26 August 1894
United States of America
American actress of the silent era who worked almost exclusively with Harold Lloyd.|
She was born in Florence, Alabama to Willis Eugene Harrison (1861-1918), a hardware merchant, and Sarah Kate (Hudson) Harrison (1870-1937); they were married around 1886. Ruby Estelle was the third of four children; she had two older brothers, Neill Hudson Harrison (1887-1933) and Aubrey White Harrison (1889-1943), and a younger sister, Elizabeth Mary (or Mary Elizabeth) "Betty" Harrison (b. ca. 1902; alive as of 1945).
Florence Gazette, Thursday, 30 August 1894: "There arrived in Florence on last Thursday, a little stranger, of the female gender, who was not able to tell its name, but is being tenderly cared for by kind friends—its parents—Mr. & Mrs. W. E. Harrison." This would place Estelle's birth on 23 August, rather than the 26 August date she later claimed in her October 1916 Motion Picture News Studio Directory bio. This also backs up the 1894 birth year given for her in the 1900 Census, rather than the 1898 birth year she later claimed.
The Harrison family moved from Florence to Los Angeles in 1906; by 1908, they were living at 1206 South Figueroa Street, their home for the next decade.
Shortly after 1:00pm on Wednesday, 17 March 1915, Ruby Estelle said goodbye to her mother and ventured out of the Harrison household, ostensibly to visit a friend, Miss Beatrice Nichols, at the Burbank theater before the afternoon matinee. When she failed to return home that night, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison contacted Miss Nichols, believing their daughter was still with her, but they discovered Ruby Estelle never showed up at the theater. Without a trace of his daughter nor any word of her whereabouts, Mr. Harrison and Ruby's brother Neill contacted her friends, including Morosco theater star Selma Paley, without any luck and ultimately began a search with the aid of detectives; Mr. Harrison "said that he feared that Miss Harrison had been kidnaped [sic] or drugged and was being held a prisoner." This assumption was shared by Detective Albert of the Nick Harris agency, who aided in the search. A report in the Los Angeles Evening Herald (19 March 1915) gave a description of Ruby: "Age, 19 [actually 20]. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Blonde hair and blue eyes." She had $10 in her purse with her and was dressed in a dark blue and brown plaid street suit "with a Norfolk coat and [a] small hat trimmed with flowers. Jewelry, a small gold neck chain with [a] heart-shaped locket and [a] silver hand-made ring with [a] turquoise setting." It also noted, "She has played minor parts at the [Burbank] theater." Luckily, it all ended happily: it turned out, Ruby was at the Covina home of school teacher Miss Rena Polkington, who lived next door to the Harrisons; Ruby returned home upon learning "of her parents' anxiety and that detectives were searching for her."
Estelle's bio in the October 1916 Motion Picture News Studio Directory:
"HARRISON, Estelle, ingenue, Rolin; b. Florence, Ala., Aug. 26, 1898; educ. pub. schls., Los Angeles, Cal.; stage career, stck. in Los Angeles; screen career, Kalem, Biograph, Rolin. Hght., 5 ft. 3 in.; wght., 119 lbs.; light complexion, golden hair, blue eyes; rides, swims, etc. Home ad., 1206 S. Figueroa st., Los Angeles, Cal. Studio ad., Rolin, Los Angeles, Cal." On 08 July 1918, father Willis Eugene, reportedly plagued by poor health, committed suicide via "gunshot wound of the brain." By early 1920, the Harrison family had moved into 1125½ La Veta Terrace. By 1921, they moved once again, this time to 1325 North Sierra Bonita Avenue, where the family would remain for the next twenty-odd years.
