Actresses and Chess
by Bill Wall
June Allyson (1917-2006) played chess. A photo shows her playing chess with Van Johnson in 1948. It was taken in June’s trailer between takes of The Bride Goes Wild.
Ann-Margret Olsson (1941- ) plays chess in real life. In the 1993 movie, Grumpy Old Men, Ariel Truax (Ann-Margret) plays chess with John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon). In the 1995 movie, Grumpier Old Men, husband and wife Ariel and John (Ann-Margret and Jack Lemmon) play chess. There is a photo of Bobby Fischer and Ann-Margret taken backstage in one of her performances.
Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), who was born Betty Joan Perske, was an amateur chess player. She was married to Humphrey Bogart from 1945 to 1957 (his death). They often played chess together. In 1945, she appeared on the cover of the June-July issue of Chess Review with her husband, Humphrey Bogart. Bogart was playing a game with Charles Boyer as Lauren Bacall looked on. See photos.
Joan Bennett (1910-1990) played chess. A photo shows her playing chess with Humphrey Bogart in 1955. It was taken during filming of We’re No Angels.
Candice Bergen (1946- ) may have played chess in real life. She played chess as Mrs. Edith Pedecarls in the movie The Wind and the Lion, filmed in 1955. She mentions in hear autobiography, A Fine Romance (2015), that her kids played chess.
Polly Bergen (1930-2014) played chess. A photo shows her playing Gregory Peck on a small magnetic chess set in 1962. It was taken on the set of Cape Fear. She said that Gregory Peck taught her chess between scenes when they both starred in Cape Fear.
Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982) played chess. She starred with Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca in 1942.
The French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) played chess. When asked how she spent her time on long sea-voyages, she said she played chess. (source: Sarah Bernhardt by Jules Huret) On four separate occasions, she played chess against the automaton called Ajeeb between 1886 and 1900.
Shirley Booth (1898-1992) played chess. There is a photo of her playing chess with Anthony Quinn. (source: Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record, by David Tucker, p. 94)
Actress and singer June Carroll (1917-2004) played chess. She said that she played chess as a diversion from tuning up her vocal chords. (source: Ogden Standard-Examiner, July 28, 1928)
Cher (1946- ), born Cherilyn Sarkisan, plays chess.
Actress Mae Clarke (1910-1992) played chess. A photo shows her playing chess against Jose Capablanca in April, 1933 on the MGM set during the making of Turn Back the Clock. In 1931, she played the role of Henry Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth in Frankenstein. Also in 1931, she starred in The Public Enemy. Her most famous scene was when James Cagney pushed a half grapefruit into her face.
Actress and singer Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002) played chess. She, and he husband, Jose Ferrer, took chess lessons from Herman Steiner (1905-1955) in the 1950s.
Linda Darnell (1921-1965) played chess. She appeared in the October 1945 issue of Chess Review in connection with the August, 1945 Pan-American Chess Congress, held in Hollywood. She was crowned Queen of Ceremonies at the Pan-Am tournament. She played several off-hand games, including one with actress Roseanne Murray.
Bette Davis (1908-1989) played chess. In 1932, she married musician Harmon Oscar Nelson, who was also a chess addict. Bette Davis, determined not to be a chess widow, learned the game during the filming of Kid Galahad in 1937. She played chess in two of her films, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and The Scapegoat (1959) (source: Harrisburg (PA) Telegraph, April 2, 1937)
Actress Viola Davis (1965- ) plays chess. In 2014, she donated $30,000 to the chess club at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. Davis’ sister is teacher at that school and Viola attend that school in the 1980s.
Olivia de Havilland (1916-2009) played chess. A photo shows her playing chess with Errol Flynn in 1941. It was taken on the set of They Died with Their Boots On. She played chess against Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
The French-American actress Julie Delphy (1969- ) plays chess. She listed one of her hobbies was chess.
Catherine Deneuve (1943- ) plays chess. A photo shows her playing a game of chess against David Bowie (1947-2016) in 1982. It was taken while they were filming The Hunger. She played chess in the movie La Partie d’echecs (the Chess Game), filmed in 1994.
Sandra Dee (1942-2005) played chess. There is a photo of Sandra Dee playing chess with Rock Hudson in Rome in 1960 on the set of Come September. She was married to Bobby Darin from 1960 to 1967. Darin was a chess fanatic and the two played chess together.
Marlene Dietrich (1904-1992) played chess. A photo shows her playing on a peg chess set with John Wayne in 1942. It was taken on set of the movie Pittsburgh. In 1945, she was a spectator at the Pan-American Chess Congress. She always carried a tine chess set and played chess during plane flights. (source: The Franklin News-Herald, April 16, 1965)
American actress Eliza Dushku (1980- ), who starred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, plays chess. She said she picked up the hobby while in Los Angeles shooting the TV show Dollhouse in 2009. She was on the Howard Stern show in February, 2009. Howard asked Eliza if chess played chess. She said that she does. She wrote in Twitter in June, 2009, “Yes, I’m a chess nerd too.”
