Fargoan had long career in films

Four years after Virginia Briggs graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1928, a headline in The Forum declared, "Wifely Duty To John Will Come Before Her Art, Says Virginia. Blonde Beauty From North Dakota Professes She's Not Temperamental O...

Four years after Virginia Briggs graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1928, a headline in The Forum declared, "Wifely Duty To John Will Come Before Her Art, Says Virginia. Blonde Beauty From North Dakota Professes She's Not Temperamental Or Intelligent, Blaming Those Two Qualities For Wrecking Previous Marriages Ventures Of Dark-Eyed Gallant Of Silver Sheet."

The article appeared courtesy of Screenland Magazine in July 1932 and was about actress Virginia Bruce, nee Briggs. She was about to marry John Gilbert (1899-1936), who was known as The Great Lover of the Silver Screen. She was his fourth and last wife. They had a daughter, Susan Ann, and were divorced in 1934.

Gilbert married Bruce after co-staring with her in a film, "Downstairs," for which he wrote the original story.

Helen Virginia Briggs was born in Sept. 29, 1910, in Minneapolis, but came to Fargo with her parents, Earil and Margaret Briggs, when she was 1 month old. According to the Fargo City Directory, the Briggs family lived at 421 14th St. S.

After high school, Bruce went to California with her family. Her intention was to attend college, but she became involved in films when she signed a contract with William Beaudine and changed her name. She then worked at Paramount Pictures and later moved to MGM.

In 1937, Bruce married movie director, J. Walter Ruben. They had one child, Christopher, born in 1941. J. Walter Ruben died in 1942.

Her third marriage was in 1946 to film writer and producer, Ali Ipar. They were divorced in 1951 because Ipar's native Turkey did not allow their Army officers to be married to foreigners. They were remarried in 1952 and divorced again in 1964.

Bruce was in more than 70 movies playing everything from bit parts to major roles. She appeared with some of the most famous actors of the time including George Sanders, Eleanor Powell, James Stewart, Una Merkel, Frances Langford, Buddy Ebsen, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Ray Bolger, Fanny Brice, John Barrymore, Nelson Eddy, Lionel Barrymore, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Melvyn Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Kim Novak, Ernie Kovacs, Walter Matthau and Barbara Rush.

Bruce was one of the 20 original Goldwyn Girls, a musical stock company of women dancers employed by Samuel Goldwyn. Some of the actresses appearing for a time in the troop were Lucille Ball, Paulette Goddard, Betty Grable, Ann Sothern, Jane Wyman, Virginia Mayo and Virginia Bruce.

Some of the movies in which Bruce appeared are "Action in Arabia" (1944), "Born to Dance" (1936), The "Great Ziegfeld" (1936), The "Invisible Woman" (1940), "Jane Eyre" (1934), "Let 'Em Have It" (1935), "Let Freedom Ring" (1939), "Pardon My Sarong" (1942), "Dangerous Corner" (1934), "State Department File 649" (1949) and "Strangers When We Meet" (1960). Many of her movies are available for sale on the Internet.

In 1978, Bruce's Fargo Central High School class had their first reunion and invited Bruce to the 50th celebration. She called the weekend of the reunion to say she couldn't be there. Judging by the clippings about her in The Forum library, she never did return to visit her old home town.

Bruce died on February 24, 1982 at Los Angeles. Her survivors included her daughter Susan (Gilbert) Miller in Oregon, son Christopher Ruben, Los Angeles and a brother Stanley Briggs also of Los Angeles.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com