“For three years I wondered if I would ever be a star. Two years I was under contract to Universal, making westerns. I don’t know why they ever put me into westerns, as they usually pick a girl who is a good rider. I never had been on a horse.” — Ethlyne Clair in 1928.
Despite her good looks, film player Ethlyne Clair never became a star. But that’s not to say that her life wasn’t cinematic!
She was born Ethlyne Williamson in Talladega, Alabama, in 1904. Her father worked as a railroad agent and her mother stayed at home to raise her and her older brother Malcolm.
According to early press releases, Ethlyne was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Publicists also said she attended Brenau University, Woodbury Hall, and the National Academy of Fine Arts in Washington D.C. However, U.S. Census records claim that she never went to college. After winning a local beauty contest, she moved to New York City (with the help of her mother and brother Malcolm). While there, she found work as a movie extra. Her first notable film appearance was in Sandra (1924), starring Barbara La Marr.
Ethlyne signed a two-year contract with Universal Pictures. Around this time, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother to further her film career. But the studio did very little to groom her for stardom. While under contract, she starred in a few comedy shorts as the mother of child star “Snookums” in a series called “The Newlyweds.”
Universal then cast her with barnstormer Al Wilson, before transferring her to a Western film unit, where she played Hoot Gibson’s girlfriend in a few B westerns.
“Hoot was wonderful to me, and we had a little affair,” she said in 1991.
In 1928, she married her agent, Richard Lonsdale Hinshaw, in Mexico. She later asserted that he had forced her into the marriage at gunpoint. However, in her actual divorce complaint that same year, she accused him of fraud, claiming that “he had promised to make her a star, and had failed to do so.” By this time, Universal had demoted her to playing opposite Rex, the Wonder Horse, before dropping her from her contract.
After leaving Universal, Clair worked freelance for the FBO Pictures Corporation. Although her film acting over the past three years showed little range, Pathe (representing the independent studios) selected her as a WAMPAS baby star in 1929. She spent most of that year making public appearances, posing for photos, and promoting beauty products. Warner Bros. signed her as a bit player, casting her as “Innocencia” in the B movie, From Headquarters. She also worked in low-budget movie serials and made two films opposite cowboy star Tom Tyler. She later claimed that she and Tyler were briefly engaged.
“I hated [making westerns]. You see, I wanted to do big things and become a big star, not ride horses through the desert. I thought I was above all that. I just wanted to be a beautiful vamp.” — Ethlyne Clair
In early 1930, she announced that she would marry legendary Hollywood makeup director Ernest Westmore on February 21. At the time of their announcement, newspapers claimed that Westmore worked in the prop department of a major studio and that Clair had first noticed him while he was moving furniture onto a movie set. Westmore later corrected the error, telling reporters “I’m not a furniture mover, no matter what anybody says.” He then confessed that he and Ethlyne had moved furniture into their new home (2039 High Tower Road) prior to their wedding.
Their wedding night was a public relations nightmare. During a photo-op on the top steps of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church, Westmore’s seven-year-old daughter from a prior marriage, Muriel, called to him from the crowd. As soon as he turned his attention to his daughter, his ex-wife, Vioda approached. Muriel (his daughter) then asked, “Daddy, why don’t you pay my mamma some alimony so I can go to school?” This was quickly followed by a process server who handed him a court summons. A photographer named Joe Mingo was also on hand to snap a photo. Realizing that he had been set up, Westmore flew into a rage and attacked the photographer. Other newspapermen joined the scuffle which was eventually broken up by police.
Although Westmore was not arrested that night, he was charged with delinquent alimony payments amounting to $1700 and assault. He then turned himself in and paid the alimony and bought the photographer a new camera.
Clair and Westmore‘s wedding fiasco foreshadowed an unhappy marriage. While his professional career flourished, her film career declined. By 1931, she was barely working. Years later, she claimed that Daryl Zanuck had ruined her career after she had rejected his sexual advances.
In 1932, Clair found herself unemployed and taking care of Muriel, who had moved in with them. Then in 1934, Clair gave birth to a daughter, Ethlyne Louise Westmore.
In 1936, Clair once again tried to jump-start her acting career by appearing on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse. The following year, she filed for divorce from Westmore. In court, she told the judge that her husband was prone to fits of jealousy and rage. She also said that after she left him, he attempted suicide by slashing both of his wrists. After Clair’s divorce was granted (with a generous settlement), fifteen-year-old Muriel Westmore told the press that she wanted to live with her stepmother.
Clair tried to act on the New York stage with lackluster results. In 1939, she met and married a Glendale automobile dealer named Merle A. Frost. Their ceremony took place inside the Hollywood Brown Derby.
Throughout the 1940s, Clair made sure that Westmore paid child support. Their daughter, Ethlynne Louise Westmore, grew up to become Lynne Westmore Bloom, a renowned prankster artist in her day. Her most famous work was the “60-foot naked, frolicking pink lady on the cliff above the Malibu Canyon tunnel” in the 1960s.
Ernest Westbrook died from a heart attack in 1967. Ethlyne Clair Frost died in 1996 from respiratory failure. Their daughter, Lynne Westmore Bloom, died in 2017.