Scarlett Knight is one strange flower. I stumbled upon her name quite a few times in the early 1940s papers – touted as a promising starlet on her way to stardom, she fizzled like many of them, but it is the inspiring story of her post-Hollywood life that makes her an interesting subject for a short biography.
Frances Knight Archibald was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in about 1918, to William David Archibald and his wife. It was a prestigious, rich family – her father was once a Kentucky state banking commissioner.
Frances grew up in Kentucky and from any early age developed a special passion for horse riding – she was famous among her hometown for being able to guess a horse’s age by looking at his teeth and for her recopies for mint Jelups and Tom and Jerrys .
Frances attended the University of Minnesota where she caught the acting bug and joined a stock company. She traveled through 33 states with the said company and played a variety of different roles.
In 1940, Scarlett told herself that Hollywood is the next step in her career, and in two weeks she went from a stock company actress to a actress under studio contract. How did she do it? The enchanting southern belle, despite being labeled as a Myrna Loy look alike, did not give up and with a rarely seen determination managed to get signed by RKO.
We fall quite short here. While Frances definitely was in Hollywood for a time, from 1940 to about 1943, and she was in the papers, I could not find any IMDB account for her and thus I have no information about the movies she appeared in. While there were plenty of actresses on the studio’s payroll who never saw the camera lens, and Scarlett could actually be one of them, I sincerely hope this is not the case and, by some accident, she does not have her page. If you trust the papers, she appeared in several movies in 1940 for sure. Anyway, wherever she appeared in movies or not, it did nothing to catapult her to stardom and she left Hollywood by 1942.
When girls enter Hollywood they often fall into two basic categories: beauties who have little to no acting experience and use their looks as a starting point, or veteran theater actresses who have the experience and skill. It’s still a gamble and it’s very much unknown who will succeed or who will fail (While the second category has a bigger chance of success, there are truly no rules. Many world famous actresses started as chorus girls who used their looks to propel themselves to stardom – Joan Crawford, Jane Wyman, Norma Shearer. Many other top actresses were theater practitioners who just translated their thespian skills onto film – Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ruth Chatterton).
By all accounts Scarlett, while not a Lynn Fontanne of her generation (in other words, a world known Broadway diva who did Shakespeare like it’s nobody’s business) she was a seasoned stock company player when she entered Hollywood, an experience that could have very well lent itself to her path to stardom. Yet, it did not, and Scarlett remains uncredited today.
Yet she did sink her teeth into the Hollywood lifestyle and lived like many starlets of the time, gathering publicity for her exploits. She was a clotheshorse and posed for fashion columns. In early 1941, Scarlett injured her Achilles tendon and was bedridden and as a result, she had to skip a few roles.
By 1942, Scarlett had seen the writing on the wall – there was no success to be had in Hollywood for her. True movie recognition constantly evaded her. Next we hear anything of her, it’s 1945 and a newspaper article emerged in the papers that explained what happened to Scarlett in the interim ( forgot to take the name of the columnist, but it’s clear that he helped Scarlett a great deal):
A few years ago during a visit to Hollywood I was privileged to meet and to be of some assistance to a beautiful young Louisville Ky girl with the startling nom de theater of Scarlett Knight. She had talent ability ambition and great beauty but she was getting no where fast in filmdom so with the aid of Abe Shore, manager of Max Factor Cosmetic Co and Harold Rodenbaugh former Tribune reporter who had be come photography editor of the Louisville Courier Journal I started a publicity campaign for the young lady. Her picture appeared in Life magazine and Harold went to town with n full page article complete with photographs in the magazine section of the Courier Journal.
Theatrical agents began to take notice and when I next heard from her she was playing one of the principal feminine roles in the stage play Good Night Ladies which had a two year run at the Blackstone theater in Chicago. She dropped the Scarlett and was known as Francos Knight. Every Christmas she wouldd send me a card of appreciation and I could tell that success hadn’t gone to her head.
Then I received an mail letter from Italy where she was with a M S O troupe entertaining our fighting men. Then a long silence and I wondered what happened to my young friend. Then the other day there came in my mail the following Mr and Mrs William David Archibald announce the marriage of their daughter Frances Knight to John Bayne Breckenridge, Lt Col Army of the United States, on Sunday, the twelfth of August 1945, in St Johns church, Broad Creek , Maryland. And so one chapter of the story ends and a more interesting one begins. May it and all the succeeding chapters be filled with joy and happiness.
Thus, Frances married John Bayne Breckenridge in 1945 and gave up her acting career for marriage. Her transition from a starlet whose career went nowhere to a respected theater actress who met the love of her life while on a truly noble mission is very encouraging and shows how we can all reinvent ourselves anytime in life.
The Knight-Breckenridge union resulted in two children, a daughter, Frances K., born on September 12, 1946, and a son, John B., born on May 5, 1949. Both of the children were born in Ketucky, so I imagine she and her husband lived there long term.
I have no idea what happened to Scarlett afterwards, but I do hope she lived a happy life.