Jacob Bembry: Greene Publishing, Inc.
The footlights which once shown bright have dimmed to low, and the whirr of the movie projectors from the past have become silent when it comes to the history of the silent screen star who came from Madison, but history still has its whispers. If you listen closely, the sound of those whispers increases and you will find yourself taken from Madison, Fl., all the way to death’s door in Los Angeles, Ca. Let’s go on that magical mystery tour.
Elizabeth Patterson Dial was born May 19, 1902, in Madison. At a young age, she fled Madison, seeking fame and glamour in Hollywood. There, she found what she sought.
At the tender age of 14, she appeared in her first movie, Gloria’s Romance. Thirteen other movies followed, including Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, Secrets, Happiness, A Lady of Quality, The Silent Partner, Souls for Sale, Fury, The Seventh Day, Sonny, Reno, A Man’s Mate, Tol’able David and Married Flirts.
By the time she was 22, Patterson Dial (keeping her maiden name and the names of both maternal and paternal families as both her screen and pen name), was also well-known for writing short stories. She had caught the eye of movie director and famous novelist, Rupert Hughes (the uncle of billionaire aerospace entrepreneur Howard Hughes, Jr.) and they married, who was 23 years older than she was, on January 1, 1925.
Hughes’ previous wife, Adelaide Manoula Bissell Hughes, had died of an apparent suicide while on tour in Hai Phong, French Indochina, on December 11, 1923. The pioneer woman film producer and writer had been on an around-the-world steamer to convalesce from illness.
Dial gave up her career as a movie star, and settled in as Mrs. Rupert Hughes and continued to write. Everything seemed to be ideal in the life of Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, but she tragically died of an overdose of sleeping pills, which police were never able to rule as a suicide or an accident.
She had been found unconscious in her bed by a man on March 23, 1945. An ambulance was summoned from Hollywood Receiving Hospital, but she succumbed to death en route to the hospital.
Hughes followed behind the ambulance with a friend, who was driving. He was stunned at the loss of his wife. Later, he rallied to proclaim he believed the death was accidental.
“She couldn’t have planned to take her own life, as we had made plans for today,”
Hughes told reporters, “and only a few hours before she had seemed in the best of spirits.”
Hughes had returned home about 10:30 the evening before, from a lecture.
“She told me she had been working hard, pruning and landscaping in the garden and said she was going to take a sleeping pill to get a good rest,” said Hughes.
When Hughes finished writing about 3:30 a.m., he noticed that Patterson Dial looked pale, so he felt her pulse.
“I noticed it was vibrant, almost racing,” said Hughes. “I thought nothing of it, and retired.”
Patterson Dial had gotten the prescription for sedatives almost a year earlier, Hughes said, after becoming “overwrought from long hours of writing.”
“She had no fear of dying,” he said of his wife, “and occasionally remarked she was ready to pass on at any time.”
Hughes remarked that Dial had never mentioned suicide, but he did say that she was given to tremendous bouts of depression when her writing was not worthy of the goals she set for herself.
“Sometimes, she became upset and moody over her work but she always brightened up,” he said.
Hughes said that Dial had been his right arm for over 20 years, helping him with his writing, as well as her own.
Patterson Dial was a silent film actress and writer, who was born in Madison. She was married to Rupert Hughes, a famous novelist and movie director, who was the uncle of billionaire Howard Hughes, Jr.