Moran Fairchild (1950- ) plays chess. She hosted a charity chess event in Mexico in 1988 and was a spectator at the 1988 World Action Chess Championship in Mazatlan, Mexico.
Mia Farrow (1945- ) plays chess and took chess lessons in 1981. Woody Allen and Mia Farrow have played chess together.
Actress Betty Field (1913-1973) was a chess player. In 1948, she was listed as the 10th best chess player in Hollywood. (source: The Milwaukee Journal, Jul 3, 1948)
Jane Fonda (1937- ) plays chess. When she was 21, Jane Fonda (1937- ) played chess with Susan Strasberg on the beach in Malibu. It was during these chess games that Jane was encouraged to take acting lessons and become an actress. Jane Fonda encourages chess playing among children and teenagers at risk. She has been involved with chess programs for inner-city youth. Jane played chess with her ex-husband, Roger Vadim (1928-2000) in the 1960s.
Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917- ) played chess. An early photo shows her playing chess. She said she played chess on her honeymoon with George Sanders in 1949. George wrote in his autobiography that the two played chess nearly every night on their honeymoon.
Ava Gardner (1922-1990) played chess. Here is a nice photo of her playing chess in 1947. It was on the set of Singapore. She married Artie Shaw in 1945 and they played chess together. Later, Shaw hired a Russian chess master to tutor her in chess. After a few months of lessons, she started beating him at chess. He never asked her to play chess again. (source: Ava Gardner. “Love is Nothing” by Lee Server, 2007, p. 160)
Judy Garland (1922-1969) played chess. There is a photo of her playing chess in 1938. It was taken behind the scenes of the film Listen, Darling.
Barbara Hale (1922- ) played chess. She took lessons from Heman Steiner in the 1950s and was a member of the Herman Steiner Chess Club in Hollywood.
Dee Hartford (1928- ) played chess. Here is a photo of her playing chess with Fritz Feld on the set of Lost in Space, which aired from 1965 to 1968.
Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) played chess. She played chess with Tyrone Power in the movie Blood and Sand, filmed in 1941. (source: The Evening Independent, May 19, 1941)
World-renowned Norwegian figure skater and actress Sonja Henie (1912-1969) was perhaps the strongest female chess player in Hollywood.
Katharine Hepburn (1909-2003) played chess. A photo shows her playing chess with Humphrey Bogart. She and her brother, tom, played chess growing up. She took chess lessons from Herman Steiner in the 1940s.
Kate Jackson (1949- ), part of Charlie’s Angels, plays chess. In 1982, on the Tonight Show, she mentioned that she played chess with a chess computer. She said she would rather play with her Sargon chess computer than watch TV.
Kim Kardashian (1980- ) may play chess or wants to learn. In 2013, she tweeted “I want to learn how to play chess. Wondering if Levon Aronian can teach me!”
Grace Kelly (1929-1982) played chess. She played chess with Alfred Hitchcock. A photo shows her taking interest in a chess game between Jimmy Stewart and Wendel Corey in 1954. It was taken on the set of Rear Window.
Deborah Kerr (1921-2007) played chess. She played chess with Clark Gable during the filming of The Hucksters in 1947.
Elsa Lancaster (1902-1986) was one of the strongest women chess players in Hollywood. (source: The Milwaukee Journal, Jul 3, 1948)
Belinda Lee (1935-1961) played chess. Here is a nice photo of her at a chessboard.
Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) played chess. A photo shows her playing chess with Lawrence Olivier in 1941. It was taken during the filming of Forty Ninth Parallel. She listed chess as one of her favorite games.
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) played chess. She played ches with her dramatic coach, Phyllis Loughton. (source: The Pittsburgh Press, July 7, 1939)
Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) played chess. Life magazine has a photo of her playing chess.
Sophia Loren (1934- ) plays chess. Here is a photo of her playing chess. She used intermissions, while shooting films, to play a game of chess. In 1966, she played chess with Marlon Brando. Sophia Loren appeared with Marlon Brando sitting behind a chess board, observed by Charlie Chaplin, in a Life magazine article. Another photo has Charlie Chaplin looking over the game between Brando and Loren.
Myrna Loy (1905-1993) played chess. She said that she became interested in chess after watching Reginald Owen and Frank Morgan (Wizard of Oz) play chess. She was a member of Herman Steiner's chess club. (source: Chess Review, October 1937, p. 223 and Chess Life, November 1992, p. 23)
Madonna (1958- ), born Madonna Louise Ciccone, plays chess. She plays chess in a couple of her musical videos. She plays chess on the Internet Chess Club. In 2001, Alan Norris, former Scottish chess champion, tutored Madonna in chess.
