Renee Whitney

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Renee’s career started in silents, but was truly ignited with the talkies of the Pre Code era. Hers is not a big career, with no meaty and mostly uncredited roles, but she appeared in tons of good films with some very fine actors. Just as it all began with the Pre Code era, It was extinguished not long after the code kicked in July 1934, and she left Hollywood at a young age of 24. 

EARLY LIFE:

Bertha Renee Whitney was born on February 9, 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, to Charles Whitney and Bertha Lehmann, their only child. Her mother was the daughter of German immigrants, born in Nebraska. The family made a series of movies through California during her early childhood, going from Santa Monica, to Venice, and ending up in Los Angeles in the mid 1920s. Her father worked as a manager there, and her mother was a housewife. Renee finished just the first year of high school in Los Angeles before she opted to become an thespian.

In 1930, the family lived with her maternal grandparents and two lodgers in Los Angeles, and Renee was already an established actress by then. That same year, she moved to a rented apartment on the crossing West 1st and Broadway Street in east Los Angeles. Her career had already started, but the best was yet to come.

CAREER:

As I already noted, Renee did not have an exemplary career by a long shot, but managed to appear in a large number of movies in a very short time period, faring much better than some starlets of her rank.

8ac9y2rwxpzr2ywaBelieve it or not, Renee started her career as a teenager in silents (The Chicken Love at First FlightRun, Girl, RunThe Girl from Everywhere). 

Her first sound movie was the Clara Bow classic, The Wild Party. It seems that the “women empowerment” movies became her forte. Those were the movies where women lived freely, were strong and knew what they wanted. Under 18Play-Girl, Week Ends OnlyBaby Face and Winner Take All had female characters in the central roles and tackled issues directly connected to being a woman in the early 1930s. While neither of them is a classic today, they still hold up and have a strikingly contemporary feel about them.

 

Renee than switched her modus operandi to a totally different field, musicals. Her shapely gams sure helped there, and she was cast in a variety of movies as a nameless chorine: The Kid from Spain42nd StreetGold Diggers of 1933Fashions of 1934, and Wonder Bar.

 

In the meantime, she appeared in movies with top stars, like Picture Snatcher (a James Cagney movie), Ex-Lady (and many more with Bette Davis), Journal of a Crime (Ruth Chatterton) and so on. Not to say she was spared from less prestigious productions: Merry Wives of RenoThe Merry Frinks and The Circus Clown were low budget films with second tier actors.

 

Renee1Despite being uncredited most of the time, in about 1934, Renee started to get meatier parts, and her character actually had names! The first was a Busby Berkeley extravaganza, Footlight Parade, and one of the best movies on her list. The Big Shakedown was a soapy melodrama featuring a young Bette Davis, with a predictable plot but it’s far from total ruin. Bedside was a similar movie that uses all the standard melodramatic tropes.  I’ve Got Your Number is one of those vivacious, a bit wicked comedies with Joan Blondell, the type of movies she excelled in. Jimmy the Gent is a wonderfully delightful satire/comedy with Bette Davis and James Cagney, a true classic that lost none of it’s magic. Registered Nurse, Renee’s return to the “strong woman” arena was a ambiguous film that oscillated between serious drama and a zany comedy, and gave Bebe Daniels one of her better roles in her later career.

 

l0tcu2qx7w880lcwReturn of the Terror gave her a try at horror, unfortunately just not a very good one. Side Streets is one of those mature, placid movies Hollywood never made for the money. Not only are the leads, Aline MacMahon and Paul Kelly not typical “Hollywood handsome” actors, the bottom line of the story is that stunning looks can conceal a shallow, vapid personality.
Kansas City Princess is another Joan Blondell witty comedy, and she was paired with Renee’s good friend, Glenda Farrell. Western Courage was her one venture into the low budget western zone. As with most actresses, it did nothing for her career.

 

Near the end of her career, Renee appeared in several shorts – finally, she got the converted female lead role in Counsel on De Fence, a well received 20 minute feature, the first thing Harry Langdon did for Columbia. She did not fare was well in the other two (Stage Frights and Tuned Out), as she was very low on the credits list in both.

 

After averaging more than 10 movies a year, Renee had a severely diminished output after 1934. She was in only four movies in 1935 and three in 1936. The first two made in 1936, Hell-Ship Morgan and Let’s Sing Again, were both B class. It seemed her days of fame were long gone by then, and stardom would elude her.
Her last movie was the classic musical, Show Boat, featuring the highly accomplished Irene Dunne. She retired from the movies afterwards.

PRIVATE LIFE:

Renee hit the press in 1929, and some pretty flattering things were written about her. Originally featured in a pack with 7 other starlets on their way to stardom, at just 17, she did not reach the peak of her beauty – that happened two years later, in 1931, when she was singled out by the prestigious illustrator Henry Clive as the “perfect model”. When a guy who painted hundreds of stunning models says that, one stands up and listens.

3ao7jgce5i3n3icThe press mostly dealt with Renee’s professional life, never mentioning her dating habits, so little is known about that. It was noted she and Glenda Farrell, her frequent co-star, were great friends off screen, nursing each other when they were sick and so on. In 1935, Renee hit the papers again after losing 15 pounds as a result of an appendectomy, and it was noted she was the sweetheart of a mid western steel millionaire.

Renee married a Mr. Klein in about 1936. There is a good chance that Klein was the midwestern steel millionaire mentioned in the previous newspaper clips. If that is so, I assume she moved to his home state and ended her career for good.

They divorced prior to 1940, and she went on to live with her widowed mother, Bertha Lord, in Santa Monica. She was listed as unemployed, and not looking for a job, indicating that she was probably living off her alimony payments.

Renee married for the second time to a Mr. George. Unfortunately, I have no further information about this marriage.

Renee L. George died on September 16, 1972 in Los Angeles, California.

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