She was born Vola Smith in Buffalo, New York. Vale was educated in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She began her career in amateur theatricals in Rochester, New York. Then she played in stock companies for a while. Her first movie experience was with Biograph, under the tutelage of the great film director D.W. Griffith. After a month of playing atmosphere parts, Vola was offered a genuine role. She wore a velvet gown with a train and a feathered hat. Soon she was appearing in short reel films for Biograph. Among the actors she was cast with were William S. Hart, Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, William Haines, Harry Carey, Tully Marshall and William Russell. She was adept in playing Spanish, Italian, French, and Gypsy roles. Aside from Biograph Vola worked for Fox Film, Famous Players-Lasky, Universal Pictures, and Paramount Pictures.
Her ambition was to play Madame Butterfly with an actual Japanese company, as well as to act as Lorna Doone. She was most inspired by Hayakawa and hoped to learn to act inside, as he did. With Sessue Hayakawa she made Each To His Kind (1917). Before filming began it was decided that the name Smith was too common to be used by a motion picture star. She changed her professional name to Vola Vale. Vale reflected in the early 1920s about observation, particularly its power in attaining one’s acting proficiency. It is the ability of the actress to see and note of the little things in life and then store them in her subconscious mind where they await her call to use at the psychological moment before the camera that enables her to either register success in her chosen work, or be merely mediocre. She began this process as a youth acting with D.W. Griffith. She observed how the director took notice of everything the actors did. Vola Vale modeled clothes for the Broadway Department Store in Los Angeles, California. A 1916 photo from the Los Angeles Times shows her in an exclusive Betty Wales frock from Broadway. This was a very popular dress among college women of the era.
Vola was married for a time to film director and producer Al Russell. They had a son. She was a member of Our Club, a group of seventeen of Hollywood’s baby cinema stars. Mary Pickford served as honorary president. Fellow members were Mildred Davis, Helen Ferguson, Patsy Ruth Miller, Clara Horton, Gertrude Olmstead, Laura La Plante, Virginia Fox, Colleen Moore, ZaSu Pitts, Lois Wilson, May McAvoy, Gloria Hope, Virginia Valli, Carmel Myers, Edna Murphy, and Carmelita Geraghty Vola Vale died in Hawthorne, California in 1970, aged 73, of heart disease. She is interred at the Roosevelt Memorial Park in Los Angeles County, California, USA.
- February, 12, 1897
- Buffalo, New York
- October, 17, 1970
- Hawthorne, California
Cause of Death
- heart disease
- Roosevelt Memorial Park
- Los Angeles County, California