Likable blonde silent screen actress, dubbed "the American Venus" by Florenz Ziegfeld after she starred as an aspiring Miss America contestant in a 1926 film of that name. Practically raised onstage by a family of vaudevillians, Ralston began in bit parts in films as a teenager, and worked primarily with Paramount and MGM during the 1920s. Ralston's films often found her playing wholesome, glamorous yet playful roles and include a charming version of "Peter Pan" (1925) in which she played Mrs. Darling in support of star Betty Bronson, the lively comedy "Beggar on Horseback" (1925), "Half a Bride" (1928), in which she played opposite Gary Cooper, and "The Case of Lena Smith" (1929) directed by the formidable Joseph von Sternberg.
At one point in the mid-1920s Ralston was one of Hollywood's highest-paid stars, but her career gradually petered out with the coming of sound. She did, however, play intermittent supporting roles (as in the highly enjoyable mystery "Mr. Dynamite" 1935) until the early 1940s. Ralston later worked as an executive at a talent agency and for an electric company, and did occasional TV work (e.g. a leading role as the mother of "Our Five Daughters" 1962). Ralston was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild and in her later years proved a very lively interviewee on TV specials and documentaries on the past glories of American film.
Cast (Feature Film)
Joined family's theatrical troupe at age 2; act known as the "Ralston Family Metropolitan Entertainers with Baby Esther" (date approximate)
Moved to Hollywood with her parents; made screen debut at age 14; earliest films include "Phantom Fortunes"
Played a small role in Charles Chaplin's "The Kid", opposite Chaplin and Jackie Coogan
Cast as Mrs. Darling in a silent film version of "Peter Pan"
Starred in the film, "The American Venus", which led to her acquiring that nickname; film reportedly no longer extant
Played title role in "The Case of Lena Smith"; reported to be her favorite part
Stardom fading; went to England to play prominent roles in "Rome Express" and "After the Ball"
Last leading roles included work in the film, "Black Beauty"
Retired from films
Returned to acting when she played Helen Lee on NBC-TV's serial drama, "Our Five Daughters"