In addition to her extensive work with Roach, Estelle had earlier appeared in films for Kalem and Biograph, and later in at least one Vitagraph comedy ("His Jonah Day"). In early 1921, Estelle served as leading lady for George Bunny (brother of John) in several Goldwyn "Capitol Comedies" before returning to Roach to act as leading lady for another famous comic's brother, Harold's older brother Gaylord Lloyd, in Roach's ultimately short-lived "Lonesome Luke" revival series starring Gaylord. She then served as the heart interest in two westerns, "A Knight of the West" (1921) with Olin Francis (directed by Robert McKenzie and written by Eva McKenzie), and "Fighting Hearts" (1922) with William Fairbanks (during which she had a minor accident while riding a reinless horse). Newspaper tidbits regarding Estelle playing with George Bunny also refer to her as a former Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty.
A tidbit in the 17 January 1925 issue of Exhibitors Trade Review noted that Estelle took part in a reunion lunch with her old Roach colleagues Bebe Daniels and Marie Mosquini; it is mentioned that Estelle and Bebe had "just returned from a trip East." By this time, Bebe was now a star in her own right, while Marie was still chugging along at Roach. As for our subject, the blurb notes, "Miss Harrison has dropped from public view in retiring to private life." The final mention I can find of Estelle in the acting profession is in the 1923 Los Angeles City Directory, which gives her occupation as "photoplayer." She has no profession listed in the 1924 and 1925 L.A. City Directories, then in the 1926 Directory, "Stella" is a clerk. In the 1927 Directory, Estelle R. Harrison is working as a stenographer, and... that's the last I can definitely find of her. She is not present with the rest of the family in the 1930 Census, nor with surviving siblings Aubrey and Betty in the 1940 Census. When Aubrey died in 1943, the two death notices I found (Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Citizen-News) only mention Betty. The 1932 Los Angeles City Directory has a listing for an Estelle M. Harrison, living at 1325 N Sierra Bonita av. like the rest of the Harrison family, but I wonder if this was a mislisting of her sister Elizabeth M. "Betty" Harrison (who is listed separately as just Betty, but one person having two separate listings in a Los Angeles City Directory is something I have seen before).
Brother Neill, a soda dispenser, died of throat cancer on 10 December 1933; widowed mother Kate succumbed to heart problems on 25 July 1937; and brother Aubrey, a World War I veteran and plumber, died of chronic myocarditis (duration: 25 yrs) on 23 April 1943. Sister Betty served as the informant on all three death certificates. Neither of the brothers ever married; Betty was engaged in 1922, but this doesn't seem to have led to the altar. The parents and both brothers are interred together within Niche 3, Tier 4 of the North Wall of the Abbey of the Psalms Foyer at Hollywood Forever in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Not quite certain what became of Betty either, but editions of the West Los Angeles Independent throughout 1945 have Elizabeth Harrison as the Administratrix of the Estates of her mother Kate and brother Aubrey.
Note: The pre-1940 California Death Index has an entry for a Ruby E. Harrison, born circa 1895, who died on 17 November 1936 in Los Angeles County. Given the name and the estimated birth year, one would be tempted to assume this is our Estelle (some Family Trees at Ancestry even have). However, this is, in fact, NOT Estelle, but rather blues songstress and vaudeville performer Ruby Darby (listed under her married name, Ruby Ethel Harrison), who is a provably different woman. (Though coincidentally, on the death certificate for Estelle's mother Kate, the maiden name of Kate's mother is given as Mary Darby!)
In the eight years I (Jesse Brisson) have spent researching many of the players that have populated the films of Hal Roach and those films otherwise relevant to Another Nice Mess, finding the answer to the question "Whatever happened to Estelle Harrison?" is truly one of the most FRUSTRATING cases I have ever come up against. It is even more puzzling in her case because we can cover the first thirty-odd years of her life quite well. Family, origins, a birth date (or two)... and yet, none of this surefire evidence easily helps us figure out what became of her after about 1927. Where did she go? Did she leave 1325 North Sierra Bonita Avenue and move away - possibly out of state? Did she pass away "undetected?" Did she get married? Did she become estranged from her family? Did she go to Europe like Kathleen Myers? There are so many unanswered questions. If only it was as easy to find her as it was after those few days in March 1915...
Real name: Ruby Estelle Harrison
Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography;
plus 1 film with Babe Hardy.