A Melodramatic Love Life: Week of September 17th, 1921

Ruth Renick and Edward Hearn in The Fire Bride (1922). Hearn played a first mate, not a captain, but close enough

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley told a cute story about an actress who went on to have an even more eventful love life:

Going down to the South Sea Islands doesn’t seem to have taken a bit of pep out of Ruth Renick, who plays the leading feminine role in the Far East Production’s feature, The Lagoon of Desire, which is being made in Tahiti. Here’s an excerpt from her diary, which she sent me in lieu of a letter:

First day out: Sea rough, but am not seasick.

Second day: Gave the first-class passengers the once over and found them rather uninteresting.

Third day: Met the captain and found him exceedingly interesting.

Fourth day: Walked with the captain on the promenade deck. He wanted to kiss me, but nothing doing.

Fifth day: The captain swore that he would sink the ship if I refused to kiss him.

Sixth day: Saved a thousand lives.

What a brave act of self-sacrifice! I’m sure her fellow passengers were grateful.

Renick and the film crew had left for Tahiti in August, and they returned to Los Angeles in November. Their movie’s title was changed to The Fire Bride, and it told the story of American treasure hunters looking for gold on a South Sea island. When it came out in 1922, C.S. Sewell in Moving Picture World thought that the tropical scenery was striking and beautiful, but the story wasn’t always convincing, and the cast was merely satisfactory. It’s a lost film.

Ruth Renick

Even though the film wasn’t a big hit, Ruth Renick continued to work in both film and on stage. Born Ruth Griffith in Colorado City, Texas in 1893, she got her start as an actress in stock companies in the 1910’s. She became a film actress in 1919; her most remembered role was as Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in The Mollycoddle (1920).

Douglas Fairbanks and Ruth Renick, The Mollycoddle (1920)

She returned to the stage at the Fulton Theater in Oakland, and that’s where her personal life again got featured in the newspapers. In early 1924, her family got a telegram that she’d married one Wellington L. Belford. As the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service (January 15, 1922) reported,

He was a brilliant conversationalist, was clever with magic tricks and claimed to possess hypnotic powers. The romance was short and snappy. Marriage followed quickly. In fact, it happened so mysteriously that relatives of Miss Renick investigated.

It turned out that the wedding was mysterious because it wasn’t real. An Associated Press story (January 13, 1922) told what happened next:

Wellington L. Belford was arrested today in the honeymoon suite of a fashionable Oakland hotel as a result of information furnished by J.C. Walden, brother-in-law of Miss Ruth Renick, screen and vaudeville actress, who claims to be Belford’s bride. Belford, who is charged with impersonating an army officer, is quoted as saying he was not married.

Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1924.

I thought that fake marriages only happened in fiction! Apparently, that wasn’t as much of a problem as impersonating an Army major. When a judge asked him why he was wearing an officer’s uniform, Belford said “It pleases my vanity.” He told the police that he was a screenwriter. He paid $500 bail and promptly disappeared, last seen “on the seat of a baggage truck which was taking his belongings from an expensive suite at the Hotel Oakland.” He had a good reason to leave: the police soon got a telegram from authorities in Detroit where he was wanted on a charge of embezzling $15,000. Then detectives in New York chimed in, with news that he was implicated in a bank swindle at New Rochelle.

The cops finally tracked him down in 1925, and they tricked him into crossing the Canadian border near Seattle where they promptly arrested him and sent him back to Detroit. There were no more newspaper stories about what happened next (except for one in 1928 that said the impersonating an officer charges were dismissed), but if the papers were correct and his name really was Martin Livingston Belfort, then by 1930 he was still in Detroit and working as a sales manager for a car company. In 1933 he married Anna Mae Pulver, a public school teacher, and they divorced in 1939. In 1940 he remained in Detroit, but he’d opened his own insurance agency. He died on September 26, 1968.

Newspapers mentioned that Renick tried to annul the marriage, but the courts told her they couldn’t annul something that didn’t happen. Renick got through the public embarrassment and continued to act on stage and in film. She married James F. Lee Jr., a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, on June 25, 1936 and she died on May 7, 1984 in Los Angeles, where she’s buried in the Hollywood Forever cemetary.

“Belford May Be Wanted in Detroit; Girl’s Mother Comes,” Santa Cruz Evening News, January 14, 1924.

The Fire Bride,” Moving Picture World, March 25, 1922, p.404.

“Hypnotism—Or Wedding?” Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1924.

“’Love Pirate’ Gets Case Dismissed,” San Francisco Examiner, September 16, 1928.

“Maj. Bedford Arrested in Oakland, Cal.” Marshall Evening Chronicle, January 15, 1924.

“’Major’ Belford is Wanted in Swindle,” Los Angeles Daily News, January 15, 1924.

“Number Seek Bogus Major,” San Bernardino Sun, January 16, 1924.

“Police Intrude on Unlicensed Honeymoon and ‘Groom’ Jailed,” Humboldt Times, January 13, 1924.

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