Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Trader Horn" Actress Edwina Booth 1991 Woodlawn Cemetery

Edwina Booth (September 13, 1904 – May 18, 1991) was an American actress. She is best known for the 1931 film Trader Horn, during the filming of which she contracted an illness which effectively ended her movie career.

Early Life

Born Josephine Constance Woodruff was born in Provo, Utah on September 13, 1904 to James Lloyd Woodruff and Josephine Booth Woodruff. She was the oldest of their five children. Her father was a doctor.[1] She suffered from hypoglycemia, which left her with little energy and kept her from completing any full year of school. Her family moved to Venice, California in 1921 due to her father contracting influenza. As a young adult, Woodruff watched many movies during her free time.[2]

Her stage name was Edwina Booth: her favorite granduncle was named Edwin and her grandfather's last name was Booth.[2]


Booth was discovered while sunbathing on a California beach by director E. J. Babille. He gave her a business card and she went to the Metropolitan Studio to take her first screen test a few days later. She got her first part in 1926 in a silent film.[1] In 1928, Booth was cast in the Dorothy Arzner-directed Manhattan Cocktail. She was on vacation following a 1927 stage appearance when film director E. Mason Hopper saw her and offered her a part in a Marie Prevost picture. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was impressed with her, and cast Booth in supporting roles.

Her chance for stardom came when the studio cast her in its new jungle epic Trader Horn opposite Harry Carey. MGM gave the production a fairly large budget, and sent cast and crew on location in East Africa. Until 1929, the only films shot in Africa were travelogues, but MGM was hoping the idea of "location shooting" might increase the film's commercial appeal. The crew was inexperienced and ill-equipped for filming in Africa, a problem exacerbated by MGM's last-minute decision to shoot the film with sound.[2]

When Booth left the United States, she had a fever of 104. In Africa, she had to cope with the heat and insects, and she got cut by elephant grass. while shooting the film, she wore clothing made of monkey fur and lion's teeth.[1] Booth contracted malaria during shooting.[3] Booth also suffered a sunstroke and fell out of a tree.[1] (In an interview with Dick Cavett in the 1970s, Katharine Hepburn said Booth contracted schistosomiasis.) Her role in the film as "The White Goddess" required her to be scantily clad, likely increasing her susceptibility. Production went on for several months (much longer than average production time in those days), and the film wasn't released until 1931. Despite many problems with the film's production,[2] Trader Horn was a success, securing an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.[1]

Booth fared much worse; it took her six years to fully recover physically. She sued MGM for over a million dollars, claiming she had been provided with inadequate protection and inadequate clothing during the African shoot.[4] She claimed she had been forced to sunbathe nude for extended periods during filming. The case received a lot of attention in the tabloids and was eventually settled out of court. According to some sources, the terms were not disclosed;[4] however, Brigham Young University archives indicate she settled for $35,000.[2] [5] amounting to at least $600,000 in today's money. [6][7]

Booth's acting career never recovered from the MGM debacle. Neither MGM nor the other major studios had any intentions of employing her, which created an opportunity for producer Nat Levine of the low-budget Mascot Pictures. Levine saw a chance to capitalize on the success of Trader Horn by reuniting its stars Harry Carey and Edwina Booth for two adventure serials, The Vanishing Legion and The Last of the Mohicans. The films were successful within their limited market, but failed to propel Booth's movie career forward.

Later years

In 1935, Booth and her father went to Europe to seek medical treatment. When she returned to the United States, she was confined to a dark room.[1] She refused to talk of her time as a movie star later in her life.[5] Booth withdrew completely from the public eye, although she continued to receive fan mail for the rest of her life. She declared that she would be dedicating all of her future leisure and a large proportion of her earnings to the alleviation of human suffering, "My years of illness have not been wasted," she informed the local press. "I have learned to love mankind." She became more active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and worked in the Los Angeles California Temple.[1]


Booth was married three times. Anthony Shuck, her first husband, had their marriage annulled soon after her return from Africa.[3] She married her second husband, Urial Leo Higham on November 21, 1951; he died in 1957. Her third husband was Reinold Fehlberg. They were married from 1959 until his death in 1983. There were many false rumors and reports of her demise[2] until her actual death in 1991. She had no children. 


She died of heart failure May 18, 1991 in Long Beach, California.[1] and is buried in Santa Monica's Woodlawn Cemetery.


Year Film Role Notes

1928 Manhattan Cocktail
1929 Our Modern Maidens Undetermined role Uncredited 
1931 Trader Horn Nina Trent, the White Goddess
         The Vanishing Legion Caroline Hall (serial) 
1932 The Midnight Patrol Joyce Greeley
         The Last of the Mohicans Cora Munro (serial) 
         Trapped in Tia Juana Dorothy Brandon Alternative title: Her Lover's Brother


1. Black, Susan Easton; Woodger, Mary Jane. Women of Character. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc. pp. 30–33. ISBN 9781680470185. 
2. "Edwina Booth". Utah History to Go. State of Utah. 
3. "Medicine: Trader Horn's Goddess". Time magazine. May 28, 1934. Archived from the original on March 8, 2009. 
4. "Edwina Booth, 86; Actress Who Won Fame Due to Illness". Associated Press (The New York Times obituary). May 24, 1991. 
5. D'Arc, James V.; Gillespie, John N. (2002). "Edwina Booth papers". Manuscript Collection Descriptions. Brigham Young University. 

Further Reading

Parish, James Robert. The Hollywood Book of Death: The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols. Contemporary: New York, 2002. ISBN 978-0809222278 

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