Madge Bellamy is not a name the average person, or even the average movie buff, would know - her fame rests on two films, John Ford's silent classic OLD IRONSIDES and especially the talkie WHITE ZOMBIE, made on the cheap in 1932 but recognized for decades now as one of the essential horror films of the era. Madge was one of those big-eyed innocent looking starlets so popular during that the silent era and was a good if unremarkable actress. She was also quite cute, beautiful even, and appealing on screen. Perhaps her greatest personal success was the silent version of LORNA DOONE, which has been rediscovered in recent years and is currently available on DVD.
DARLING OF THE TWENTIES is Madge Bellamy's autobiography published coffee-table book style with many large photos throughout the text. Opening with a warm and sympathetic introduction by the silent film historian Kevin Brownlow, Madge recounts her life from her troubled relationship with her parents, her years of stardom at Fox Studios to her fall from grace in the early years of talkies (she unwisely had a spat with the studio just as the new talkie era was beginning and despite having a hit with her talkie debut MOTHER KNOWS BEST she left the studio and was unable to keep her stardom much longer), her erratic career in 1930's talkies (I actually feel she was much more beautiful during this era judging by the photos here) to her romance scandal of the 1940's that put her back in headlines if not in movies when she shot and wounded a lover to her later decades in poverty so extreme she and her mother went rummaging through a trunk of old unopened fan letters in hopes of finding quarters once sent to pay for photographs. Madge's chaotic story came close to having a happy ending when in her last years she sold her property during the 1980's California real estate boom for what she says was more than she made during her film star years but there was one final tragic twist with Madge dying just months before her autobiography was published and unable to enjoy the new attention it would have no doubt brought her.
Far from an empty-headed starlet, Madge enjoyed intellectual pursuits and attempted (unsuccesfully) to become a novelist. Madge's willfullness perhaps made her her own worst enemy, indeed she is brutally honest about herself. "I maintained my independence, but in the process, lost many of the rewards of life...it took me eighty years to know the stranger within." Yet one cannot help but admire this courageous woman who remained strong throughout her melodramas and this beautifully designed, nostalgic book is a great success in capturing what life is like as someone who caught glory, lost it, and lived to tell.