Limousines from Hollywood’s Golden Years

LCT Staff
Posted on March 1, 1987
Fatty Arbuckle's 1923 MacFarlan (courtesy Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection)

Fatty Arbuckle's 1923 MacFarlan (courtesy Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection)

Hollywood has been indispensible in bringing the limousine to prominence in American society. The use of limousines in Hollywood goes back to the ‘Teens and ‘Twenties…decades when the country was just becoming accustomed to the automobile. As Hollywood evolved over the years, limousines maintained their position as the predominant vehicle of the stars.

Fatty Arbuckle's 1923 MacFarlan (courtesy Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection)
Fatty Arbuckle's 1923 MacFarlan (courtesy Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection)

Producers and stars of silent pictures were first chauffeured around Hollywood at a time when, in much of the country, roads were still poor and many people had not yet learned to drive. Because they offered privacy, as well as luxury and convenience, the use of limousines easily kept pace with the growing film industry.

As Cadillac, Packard, Lincoln, Rolls Royce, Mercedes Benz, and many other companies developed their first limousines, Hollywood personalities were eager customers. America’s Sweetheart Mary Pickford, was chauffeured to her studio in one of the country’s first enclosed automobiles.


Matinee idol Rudolf Valentino was another of the earliest stars to use limousines. Valentino owned an imported Isotta Fraschini limousine, as well as a ’23 Avions Voisin which has been restored to its original condition and is now on display in the Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection in Sylmar, CA.

When the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1928, those who attended the festivities saw one of the first large gatherings of limousines in the United States. Among those chauffeured to this event was Buddy Rogers who starred in Wings, the first film honored as Best Motion Picture of the year.

Another early Hollywood celebrity who loved using a limousine was famed director C.B. deMille. deMille was the proud owner of several limousines including a 1920’s Cunningham touring car, an early Lincoln limousine, and a ’39 Cadillac V-16 touring car. deMille’s Cadillac touring car has been restored to original condition and, like Valentino’s limousine, is featured in the Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection.

The era of silent movies was one of the most prominent periods of limousine ownership in Hollywood. D.W. Griffith, director of the silent classic The Birth of a Nation, scouted for filming locations in a chauffeur-driven Fiat touring car. In a few cases, the glamour of massive limousines, with their custom-built bodies, has nearly outlasted the fame of the silent picture stars themselves. One such star was popular screen cowboy Monte Blue who waschauffeured around town in one of the earliest Cadillac town cars.

Among the other stars of silent films who owned a limousine was Louise Fazenda who appeared in a number of films from Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studio. Fazenda was regally chauffeured in a ’21 Packard limousine. MGM actress Gertrude Olmstead also owned a Packard limousine. Hers was equipped with a speaking tube allowing her to communicate with her driver while seated in the Packard s enclosed passenger compartment.

Another Packard owner was comedian Harold Lloyd who owned a ’35 Packard Twelve. The penurious Jack Benny owned a ’37 Packard Twelve formal sedan which was one of the country’s highest priced automobiles at the time. Stage star Anna Held owned a 2-tone Packard limousine.

Other Packard owners included actress Pauline Starke whose ’27 Packard town car was fitted with a custom body from one of the many custom coachbuilders of the time. Irene Rich, a melodrama star of the ‘Twenties who played the nagging wife of Will Rogers in several pictures, owned a ’29 Packard all-weather town car. Actress Madge Evans, who appeared in thirty-seven movies, also loved Packards and was often seen by the public in her ’32 Packard Eight DeLuxe all-weather cabriolet.

Several other makes of limousine rivaled Packard’s popularity in Hollywood. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. owned one of the earliest Cadillac limousines. Producer and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was loyal to his custom-built ’38 Cadillac limousine for some eleven years.

Marlene Dietrich owned both Cadillac and Rolls Royce limousines. Her driver performed the additional role of bodyguard Constance Bennett also owned a Rolls Royce town car A ’31 Rolls

Royce limousine co-starred with Gloria Swanson in the famous film Sunset Boulevard.

Jean Harlow owned a ’34 Cadillac V-12 town car, while Joan Crawford owned a Lincoln limousine. Delores Del Rio was driven around town in a custom-built ’30 Cadillac V-8 town car.

Actor Wallace Beery, who starred in such films as Casey at the Bat and Last of the Mohicans, owned one of the most unique limousines in Hollywood. Beery had the Siebert body company stretch a ’36 Ford sedan into an eleven-passenger eye-stopper that he drove to public appearances across the country. Beery also used the multi-purpose limousine for hunting and camping expeditions.

Mae West was involved in one of Hollywood’s more unusual limousine scenarios. During a time when the popular actress was receiving a series of death threats and extortion notes, the District Attorney’s Office set a trap to catch her tormentors.

Police operative Harry Dean was disguised as the voluptuous actress and driven around town in the star’s own limousine. Mae West’s personal chauffeur, Chalky Wright, drove the limousine and a second policeman, Jack Southard, crouched on the floor in the passenger compartment waiting to clench the jaws of justice. Hollywood archives fail to disclose the outcome of the plot.

Limousines have carried Hollywood personalities through such difficulties as world wars, the Great Depression, and even the advent of television. Now, limousines carry Hollywood heroes such as Eddie Murphy, Sylvester Stallone, Jessica Lange, and Chuck Norris. Limousines will probably always grace the busy boulevards of Hollywood. They have become an indispensible part of the scenery.

Related Topics: celebrities, vintage vehicles

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