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Ethlyne Clair; Starred in Silent Comedies, Westerns and Serials

February 29, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ethlyne Clair, silent screen star of comedies, Westerns and serials, died Tuesday at age 91.

She died in Tarzana Hospital of respiratory failure after ulcer surgery.

Although her career spanned less than a decade, Clair enjoyed a colorful life both on- and off-screen during Hollywood's adolescence.

She achieved her greatest popularity in Westerns opposite cowboy stars of the day. She made three films with Hoot Gibson, whom she rated decades later as her favorite actor, and two with Tom Tyler, to whom she was briefly engaged.

"Hoot was wonderful to me," she said in 1991, "and we had a little love affair."

Her co-stars fared better in her opinion than the films.

"I hated them," she said, looking back as an octogenarian. "You see, I wanted to do big things and become a big star, not ride horses through the desert. I thought I was above all that. I just wanted to be a beautiful vamp."

After working in New York studios, Clair made her Hollywood debut in a series of comedies, "The Newlyweds and Their Baby," adapted from a newspaper comic strip. Two serials, "The Vanishing Rider" in 1928 and "Queen of the Northwoods" in 1929, increased her national reputation.

In 1929, the Western Assn. of Motion Picture Advertisers named her one of 13 WAMPAS Baby Stars along with Helen Twelvetrees and Loretta Young.

Clair's final film was "God's Gift to Women" in 1931 for Darryl Zanuck, who she claimed short-circuited her career after she rejected his romantic advances.

Born Ethlyne Williamson in Talladega, Ala., she apparently went into acting to please her mother, who entered her in a beauty contest that won her a screen test, and her brother, who hired a New York agent for her.

Asked late in life to name her favorite film, she said bluntly: "I didn't like any of them."

Clair married three times--first to agent and producer Richard Lansdale Hanshaw, who she claimed drove her to Mexico and forced her to wed with a gun; then to studio makeup artist Ern Westmore in a wedding that made national headlines when his former wife and rag-clad daughter showed up demanding support funds. Clair's happier third marriage, to automobile dealer Merle Arthur Frost Jr., lasted almost 30 years until his death in 1968.

She is survived by two daughters, Lynne Westmore Bloom and Merle Ann Frost Wybenga; three sons, Merle Arthur Frost III, John and Christopher Frost; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

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