Irene Castle (1893–1969)
Irene Castle was a famous ballroom dancer in the 1910s to the 1930s who appeared in several silent movies and many Broadway shows. She lived in Arkansas for a time and worked for animal rights. In her autobiography, she wrote that she would like to be remembered more for her work to prevent animal cruelty than for her dance career.
Irene Foote was born on April 17, 1893, in New Rochelle, New York, to Hubert Foote, a doctor, and Annie Elroy Thomas; she had one older sister. Foote attended several boarding schools as a child. She met Vernon Castle, a British citizen who was part of a comedy show, in 1910. He got her a dance audition with Lew Fields, who was in charge of some very successful dance shows. Fields offered her a small part, but she turned it down. Later, he had her take the place of an actress who dropped out in a show called “The Summer Widowers.” She married Castle on May 28, 1911. When he was offered a job in a French revue, he decided to go only if his wife was given a part, so they both went to live in France.
Castle’s husband wrote the script for a silent movie, Whirl of Life (1915), and the two of them played the lead parts. It was supposed to be based on their own life, but to make it more interesting, they added a villain and made the story more dramatic.
In 1914, Castle had to have her appendix taken out. She cut her hair short for ease of management in the hospital. Before it had grown back, a friend convinced her to go out in public for a dinner, so she put a necklace across her forehead to keep her hair in place. That hairstyle, known as a bob, became very popular, and girls began wearing bands across their foreheads that were sometimes called “Castle bands.”
During World War I, Castle’s husband went to England to be trained as a soldier. On February 15, 1918, he died in a plane accident while training a student from the United States.
Castle became even more involved in movies after that. She stopped dancing, however, in 1919, when she married Robert Treman from Ithaca, New York. Eventually, she had to start performing again for the money. The couple divorced after a short time. Her third husband was Frederic McLaughin. They married in 1923, and Castle again stopped dancing so that she could spend more time at home. She had two children. After his death, she married George Enzinger in 1946. Her biggest contribution to show business after her retirement was as a technical advisor to a movie based on her life, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, but she was not happy with the movie, because it was greatly fictionalized.
In 1928, she and a friend opened the organization Orphans of the Storm, which was named after a play. The organization had the difficult job of taking care of the many stray dogs in Deerfield, Illinois. Eventually, Orphans of the Storm became known as an anti-animal-cruelty organization.
On Mother’s Day 1954, Castle came to Eureka Springs (Carroll County) to visit her son. She had never been to Arkansas before, but she felt that the climate was better for her health than the humid air from the Great Lakes near her home in Illinois. So she and her husband bought a fruit farm near Eureka Springs. After remodeling the house, they used it as a summer home. It also became home to many stray dogs.
In 1955, she sold some of her expensive jewelry, saying that she would use the money for things that were now more important to her: rose bushes and peach trees.
Castle worked hard for animal rights for the rest of her life. She died of heart failure on January 25, 1969, at the Eureka Springs Municipal Hospital. Although she had been ill for about a month, she had been in the hospital for only a few hours. She was buried next to her first husband in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.
For additional information:
Castle, Irene. Castles in the Air. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958.
Golden, Eve. Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revolution. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
“Irene Castle.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0145274/ (accessed January 7, 2009).
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 06/16/2010