No international wedding received more public attention than the marriage of Vilma Banky and Rod La Roque.
June 26, 1927
Samuel Goldwyn’s answer to Greta Garbo
In 1925, Samuel Goldwyn discovered Vilma Banky. When Goldwyn was traveling in Europe to find an actress similar to what Louis B. Mayer had found in Greta Garbo, he caught a glimpse of Vilma’s face in a continental film and hurried to Budapest to sign her. Back in Hollywood, he had Vilma’s first movie slated, The Dark Angel. While lacking the electricity of Garbo, she compensated in a lyrical, tender appeal (much like Mary Pickford). As soon as she stepped off of the deck of the Aquitania and onto US soil for the first time she had difficulties for a few months in Hollywood, partly due to her broken English. She was secretly homesick and unhappy. She disliked crowds, big parties, cafes, etc. People, in abundance, tired her and made her nervous. It comes as no surprise that just prior to her wedding to Rod La Roque that she hinted on retiring from the pictures.
The Meeting of Rod and Vilma
Vilma Banky and Rod La Roque have never appeared in pictures together. They had met for the first time at a party given by Edwin Carewe and Mary Akin—Mrs. Carewe.
Rod La Roque (whose heart was broken some years ago when Pola Negri turned him down) on when he first met Vilma Banky (In Picture-Play Magazine October 1927):
“I’m a fatalist. I knew the night I met Vilma two years ago at her first dinner party in Hollywood—at Cecil B. DeMille’s—that someday we would be married. I didn’t even impress her on that occasion. And we didn’t see each other after that for a long time, just socially now and then. Hostesses had a habit of seating us together at dinners. I made no desperate effort to force my attentions on her either, because I stood in a peculiar awe of her. I had met my ideal—and my fate—and I didn't know what to do. I couldn’t speak German or Hungarian. She couldn’t speak English. In a way we were like ships passing in the foggy night. But I kept thinking of her when I dared—she was so sacred to me I was even afraid that human thought was sacrilege. But just the same, I kept telling my mother that someday, somewhere, Vilma Banky would marry me. I never doubted it.”
The Banky beauty and La Roque were working on the same picture lot. He was making movies for Cecil B. DeMille and she for Samuel Goldwyn. In between scenes, they invariably watch each other at work. They lunch together, dine together and in the evenings visit public places together.
For three weeks prior to the wedding, Vilma and Rod had been the inspiration for dinners, dances, tea parties and luncheons. Vilma, alone, had five wedding showers. Lingerie, perfume, handkerchiefs, hosiery—the things dear to a bride. Bebe Daniels had even given Vilma a “perfume shower” at Bebe’s home
2 Days Prior to the Wedding
Vilma had a dinner for her bridesmaids—Bebe Daniels, Frances Goldwyn, Mildred Davis Lloyd, Constance Talmadge, Monique La Roque, and Ann Lehr (matron of honor). The maids reflected some calm and serenity of their mistress. It was a hushed affair as doorbells and telephone calls were disposed of quietly and unobtrusively.
Rod, too, was entertaining in his home that night. A farewell bachelor dinner to his best man, Cecil B. DeMille—the director and producer who helped him attain fame and fortune—and the ushers, Ronald Colman, Jack Holt, Harold Lloyd, George Fitzmaurice (Vilma’s first director in this country), Victor Varconi (one of her countrymen and best friends), and Donald Crisp.
Following the dinners, there was a final rehearsal of the wedding.
The couple was showered with gifts leading up to the wedding day. These were the advanced gifts, such as are usually seen when celebrities or society marry. Gifts included:
- Set of silver, including solid service plates from Sam Goldwyn
- Silver coffee urn from Ronald Colman
- Tea service from Mrs. Earle Williams
- Cappo di Monte ware from Antonio Morenos
- Stacks of exquisite linen, paintings, etchings, books and countless other treasures.
The June 26, 1927 ceremony was a supreme achievement of Sam Goldwyn’s career as master showman, impresario of producers, maestro of super-production. Goldwyn had scaffolding built at the church so news cameras could capture on film the arrival of every notable.
Tom Mix, who had dressed to the last minute, wearing a silk hat instead of his usual sombrero, was the sensation of the crowd as he wheeled up to the church in a mid-Victorian coach drawn by four pure white horses and with two cowboys in full regalia on the box.
The wedding ceremony took place at the Good Shepherd Church in Beverly Hills (corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Belford Drive). This was also the same church that a year prior, Vilma’s co-star Rudolph Valentino had his west coast funeral. Thousands of fans stormed the entrance of the church. A simple white lace roped the walkway to the church (see photo with a trim of this lace) to hold back the rabid fans. While special police held back the crowd, hundreds of guests were inside the church, where there was peace and quiet.
The church was adorned with countless pink roses and summer blooms and there was a five-tiered wedding cake, containing the legendary thimble, penny and ring.
As the bridal party arrived, Monique La Roque (Rod’s sister) wore Nile Green, Mildred Davis Lloyd was in orchid, Bebe Daniels in green, Frances Howard in orchid. Mrs. Abraham Lehr (matron of honor) wore a peach gown and hat. The ushers followed for the 3 p.m. ceremony.
The choir sang the “Hallelujah Chorus” from “The Messiah,” then the orchestra struck the he Lohengrin’s wedding march, played twice before the bride could struggle through the waiting crowds to reach Rod’s side. Since Vilma’s parents were unable to attend from Hungary, Sam Goldwyn walked her down the aisle and gave her away to Rod (which as you could imagine, gleaned from the papers).
Vilma was all in white, with tulle and orange blossoms forming a bridal swirl. The dress and veil may have looked familiar to some. It was what she also wore in the 1925 movie, The Dark Angel with a few slight moderations. The gown and veil did have to be returned to the wardrobe department.
Father Mullins read a simple and impressive service. Vilma’s and Rod’s responses to his questions were spoken clear and with sure tones. Everybody in that church heard them take their vows, which they pledged never to break.
The attitude of Hollywood toward the wedding was one of interest but not without the usual side comments. There were many who jokingly referred to it as Sam Goldwyn’s greatest production. A friend had asked Vilma what she was going to name her first child. “I don’t know,” answered Vilma, “you will have to ask Sam Goldwyn”.
A reception at the Beverly Hills Hotel closed the nuptial festivities. Rod and Vilma then went on their honeymoon which they decided on a motor tour of the Canadian Northwest.
‘Til Death Do Us Part
Vilma said in an interview for Picture-Play Magazine (October 1927), “I have to think a very long time before I marry Rod, or any man. Marriage is a very serious set—especially for an actress. Rod will make me divinely happy, I am sure, and I hope I will make him happy. He understands me. I think I understand him. And is very important that we both understand our work. Moving picture work many times is terribly trying and irritating and would upset the household if husband or wife were not sympathetic".
Vilma Banky and Rod La Roque remained married until his death in 1969. She never remarried and died in 1991. Vilma and Rod had given up their Hollywood career in the 1930s which more than likely was a reason of the success of their marriage.
Picture-Play Magazine July 1928 (Information on Goldwyn's discovery)
Photoplay September 1927 (Information on the wedding party, Tom Mix, Honeymoon and first child name quote)
Picture-Play Magazine October 1927 (Information on the parties and interviews)
Book: "Goldwyn" by A. Scott Berg (Information on wedding veil/dress in The Dark Angel and for the ceremony)