Her career is indelibly linked with one of the greatest stars of all time. Her beauty and grace live on with each screening of her films. Her story began in a small town, and ended in Tinseltown. Agnes Ayres, a blonde beauty with classic features, made a lot of news in her short life.
She was born Agnes Hinkle, on April 4, 1896, in Carbondale, Illinois. Her career began with the Essanay company, in 1915, after deserting her first choice of career, that of the law. Her segue into film was slow, with minor roles in films for other companies like Vitagraph and Fox. Her personal life was on the upswing as well with her marriage, during World War I, to Captain Frank P. Schuker. However, this union did not last: Schuker was granted a divorce in early Summer 1921.
As the Roaring Twenties dawned, Ayres found herself with a plum role in a film that would emerge as a true classic. She signed on to play the female lead in The Sheik (1921), opposite Rudolph Valentino and co-starring Adolphe Menjou. Ironically, the triumvirate from this great film all rest in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Her role, opposite the most swooned-over man in cinema, made her the woman women loved to envy – and secured her place in film history.
In October 1924, Ayres announced that she had married Mexican diplomat S. Manuel Reachi on July 13, 1924. Almost a year to the day, in early July 1925, Ayres’ home was burglarized, with over “$10,000 in gems, clothing, and government bonds” missing. In August 1925, it was announced that Ayres had sued Paramount Distributing Corporation for $25,000 because only one of the three films she had contracted for were actually made. The next month, the amount was raised to $75,000: Ayres claimed that Paramount did not make the other two pictures on her contract, “and that this idle period had damaged her future earning capacity.”
Joy came to the Reachi home the next year with the birth of their only child, daughter Maria Eugenia, born in Los Angeles on March 25, 1926. That year, too, Ayres was signed by Hal Roach to a starring contract. The highs were soon brought low again, as Ayres divorced Reachi in Los Angeles on June 10, 1927, on the grounds of failure to provide and desertion. According to the October 1927 issue of Paris and Hollywood Screen Secrets, “Under the terms of the property settlement, each relinquished any claim to property of the other, and their one child is to remain in the custody of the mother – at the mothers expense.” Agnes never remarried.
She and Valentino would reunite on film one more time, for The Son of the Sheik (1926), which would prove to be his last film, prior to his untimely death in August 1926. Ayres would only make a handful more films: with the dawn of sound came the realization that her voice was “improperly pitched.” She would make one talkie film, appearing in a bit part in the George Raft-Gary Cooper picture Souls at Sea (1937).
Three years later, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1940, Agnes Ayres died of a cerebral hemorrhage; she was 44 years old. Her contributions to the motion picture industry were recognized with a star along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, at 6504 Hollywood Boulevard. However, perhaps her greatest claim to fame – what she will ultimately be best remembered for – remains some beautiful and passionate moments shared with a legendary superstar in two unforgettable films. To have inspired such love in the ultimate screen lover: now, that’s memorable.