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Virginia Bruce: It Girl


Helen Virginia Briggs was born on this date in 1910 and grew up in Fargo. Her father, Earll, was an insurance broker; her mother, Margaret, was an exceptional golfer who won the ND State Golf Championship three times.

Helen preferred her middle name, Virginia. She was a petite, blue-eyed blond who was active in all facets of life at Fargo Central High. After she graduated in 1929, the family moved to California, where Earll felt the insurance business might be more dynamic.

Virginia was soon “discovered” while touring the Paramount movie studio. Harry Wurtzel, publicist for director William Beaudine, offered her a personal contract for $25 a week. Virginia changed her last name to Bruce, and over the next year, she played small roles in 19 films.

Ironically, one of Virginia’s bigger breaks came while working with several other North Dakotans on the 1930 musical called “Whoopee.” The director was Thornton Freeland of Hope, and one of her co-stars was Ann Sothern of Valley City.

Virginia caught the interest of set designer Jack Harkrider, who helped her land a role in “Smiles,” a Ziegfeld musical comedy starring Fred Astair. Working in New York, her wages went up to $50 a week. But after performing in another Ziegfeld film, “America’s Sweetheart,” she headed back to Hollywood, where she landed the lead female role in “Downstairs,” a 1932 movie written by leading man and heartthrob, John Gilbert.

Gilbert, like Rudolph Valentino, made his mark in the age of silent films. When talkies came along, however, these two leading men didn’t have the voices to carry them forward. Gilbert hoped “Downstairs” would save his career, but it didn’t work out. However, he fell in love with his leading lady, Virginia Bruce, and they were married. They had a daughter in 1933, but Gilbert’s fall from fame haunted the marriage, which lasted only one more year.

Emerging from her brief retirement, Virginia Bruce soon became one of the top actresses of her time, starring with leading men such as Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, Frederick March, John Barrymore and James Cagney. As a 1929 Paramount Pictures bio stated, she was a “dainty beauty with that certain something called ‘It.’”

In 1937, Virginia married J. Walter Rubin, the director/producer of “The Bad Man of Brimstone,” in which she played the lead. But he died less than five years later of heart disease.

In 1946, she married Ali Ipar, a Turkish writer-producer who, after visiting his father in Turkey the following year, was denied re-entry to the United States. Ipar was inducted into the Turkish Army but wasn’t allowed to become an officer because of his marriage to a foreigner. So, Virginia divorced him, and they remarried when he was discharged in 1952. The following year, Virginia became the first American actress to star in a Turkish film when she starred in Ipar’s movie, “The Plague.”

Virginia Bruce died in Los Angeles on February 24th, 1982.

Written by Merry Helm.


Raihala, Ross. Familiar faces go prime time: Local stars of stage, screen find success in the spotlight. The Forum. 23 May 1999.

Eriksmoen, Curtis. 1930s Hollywood actress called Fargo home. The Forum. Sun, 9 Jul 2006: A19.