Travel classic: Agnes Ayres
While many women worked by the side of the great Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres was able to do so by his side in the remarkable silent film classic The sheikh (1921). Although best known for the role, she appeared in many other silent films of the era.
Agnes Eyre Henkel was born on April 4, 1891 in Carbondale, Illinois, to Solon Augustus and Emma Henkel. She was the youngest of two children and grew up in Comden, Illinois with an older brother named Solon William. When her father died, Emma remarried a farmer named Franklin Rendleman. Ayres would finish her education at 8NS Great when the family moved to Chicago. Although she planned to study law, her ambitions changed.
While working as an accountant, Ayres was discovered by a director from Essanay Studios Chicago and offered a role as an extra in a film. Inspired by acting, her family moved to Manhattan, where Ayres pursued an acting career. Because of her strong resemblance to actress Alice Joyce, Ayres was named as a sibling of Joyce’s character in Richard the Bold (1917). During this time she married the army officer Frank Shuker, who however divorced in 1921.
Ayres’ career continued to advance in Paramount’s Jesse Lasky found out about her and gave her a role in Held by the enemy (1920). She and Lasky were also dating at the time.
Ayres’ crucial role came in The sheikh, in which she portrayed the heiress Lady Diana Mayo. After the film, she took on other leading roles, including The affairs of Anatol (1921), Forbidden fruit (1921), and The Ten Commandments (1923). She would play the mayo character in The sheikhContinuation, Son of the sheikh (1926).
When her relationship with Lasky ended, Ayres married the Mexican diplomat S. Manuel Reachi. They would have a daughter named Maria before they divorced in 1927.
In addition to her last major film role in The Donovan Affair (1929) Ayres lost her fortune and her fortune in the stock market crash. For financial reasons, she looked for work on the stage, returned to the vaudeville theater and hoped to play more film roles. Unfortunately, she was unable to regain star billing and played mostly uncredited roles before retiring from acting and turning to real estate in 1937.
After her retirement, Ayres was admitted to a sanatorium and lost custody of her daughter. She died of a cerebral haemorrhage on December 25, 1940. She was 42 years old and was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Today the Union County Historical Society has a collection of Ayres memorabilia that will be used in 2019 in conjunction with a showing of The sheikh in Cobden, Illinois. Ayres’ daughter Maria, who had never visited Cobden before, was present. The Union County Historical Society is located at 117 S. Appleknocker Drive in Cobden.
The former Essanay Studios Chicago is located at 1345 W. Argyle St., Chicago, Illinois.
In 1900 Ayres lived in Cobden with her mother, stepfather and brother. In 1910 she lived at 4008 W. Adams St. in Chicago and worked as an accountant. In 1930 Ayres lived on Martel Ave. 1615 in Los Angeles, California. In 1940 she lived at 834 N. Alfred St. in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, none of these houses exist today.
However, Ayres has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6504 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles.
Ayres continues to be celebrated by her silent film roles.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek writes our monthly column Classic Movie Travels. Here you can read all the articles on Annette’s classic travel films.
Annette Bochenek from Chicago, Illinois is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent researcher on Hollywood’s Golden Age. She runs the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, where she writes about her travels exploring the legacies and hometowns of the stars of the Golden Age. Annette also moderates the film series “Hometowns to Hollywood” in the entire Chicago area. She has appeared in Turner Classic Movies and is the President of the Chicago Chapter of TCM Backlot. Not only does she write for Classic Movie Hub, but also for Quarterly silent film, Nostalgia digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.