She was a stalwart ‘Other Woman’ for several studios. But on a personal level Helen Vinson led the life of an aristocratic leading woman.
Unlike the ill-fated Rita Johnson, yesterday’s subject in this week’s ‘Other Woman’ series, Vinson was born rich, married rich and went to the great beyond after a long life (she died in 1999 at the age of 92).
Like Wednesday’s subject, Gail Patrick, she was tall for her time (slightly under 5-feet-7) but didn’t feel self- conscious about it. She did, however, complain about “an absolute sea of short men” at Warner Brothers — Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, James Cagney and George Raft, who all had to stand on boxes when they acted with me. The implication: It was their misfortune, not hers.
Vinson appeared in some 45 movies over a 13-year period beginning in 1932. She often played an insulting ‘other woman’ or the wealthy fiance not above using her wiles to get what she wants. But she always did so with panache and elegance borne from her affluent, stylish backround.
Vinson, daughter of an oil company executive in Texas, found herself as a teenager married to her much older first husband, a Philadelphia socialite. After appearing in regional productions, she took to the Broadway stage, and by her late 20’s was cast in key costarring roles with the likes of Sydney Greenstreet and Charles Laughton. Then Warner Brothers came calling.
What films was she in? Watch for Vinson in 1935’s The Wedding Night in which she plays Gary Cooper’s wife who deserts her husband while coping with a rival Anna Sten. In 1939’s RKO romance, In Name Only, she portrays the elegantly racy woman with a past trying to manipulate Carole Lombard, Kay Francis and Cary Grant. She plays an undercover federal agent in the 1940 anti-Nazi drama, Enemy Agent.
Vinson ended her big screen in style, supporting William Powell and Myrna Loy in 1945’s The Thin Man Goes Home.
A lifelong horsewoman, Vinson trotted through three marriages, one in 1935 to British tennis star Fred Perry. She moved to England and made movies there (1935’s Transatlantic Tunnel and King of the Damned and 1936’s Love in Exile). She retired completely at the behest of her third husband, a stockbroker. The couple maintained homes in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and on Nantucket Island.