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The Winning of Barbara Worth -- 1926

See Credits and Review below Pictures

Click on Photos to Enlarge
barbaraworthslide.jpg (93162 bytes) 1. 50 mm Glass Slide, shown in theater before silent movie, with space for theater to announce when movie will be shown, in this case Saturday.
Photo Courtesy Robert Lewis

Movies: Wright's Greatest Sorrow

Click here to read the story:

  • How and why Wright got into the movie business

  • Which movies were actually based on his stories

  • Which were based on stories he had never even seen and quickly despised.

vilmarp.jpg (19504 bytes) 2. German postcard of silent movie actress Vilma Banky (Verlag "Ross" Berlin SW 68. 1689/1 United Artists). This photo was taken between scenes on the set of THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1926), with Miss Banky in front of her dressing room on location at Nevada's Black Rock Desert. 
3. Ronald Colman -- Vilma Banky. Courtesy Dave Hadsell.
3.  Vilma Banky in "The Winning of Barbara Worth."   Courtesy Dave Hadsell. [Some versions of this card have the number "409."]
4. Vilma Banky and Ronald Coleman in "The Winning of Barbara Worth." Courtesy Dave Hadsell.
5.  Note on back of photo says: "Construction of railroad for the filming of Henry King's production 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' which was made for Samuel Goldwyn on the Black Rock Desert."  Courtesy Dave Hadsell.
bw1926garysmoking.jpg (38651 bytes) 6. Ronald Colman in "The Winning of Barbara Worth." French photo postcard.3˝" x 5˝".
garycooper1.jpg (10687 bytes) 7. Gary Cooper in The Winning of Barbara Worth.
bw1926threestars.jpg (37908 bytes) 8. Gary Cooper watches Ron Coleman and Vilma Banky
vilmaattable2.jpg (61339 bytes) 9. Publicity photo of Vilma Banky, Clyde Cook (right) and other man at table.  Courtesy Dave Hadsell.
vilmaanddad.jpg (35724 bytes)

10. Publicity photo of Vilma Banky and her father, Jefferson Worth (Charles Lane (III)).



vilmafight.jpg (50642 bytes)

11. Publicity photo of Vilma Banky repelling the advances of a man.


Bw1926colenanbanky.jpg (17259 bytes) 12. Ron Coleman and Vilma Banky in The Winning of Barbara Worth.

13. Lobby Card


14. Lobby Card
15. Lobby Card
bwlobby3.jpg (30552 bytes) 16. Lobby Card
cooperbankycoleman.jpg (79212 bytes) 17. Picture from unidentified magazine.  Caption says, "1926: The Winning of Barbara Worth, starring Vilma Banky and Ronald Coleman.  As a dispatch rider, Cooper the bit-actor (left) learned to stagger and fall on his face."  Courtesy Dave Hadsell
18. #103L: Vilma Banky at table; Gary Cooper in doorway. Courtesy Dave Hadsell
19. no number: Ronald Coleman offers cigarette to mouth of lying down Gary. Courtesy Dave Hadsell
20. #99: Vilma Banky closeup with hand on Gary Cooper's shoulder. Courtesy Dave Hadsell
21. #452: Vilma Banky standing; Gary Cooper on couch. Courtesy Dave Hadsell
23. Souvenir movie booklet for the 1926 movie The Winning of Barbara Worth. Printed by Marchant & Co. Ltd., for The Amalgamated Publishing Company, Sydney, Australia. Harold Bell Wright's name is not listed anywhere in this booklet. It appears to be a condensed story based on the movie. Written by Lee Dalton. Courtesy Rick Gunter.
marcelineday.jpg (52495 bytes) 24. NOTE: This woman did NOT appear in the 1926 movie, The Winning of Barbara Worth.  Note pasted to back of this print, owned by Dave Hadsell, says, "Marceline Day, selected by Sol Lesser to play the role of Barbara in Harold Bell Wright's story, "The Winning of Barbara Worth," for Principal Pictures Corporation, a United Artists Corporation release."  Stamped note reads: "Please Credit Photo by Geo. F. Cannons."  But, of course, Sol Lesser sold the movie rights to Samuel Goldwyn who opted for the bigger star, Vilma Banky, leaving Marceline Day as an "almost" Barbara Worth.  Click here to read story of preparations for this early movie that was never made.


In 1922 Sol Lesser and Mike Rosenberg, of Principal Pictures, signed a contract with Harold Bell Wright giving them the exclusive movie rights to most of Wright's first nine novels, including The Winning Of Barbara Worth.  And later they signed an agreement for United Artists to release this film--which Sol Lesser would produce. But before Lesser started the project, according to Variety (October 20, 1926) Henry King went to Samuel Goldwyn and convinced him that the story merited a much bigger production than what Sol Lesser planned.  He recommended that Goldwyn buy the rights from Lesser and produce the movie.   So Goldwyn paid over $125,000 to Lesser and Rosenberg for the story and they employed the top romantic duo of the time, Ron Colman and Vilma Banky, to play the leads.

Instead of going to Arizona or the Imperial Valley to make the movie, Goldwyn went to Nevada, and, believing that the Harold Bell Wright name--and the 2.8 million people he estimated had read the book--would carry it, he put every dollar necessary into the production, including creating a sandstorm and a flood that wiped out his manufactured towns in Nevada, though the really destructive scenes involved miniatures.

Click here to read "The Making of The Winning of Barbara Worth," by Phillip I. Earl.

