Between 1922 and 1934, the Wampas Baby Stars were budding actresses who reigned as symbols of new life waiting to be breathed into the Hollywood community. They were young, they were beautiful, they were poised on the edge of movie stardom. But not all of the Babies ever got there. Some became household names (and still are) while some have been almost completely lost to time.
Wampas is not a children’s television show or a noise you would shout when you hit your brother with a rubber bat. Rather, it was an acronym for the Western Associated Motion Picture Advertisers. Founded in 1920, the organization was made up of both publicists who worked within the studios and also some freelancers. They needed a publicity gimmick and found it in annually selecting 13 female up and comers with perceived star quality. They called these women “Baby Stars” -the baby referring to their rank as stars in training instead of squalling infants. The studios probably weren’t opposed to the free publicity of their contract players and endorsed the venture which quickly became a sought after and legitimate honor.
So who got to be a Wampas Baby?
1). To justify, in some part, the title of “Baby,” the girl would typically be young (under 25).
2). She would be an actress who had at least 3 film credits under her belt (according to the original rules of selection, though this was changed later).
3). She was not completely unknown to the public, but had not yet achieved stardom.
Many girls could be nominated, but only a lucky 13 (with 2 alternates) were selected for the honor (with the exception of 1932 when a triple tie resulted in 15 girls being named). A committee was created within Wampas to handle the elections and ballot counting. Given the clout the award quickly obtained, this was a serious process met with a lot of excitement and anticipation. The impact and buzz of this process and the ceremony that followed, known as the Frolic, is often compared in modern musings to that of the Academy Awards today. Held every January, the Frolic was a ball where the new Babies would be formally introduced.
But, like anything, it lost steam. In the 1930s, a mix of the Depression, Talkies throwing a wrench into a carefully established silent system, and the studios trying to assert more control over the selections essentially upset the Wampas apple cart. 1930 and 1933 went by babyless. In 1931, the Fox Film Corporation did not have a girl nominated from their star stable and revolted, clapping back with the “Fox Debutantes,” their own group of up and comers, detracting a bit from the Wampas hoopla. In a last desperate move to regain control of their publicity machine, Wampas announced in 1934 that the girls picked that year would have to be freelancers, not under contract with any studio, and would also have to submit to a screen test. Not surprisingly, this idea did not go over well with the studios…and you didn’t want to be on the bad side of the studios in the 1930s! Aside from a lukewarm resurrection by Ginger Rogers and friends in 1956, 1934 would be the last year of Wampas Babies.
They had a good run. Though not all of the Babies achieved stardom, they all carried the honor with them throughout their days. The title of Wampas Baby Star was even mentioned in some of these starlets’ obituaries and news articles about their divorces in later years. In some cases, it was the biggest public achievement they would ever have.
So who were they, these Wampas Babies? In posts to follow, I will focus on each Baby and try to figure out who she was, why she was chosen, and what happened to her after.
1922: Maryon Aye, Helen Ferguson, Lila Lee, Jacqueline Logan, Louise Lorraine, Bessie Love, Kathryn McGuire, Patsy Ruth Miller, Colleen Moore, Mary Philbin, Pauline Starke, Lois Wilson, Claire Windsor.
1923: Eleanor Boardman, Evelyn Brent, Dorothy Devore, Virginia Browne Faire, Betty Francisco, Pauline Garon, Kathleen Key, Laura La Plante, Margaret Leahy, Helen Lynch, Derelys Perdue, Jobyna Ralston, Ethel Shannon.
1924: Clara Bow, Elinor Fair, Carmelita Geraghty, Gloria Grey, Ruth Hiatt, Julanne Johnston, Hazel Keener (aka Barbara Worth), Dorothy Mackaill, Blanche Mehaffey (aka Joan Alden and Janet Morgan), Margaret Morris, Marian Nixon, Lucille Ricksen, Alberta Vaughn.
1925: Betty Arlen, Violet Avon (aka Violet La Plante), Olive Borden, Anne Cornwall, Ena Gregory (aka Marian Douglas), Madeline Hurlock, Natalie Joyce, June Marlowe, Joan Meredith (aka Catherine Jelks), Evelyn Pierce, Dorothy Revier, Duane Thompson, Lola Todd.
1926: Mary Astor, Mary Brian, Joyce Compton, Dolores Costello, Joan Crawford, Marceline Day, Dolores Del Rio, Janet Gaynor, Sally Long, Edna Marion, Sally O’Neil, Vera Reynolds, Fay Wray.
1927: Patricia Avery, Rita Carewe, Helene Costello, Barbara Kent, Natalie Kingston, Frances Lee, Mary McAllister, Gladys McConnell, Sally Phipps, Sally Rand, Martha Sleeper, Iris Stuart, Adamae Vaughn.
1928: Lina Basquette, Flora Bromley, Sue Carol, Ann Christy, June Collyer, Alice Day, Sally Eilers, Audrey Ferris, Dorothy Gulliver, Gwen Lee, Molly O’Day, Ruth Taylor, Lupe Velez.
1929: Jean Arthur, Sally Blane, Betty Boyd, Ethlyne Clair, Doris Dawson, Josephine Dunn, Helen Foster, Doris Hill, Caryl Lincoln, Anita Page, Mona Rico, Helen Twelvetrees, Loretta Young.
1930: No babies
1931: Joan Blondell, Constance Cummings, Frances Dade, Frances Dee, Sidney Fox, Rochelle Hudson, Anita Louise, Joan Marsh, Marian Marsh, Karen Morley, Marion Shilling, Barbara Weeks, Judith Wood (aka Helen Johnson).
1932: Lona Andre, Lillian Bond, Mary Carlisle, June Clyde, Patricia Ellis, Ruth Hall, Eleanor Holm, Evalyn Knapp, Dorothy Layton, Boots Mallory, Toshia Mori, Ginger Rogers, Marian Shockley, Gloria Stuart, Dorothy Wilson.
1933: No babies
1934: Judith Arlen, Betty Bryson, Jean Carmen (aka Julia Thayer), Helen Cohan, Dorothy Drake, Jean Gale, Hazel Hayes, Ann Hovey, Lucille Lund, Lu Anne Meredith, Gigi Parrish, Jacqueline Wells (aka Diane Duval and Julie Bishop), Katherine Williams. Alternates = Mary Kornman, Dorothy Granger, Lenore Keefe, Naomi Judge and Irene Ware.
I may include the Wampas-in-name-only 1956 list as one entry, but am still toying with the idea…
1956: Phyllis Applegate, Roxanne Arlen, Jolene Brand, Donna Cooke, Barbara Huffman (aka Barbara Eden, Jewell Lain, Barbara Marx, Lita Milan, Norma Nilsson, Ina Poindexter, Violet Rensin, Dawn Richard, Delfin Thursday.
Liebman, Roy. The Wampas Baby Stars: a Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934. McFarland, 2009.
“Thirteen Lucky Young Film Actresses Expected to Shine Brightly during 1928.” The Los Angeles Times, 16 Jan. 1928, p. 21.
Thirer, Irene. “How Wampas Stars Have Fared down the Years.” Daily News, 12 Feb. 1928, p. 31.