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Kay Laurel

Biography: 

(1890-1927)

While working as stenographer and telephone operator in an Cleveland doctor's office, Ruth Leslie supplemented her $15 weekly salary by modeling for sculptors and artists. They urged that she relocate to New York where remuneration for her services to the fine arts would be more amply remunerated. She left for New York City in 1913 and quickly became one of the Bohemian art community's favorite models. Certain of the images came to the attention of Florenz Ziegfeld, who offered the 23-year-old beauty a place in his 1914 Midnight Frolic. Ruth Leslie became Kay Laurel; her pay ballooned to $500 weekly.

An adherent to physical culture and an admirer of Annette Kellerman, champion of the body beautiful, Kay Laurel was, like her model, a messianic exhibitionist. She was the most daring of the early Ziegfeld girls in terms of exposing her body on stage, wearing in 1914 a transparent shift as the Spirit of France in a Ben Ali Hagan tableaux of "The Marseilles" and sporting Edenic leaves in the 1915 "Follies." In publicity she was styled, "The Girl with the Faultless Figure."

Having fended off the attentions of Diamond Jim Brady, and several other well-heeled suitors, she married Winfield Sheheen, general manager of Fox Films in spring of 1916, moved to London, and was almost immediately named in a breach of promise suit by fellow showgirl, Julia Beaubien. A year later the couple divorced and Kay Laurel returned to New York City.

Marriage redirected her ambitions from the stage to the screen for three years, with her major roles being the female lead in Rex Beach's 1919 "The Brand" for Goldwyn Pictures and the heroine in "Lonely Heart" (1922). Her appearances in 1919's "The Valley of the Giants" and 1922's "Whispering Wires" were less consequential. In 1922 she undertook a strenuous course of training in acting and spent two years touring the United States in stage plays before returning to England. While in London, she died of pneumonia at age 36.

NOTES: "Kay Laurel," Boston Journal (May 15, 1916) 11. "Stumbling Block Right Away in Kay Laurel's Marital Career," Philadelphia Inquirer (June 18, 1916) 1. David S. Shields/ALS