Click here to see 27 recently discovered photographs taken by Vera Haviland during the production of the Movie, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

Today this movie is best known for launching Gary Cooper's career, though it was a landmark movie in its own right.  The Variety critic reported: "An outstanding performance was given by Gary Cooper as Abe Lee, played in a most sympathetic manner, and came near taking the stuff away from Colman.  Cooper is a youth who will be heard of on the screen and possibly blossom out as an "ace" lead of which there seems to be a scarcity on the coast right now."

A review of "The Legion of the Condemned" (Household Magazine, August, 1928), which starred Cooper and Fay Wray, suggested Cooper did "take the stuff away" from Colman: "Gary Cooper, who has literally ridden to fame via the horse--having been a cowboy--is the handsome young chap who stole the picture from Ronald Colman in "The Winning of Barbara Worth."

Finding Gary Cooper

  • Wright's youngest son, Norman, relates how Cooper was chosen.  "Well, you know, on one of the pictures he picked out old Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper was an extra, and it was a western, and they were trying to do casting with certain people.  And my dad just said, 'That guy leaning against the fence over there looks like a cowboy.'  And it was old Gary Cooper. (Unpublished interview by Kathryn A. Hinke, November 11, 1974). 

  • In a very different version of the discovery of Gary Cooper, Henry King says "One morning, I arrived at the studio and noticed a man sitting outside the office of Bob McIntyre, the casting director. He had his knees up and his arms around them, and he looked at me as I went by. I asked Bob who he was." King looked at his test film, tried him out, and hired him.

  • In yet a third version of the story, screenwriter Frances Marion was headed for Sam Goldwyn's office for a conference about The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), "she noticed a tall, lanky fellow dressed like a cowboy leaning against the wall of the office building, talking through the window to Goldwyn's secretary." She brought him in and introduced him to Goldwyn who hired him on the spot.

Click here for the full text of these alternate versions of how Cooper got the role of Abe Lee. I will leave it to you to decide which, if any, is the real story.


The Variety critic gives a very detailed account of the story.  Vilma Banky first appears in the movie as the mother of the baby later known as Barbara Worth.  Banky and her husband then perish in a sandstorm, and the baby is left to be rescued by the Worth expedition.  The baby grows to become the beautiful "rose of the desert," Barbara Worth.  Barbara no doubt bore a striking resemblance to her mother since Vilma Banky played both roles.  

     "The story, briefly," according to the Variety critic, "is that of the Worth expedition going into the desert lands for reclamation purposes.  They find they need money to carry on their work, and get in touch with James Greenfield, banker, who arrives on the scene with his foster son Willard Holmes, an engineer.
     "Then the development process starts, a town springs up and endeavors are underway to bring the water from the gateway of the Colorado river to the arid lands.  The new town of Kingston becomes prosperous.
     "Greenfield wants to double-cross his partners in the venture, fires all of the engineers who want to reinforce the gateway, and they, of course flee to a high spot, which Worth decides to develop.  Worth and his crew figure that Holmes is in league with Greenfield and Barbara repulses his advances.
     "Then Worth names his town Barbara and starts on his work of reclaiming that section.  He runs short of cash and Greenfield does his "heavy" stuff and starts a riot among the help.
     "Worth makes a new connection which Holmes, unknown to him, has started, and the money is advanced to save the day.  A 24-hour trip is made by horseback to get the money to the town.  Lee and Holmes make it.  They are ambushed by hirelings of Greenfield, and both wounded. Holmes gets back to save the day.  Then Greenfield's town is menaced by the raging river.  A flood wipes out the town, leaving Worth's new town the winner.

     According to the same critic, the picture emphasized the romance angle even more than the book did.  "Francis Marion," he says, "injected romance into it, and plenty of it.  Instead of making Jefferson Worth the hero, he had the story twisted around so that Willard Holmes the young engineer, would be the one to get the laurels.  In building up the "Holmes" character, Miss Marion did an excellent piece of work, as it was almost essential in getting over the romantic portions of the story to force the love interest a bit.  Then there was the possibility of carrying the story to extremes by making "Abe Lee," another romantic youth in the story, the villain, or vice versa."
     "The treatment at the start carried sufficient suspense to lead the audience to believe that Holmes was the interloper.  However as the story went along, it showed Holmes as the manly chap and lover, developing Lee into sort of a 'brotherly' sort of chap instead of the fellow who would stand in the way."

     Another review of this movie appeared in Film Daily, December 12, 1926.  I have a copy and will add material from it to this page soon.

Release:  United Artists

Production: Samuel Goldwyn Company

Director: Henry King

Writing/Screenplay: Adapted by Frances Marion from Harold Bell Wright's novel by same name.



Ronald Colman

Willard Holmes

Vilma Bánky

Barbara Worth

Charles Lane (III)

Jefferson Worth

Paul McAllister (I)

The Seer

E.J. Ratcliffe

James Greenfield

Gary Cooper

Abe Lee

Clyde Cook (I)


Erwin Connelly

Pat Mooney

Sammy Blum

Horace Blanton

Edward Brady


Fred Esmelton

George Cartwright

Bill Patton

Little Rosebud (as William Patton)

Availability: Copies of this movie are available from Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, at 5006 Vineland, North Hollywood. Phone 818-506-4242. Bootleg copies are also frequently available on eBay.

Barbara Worth Movie Links: 

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
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Last updated 05/25/11