If you visit Hollywood and stroll along its famed Hollywood Walk of Fame honoring icons in the entertainment industry, you’ll find embedded in the sidewalks the coral-pink terrazzo stars awarded to two Duluth-born legends: Marguerite De La Motte and Peggy Knudsen.
Beatrice Marguerite De La Motte was born June 22, 1902, the eldest of two children of Joseph and Nellie De La Motte. They lived in a Munger Terrace townhouse, later moving to a home on 16th Avenue East. After her father was disbarred from practicing law in Minnesota, the family moved to San Diego, California where Marguerite—who had studied dance at Duluth’s Old Masonic Temple—continued with her dance performances.
In 1918, while dancing at the Miller Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, she was ‘discovered’ by silent actor/producer Douglas Fairbanks Sr. who offered 16-year-old Marguerite a role in his upcoming movie, Arizona. Marguerite developed a close friendship with Fairbanks and his wife, the famous Canadian actress Mary Pickford, and starred in several films with Fairbanks including The Mark of Zorro (1920), Three Musketeers (1921) and The Iron Mask (1929). In the next 24 years, Marguerite made more than 60 films, ending her movie career in 1942 when ‘talkie’ films became popular.
While having a successful film career, there was tragedy in her personal life.
Both her parents had died by August 1920, leaving Marguerite and her 12-year-old brother Robert to be cared for by silent movie producer J. L. Frothingham, who became their legal guardian. And it’s here that her story takes a twist. According to a report in the Oakland Tribune (September 6, 1920), she could not spend any of her salary without her guardian’s permission, noting that “Each week the paycheck of the movie and they must total a million a year, will go into the hands of Frothingham.” She later gained control of her money.
Tragedy struck again after 1924 when 21-year-old Marguerite married her second husband, John Bowers, one of the most popular silent film actors of the time. As a couple, they acted together in 12 films. However, it was a rocky marriage. They separated but were still legally married when in 1936 Bowers committed suicide. The coroner’s report stated that Bowers “Drowned as a result of suicide—jumped off sailboat; boat discovered later adrift.” Some historians believe their stormy marriage and Bower’s dramatic suicide by drowning in the ocean was the inspiration for the 1937 classic movie, A Star is Born.
After her career ended, Marguerite took on an inspector’s job at a California war plant, then moved to San Francisco and worked in a Red Cross office. She died on March 11, 1950 at age 47 of cerebral thrombosis. Ten years later in 1960, her Hollywood Walk of Fame star was posthumously awarded.
Duluth’s other Hollywood Walk of Fame star, Margaret “Peggy” Ann Knudsen of Irish-Norwegian descent, was born April 23, 1923 to Helen and Conrad Knudsen, a Duluth firefighter and later its fire chief. She studied violin as a child, acted in school plays, and graduated from Stanbrook Hall High School.
After her father died in 1940, the family moved to Chicago, where Peggy’s first acting role was in the CBS daytime radio program “The Woman in White,” followed in 1942 with her Broadway debut in “My Sister Eileen.”
Years later, when movie columnist Louella Parsons asked Peggy how she came to Hollywood, she said “It sounds so trite and dull to say a talent scout saw me—but that’s exactly what happened when I was in ‘My Sister Eileen.’ A Warner Brothers representative invited me to make a screen test which brought me here. My first picture was Shadow of a Woman.” (Waterloo Daily Courier, Feb. 15, 1948).
In the same article, Parsons wrote “One thing I liked particularly about Peggy is the absence of all conceit and affectation.”
During her career, Peggy had more than 50 movie and TV credits, co-starred with many major stars like Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan and with Errol Flynn in her final film Istanbul (1957). She was also a guest star on many TV shows like Perry Mason, Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Bat Masterson and it was her contribution to television for which she received her Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 1960.
Peggy was married three times. First, eloping in 1942 with radio executive Adrian Samish; they had one daughter Peggy. In 1949 she married Jim Jordan, son of radio’s famous Fibber McGee and Molly; they had two daughters Janice Colleen and Marian Lou. And her third husband was an electrical contractor she wed in February 1962 and divorced eight months later in October.
Chronic arthritis brought a premature end to Peggy’s career in 1965. During the next 15 years, her long-time friend actress Jennifer Jones (they had met in NY, lived and job-hunted together) is reported to have helped provide care for her. Peggy died of cancer in Encino, California on July 11, 1980 at age 57.
Carrying on Peggy’s movie legacy is her grandson, John Orloff, a screenwriter nominated for an Emmy for HBO’s Band of Brothers (2001) and for an Independent Spirit Award for A Mighty Heart (2007).