Mitzi Mayfair (1915-1976) played chess. A photo of her playing chess at the Pan-American Chess Congress in 1945 appeared in the October issue of Chess Review. In August, 1945, she played in the Ladies’ tournament under her married name, Mrs. Charles Henderson, or Lyn Henderson. She had been playing chess for a little over a year. She won one game and lost 7 games. She later took up postal chess.
Actress Sylvia Miles (1932- ) was once a competitive chess player. She played in New York chess tournaments in the early 1960s. She was a member of the Manhattan Chess Club in the 1960s. She said she took up backgammon to distract herself from chess. She said she had become too much of a chess bum. She claims she played chess with Bobby Fischer. She was an Academy-award Best Supporting actress nominee for Midnight Cowboy in 1969. (source: York, PA Daily Record, Oct 2, 1972)
Ann Miller (1923-2004) may have played chess. There is a 1940 photo of her posing on a large chess board with large chess pieces.
Actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) played chess. In Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years, by Keith Badman, there is a section on some of her spending habits. She had purchased an expensive rosewood silver and gold chess set. She also received a carved ivory chess set as a gift from a friend. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist, wrote that Marilyn Monroe was too dependent on people taking care of her until she discovered chess two months before her death. (source: Marilyn Monroe: A Case for Murder, by Jay Margolis, p.113) In the 1950s, she studied for six months at the Actors Studio and learned to play chess about the time she married Arthur Miller in 1956 (source: newspaper column by Erskine Johnson, Redlands Daily Facts, Feb 26, 1960)
Roseanne Murray ( 1920-2015) was a chess player. She took chess lessons from Herman Steiner. She appeared in the October 1945 issue of Chess Review. There is a photo of her playing chess with actress Linda Darnell.
Jennifer O’Neill (1948- ) played chess with James Mason in a scene in The Devil and the Schoolteacher, filmed in Rome in 1975. (source: Progress Bulletin, Pomona, CA, July 31, 1975)
Leslie Parrish (1935) plays chess. In 1962, in breaks between scenes in the film Three on a Match (For Love or Money), she set a chess board and pieces and challenged other actors. Parrish said she became a chess player to escape boredom during an illness. Rather than read her temperature chart all day, she studied a book on chess. (source: I Need a Man’s Pants to Wash by Lorie Eskert, 2002, p. 51 and Star News, Sep 12, 1962)
Mala Powers (1931-2007) played
chess. During the Korean War, she played correspondence chess with
hospitalized military veterans she met while on tour in Tokyo and South Korea.
(source: Massillon Evening Independent, Aug 7, 1952)
Paula Raymond (1924-2003) played chess. In an interview, she said she played chess with actor George Sanders while they were dating. (source: Movies Were Always Magical, by Leo Verswijver, 2003, p. 152)
Florence Rice (1911-1974) played chess. She was an enthusiastic amateur. (source: Chess Review, December 1937, p. 291) In 1934, she had a chess scene with Neil Hamilton in Fugitive Lady.
Julia Roberts (1967- ) plays chess. She always asks for a chess set in her trailer during the making of her movies. She played chess in Pretty Woman.
Jill St. John (1940 - ) plays chess. She has played chess with Henry Kissinger.
Brooke Shields (1965- ) plays chess. She was a member of the 1990 World chess Championship organizing committee that was held in New York.
Simone Signoret (1921-1985) played chess. There is a photo of her playing chess with Yves Montand in 1954.
Simone Simon (1910-2005) played chess. When she travelled, especially on ships, she played chess. (source: Syracuse Post-Standard, May 21, 1949)
Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990) played chess. There is a photo of her playing chess with director Frank Capra as Gary Cooper watches in 1941. It was on the set of Meet John Doe. Another photo shows here getting ready to play chess with Lee Majors.
Margaret Sullivan (1909-1960) played chess. She took some chess lessons from Herman Steiner in the 1940s.
Shirley Temple (Black) (1928-2014) may have played chess. There is a photo of here playing Gary Cooper. Chess Life included Shirley Temple as a file star that played chess (source: Chess Life, Vol 52, 1997, p. 163). In The Little Colonel, filmed in 1935, she throws a chess set on the floor.
Lana Turner (1920-1995) played chess. There is a photo of her playing chess with Spencer Tracy in Cass Tamberlane in 1947. There were several chess scenes in the movie.. Herman Steiner was the chess advisor for the movie. He told Lana Turner, “Don't play chess. Sitting at a chess board for hours might make you fat and spoil your perfect figure."
Raquel Welch (1940- ) plays chess. There is a photo of her playing chess with Tom Jones in 1970. It was taken during filming of a TV special.
Shelley Winters (1920-2006) played chess. She played chess against James Mason in Lolita.