Reel cowgirl Ruth Roland portrayed Pearl Marvin in a dozen silent films in The Perils of Pauline series between 1915 and 1917. Fans were on the edge of their seats watching the spunky actress ride her way in and out of trouble while solving crimes. They waited in suspended animation for the film operator to change reels so they could learn the fate of the lead character. In the stuffy darkness of the theater the piano player tried, unsuccessfully, to quiet the audience’s nerves with a tasteful rendition of “Hearts and Flowers” to a gum-chewing accompaniment. Yet the suspense was a terrific ordeal, and the projector flickered out just as Ruth, all lost save honor, lay roped to a filthy pallet, with a leering bad guy rubbing his hands in the doorway. All wondered if the heroine would make it out alive! Audiences loved Ruth.
Ruth Roland, who took Pearl White’s place in the hearts of the hair-breadth escape fans when Pearl deserted Hollywood for Europe just before World War I, remained for a heart-throbbing period the star of the serial “flickers.” Whether in chaps or elegant gown, Ruth was always just slipping by the flick of an eyelid from the most appalling situation in her pictures; and with an astute comprehension of interest “build-up” her director always left her, at the conclusion of each performance, tied to a railroad track with the express thundering around the bed, or shackled in a sinister basement while the water crept upward from knees to waist, or leaping on horseback from the edge of a cliff to escape “a fate worse then death.”
Born in San Francisco on August 26, 1892, the daughter of John R. Roland, a newspaperman who had worked on the New York Sun and San Francisco Chronicle, Ruth began her stage career at the age of three, when she went on tour with Edward Holden’s “Cinderella” company. Ruth’s screen career began in 1910. “I reached Los Angeles on April Fool’s Day,” she once related, “and stepped out at once and got a job. I fixed up a stage sketch with my horse and we were booked to perform in Los Angeles and dozens of nearby towns.” Shortly thereafter, she was signed with the Kalem Film Company earning $115 a week. Her first picture was The Last Shot, one of the earliest westerns made. In ten years, she made a hefty sum making movies and she invested her earnings in real estate.
In the late 20’s Ruth retired from the screen to devote her entire time to her extensive real estate holdings, consisting principally of business lots in the Wilshire-Fairfax district in Los Angeles. At one time she reputedly had property worth three and a half million dollars.
Ruth did her own stunts in all her pictures until she was thrown from a horse. The accident caused injury to her spine which gave her much pain in later years. She was diagnosed with cancer in early 1937. The illness took her life on September 22 of the same year.
Ruth Roland was thirty-nine years old when she died.