Betty Bronson was born in Trenton, New Jersey, to Frank and Nellie Smith Bronson. She began her film career at the age of sixteen with a bit part in Anna Ascends. At seventeen, she was interviewed by J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Although the role had been sought by such established actresses as Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, Barrie personally chose Bronson to play the lead in the film adaptation of his work, which was released in 1924. She appeared alongside actresses Mary Brian (Wendy Darling) and Esther Ralston (Mrs. Darling), both of whom remained lifelong friends. Betty Bronson had a major role in the 1925 silent film adaptation of Ben-Hur. In 1925, she starred in another Barrie story, A Kiss for Cinderella, an artfully-made film that failed at the box office. She made a successful transition into sound films with The Singing Fool (1928), co-starring Al Jolson. She appeared in the sequel, Sonny Boy, with Davey Lee in 1929. She was the leading lady opposite Jack Benny in the romantic drama The Medicine Man (1930). Betty Bronson continued acting until 1933 when she married Ludwig Lauerhass, with whom she had one child, Ludwig Lauerhass, Jr. She did not appear in films again until Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge (1937) starring Gene Autry. In the 1960s, she appeared in episodic television and feature films. Her last role was an uncredited part in the television biopic Evel Knievel (1971).
Betty Bronson was reclusive with the press, but received attention after being seen with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. He had his first boyhood crush on her, as he remembered in his autobiography, The Salad Days: “Another important picture had just started. It was Peter Pan, directed by a clever caricature of a wildly temperamental movie director, Herbert Brenon. After exhaustive tests, Betty Bronson, a pretty and gifted girl in her middle teens, was given this famous role… I fell for Betty! It was my first intensely juvenile, deep-sighs-and-bad-sonnets love. It was not fully requited. She only flirted with me. My rival was a fellow in his twenties, a newspaperman who was to become one of New York’s most respected theater critics, Richard Watts, Jr. …In any event, I was so smitten with Betty, I could think of little else, except when I could call on her, even though her overprotective mother was always just in the next room.” It is known that Bronson kept all Fairbanks’ letters and spoke of him fondly until her death. On October 19, 1971, Betty Bronson died after a protracted illness in Pasadena, California, and was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
- November, 17, 1906
- Trenton, New Jersey
- October, 19, 1971
- Pasadena, California
Cause of Death
- died after a protracted illness
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
- Glendale, California