• 20 November 1898
  •  Chicago, Illinois, USA

Rod La Rocque


Rod La Rocque was born Roderick Ross LaRocque on November 29, 1898 in Chicago to a French father and an Irish mother. Stage-struck in his early teen years, he spent his summers with local stock companies, playing juvenile roles for $1.00 per performance. By the time he was 16, while he was appearing in vaudeville, he got a bit part in Triangle Studios' production The Snowman (1912), for which he was paid the princely sum of $3.25 for a day's work. He moved on to Chicago's other major studio, Essanay, as a bit player from 1914-1917. He started out in the company's Black Cat Productions division, which produced potboilers and comedies. He eventually moved up into better, and better-paying, parts. Essanay went out of business in 1918, and La Rocque moved to New York City, where he signed with agent, and later independent producer, Edward Small, among whose clients was Norma Shearer, with whom La Rocque would later appear in MGM's Let Us Be Gay (1930). The 6'3" La Rocque got a bit part in the Billie Burke film Let's Get a Divorce (1918) and turned to the theater for work. He was cast in the lead of "Up the Ladder," which flopped, necessitating his return to cinema work, though he would continue to appear in the theater through the early 1920s. He made three movies for Sam Goldfish (who renamed himself Samuel Goldwyn) in 1918, but La Rocque remained a freelance actor, not signing with any one studio. He appeared in films for Famous Players-Lasky, Universal and Vitagraph, among others, but did not break through to the big time until Cecil B. DeMille cast him in The Ten Commandments (1923), the film that made La Rocque a star. For the next five years, until the advent of the talkies, he worked for DeMille's own Producers' Distribution Corporation and for Famous Players-Lasky (the future Paramount, with which DeMille also was associated). La Rocque met his future wife, Hungarian actress Vilma Bánky, at a dinner party at DeMille's home in 1925. When they married in 1927, it was a lavish affair in which DeMille served as best man. The wedding was attended by the creme de la creme of Hollywood society, and afterward, there was a reception for 2,000 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. When La Rocque's contract with DeMille and Famous Players-Lasky lapsed after 1928, he went back to being a freelance actor, appearing in films for Fox, First National and MGM. It was the beginning of the sound era, but La Rocque and Banky were still popular. In 1930 Broadway producer Archibald Selwyn (one of the founders of both Goldwyn Studios and MGM) signed La Rocque and Banky to star in Anita Loos' play "Cherries are Ripe," but it indifferent crowds. Three years later husband and wife went to Germany, where La Rocque filmed S.O.S. Iceberg (1933) for director Leni Riefenstahl and Banky starred in what proved to be her final film, The Rebel (1933). After returning to the US, La Rocque continued to appear in films, though now they were B-pictures, with the occasional supporting role in an A-picture such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). He made his last appearance in the Frank Capra classic Meet John Doe (1941). After retiring from the screen, Rod La Rocque and Vilma Banky continued to live in Los Angeles, where he died October 15, 1969, six weeks shy of his 71st birthday.