohman, who hired her to support James K. Hackett in the 1898 production of "Rupert of Henzau." A versatile performer, she evinced a talent for comedy as well as costume drama, and starred in the hit 1901 farce "Miss Prinnt." In 1902 she was featured in "The Messenger Boy."
Howland's marriage to Stringer proved volatile with two separations before the final divorce in 1912. A mercurial fellow, he forced her retirement from the stage for three years in 1909. When the relationship collapsed, she returned in "The Painted Woman" publicized with a barrage of newspaper stories about the travails of living with a whimsical author. Over the years her voice deepened, and she settled into character parts as brazen women. Her greatest stage roles of the 1920s were Mabel Monroe in "The Gold Diggers" and Dr. Josephine Fitch in "Kid Boots."
Though she appeared incidentally in silent motion pictures, her success in films came with sound. When one needed an edgy, urbane woman with good comic timing, Jobyna Howland filled the bill. Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey employed her in their early movie vehicles "The Cuckoos," then "Hook, Line, and Sinker." Her finest films were 1932's "Once in a Lifetime" and 1933's "Topaze." She also appeared in the lurid William Faulkner tale of gangster lust and a southern belle, "Temple Drake." She died of a heart attack in 1936. David S. Shields/ALS