“Gwen Lee is not pretty. I would say that her principal charm is her ability to wear clothes. Evidently she had considerable intelligence, too, for she was wise enough to cash in on this so-called ‘style’ and early in her life got herself a job as model on Michigan Boulevard [sic.], Chicago. She would be ideal as such, blond and striking, with a bold sort of beauty – I mean she is not at all a clinging vine.” – Inez Wallace, writer
“I did not know a soul in motion pictures. I had nothing to recommend me except fairly good looks and the fact I had been employed as a model for clothing. Hollywood was full of beautiful girls, trying to get into the ‘movies.’ The situation appeared hopeless. Yet, the very fact that I had modeled proved to be my opening wedge. I went to a young woman who was using actresses to advertise clothing offered by Los Angeles stores. I told her what I had done in Chicago and she agreed to use me. Again, I became a model strutting and posing in beautiful gowns. Then my employer called the attention of a casting director to me and my day arrived. I was to get a chance in pictures.” – Gwen Lee in 1926.
Her break was working as an extra, which eventually led to bit parts and a contract with MGM.
Fighting with Dorothy Sebastian over an oversized turkey wishbone.
“Heavens, no! There may be a lot of things on my conscience, but I hope I’ll never have to face the fact that I’ve encouraged any girl to try the picture game. There are too many disappointments, too many of the old heartaches. I sometimes wonder if I would do it over again. There is satisfaction, of course, when a part has been well done and looks right on the screen, but even that is not complete satisfaction.” — Gwen Lee in 1927
“In one respect I’ve been luckier than most girls, I’ve had my mother and my grandmother with me and they have never for a minute doubted that I was a second Duse. Even when I was doing extra work they were absolutely sure that it was just for a little while and my opportunity would come. They were often sure when I wasn’t.” — Gwen Lee in 1927
“You see, I came to California along with a thousand or so others and I am not one of the Cinderellas of the screen. I wasn’t a ‘find’ or a ‘discovery’ or a ‘new face!’ In one way Monta Bell discovered me, but that isn’t anything to his credit. However, this noble discovery didn’t mean anything but bits. Small parts followed and then bigger ones. It doesn’t matter to me if it takes a long time just so I don’t feel myself slipping back.” — Gwen Lee in 1927
Photo: Clarence Bull
“If I get discouraged I remember something that a great star once said. She told me that a big, startling hit was often the worst thing that could happen to an actress. It sets a standard everyone decided that you were not so good. That’s a consolation thos those of us who haven’t played a truly great part.” — Gwen Lee in 1927
“Signing on the dotted line, nevertheless, is barely a goal. Disappointments and aggravations come to contract players in the ‘movies’ just as they do to the extra girls trying so hard to get in. ‘You probably will get that role!’ a director says, ‘If you do it will make you!’ And you build up your hopes on ‘that’ role, only to see it go to someone else and again you wait. You see Lillian Gish, Mae Murray, Norma Shearer, Carmel Myers, John Gilbert, Lew Cody and other stars here working regularly, steadily, always in demand, with you possibly idle or in lesser roles. It fires one with ambition. You yearn for work. You yearn for your ‘great opportunity.’ One day, I expect mine to come but I’ve reached a point where, when I fail to get a coveted role, I can accept the situation philosophically – and go on hoping.” – Gwen Lee
“I always wanted to ha-ha when they ask me about my ‘investments.’ What do I do with my money, they wonder. And I want to know what money? When you figure publicity, clothes – to mention them in order of importance – social life, lessons, and all the things you must learn and do to keep your nose a length ahead of the other racers, you have just enough left to treat yourself to a nice ice cream soda.” – Gwen Lee
Source: Myrtle Gebhart (1930)