Famous Hoosiers: Louise Dresser

*Post written by James Wethington, library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

Portrait photograph of Louise Dresser, n.d. Credit:

As our series, “Famous Hoosiers”, wraps up, we are going to focus on motion picture entertainers. One of the best-known Tri-State residents such as Johnny Depp, Ron Glass, Avery Brooks, and many more. Back in the early days of the film industries, female entertainers were rare. Then there was Louise Dresser: an Evansville, Indiana native who made and left her mark on the motion picture industry for Jewish women.

Louise Dresser was born Louise Josephine Kerlin on October 5, 1878. Her parents were hardworking individuals, her father was a train engineer; however, he passed away when she was fifteen. Dresser ran away from Evansville to pursue a theatre and stage career. She got involved in vaudeville. She changed her name in honor of family friend, Paul Dresser (writer of the song, On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away). In 1898, Louise got married to composer and actor, Jack Norworth; however, their marriage lasted until 1907 (, 2017; Kibler, 2009).

Movie Poster of Louise Dresser’s final film, “A Ship Comes In”, 1928. Credit:

During her tenure on vaudeville, she portrayed in masquerade and blackface; however, Dresser left vaudeville and performed on Broadway starring in “Matinee Idol” (1910-1912), “Broadway in Paris” (1912), “Potash and Perlmutter” (1913), and “Hello Broadway!”(1914). While on Broadway, she met her second husband, Jack Gardner, until his death in 1950 (Kibler, 2009). In 1920, Gardner and Dresser moved to California in order to become Hollywood stars. Starring in her first feature film at 44, Dresser was in The Glory of Clementina in 1922. She continued to star in various films in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Dresser is best remembered for being nominated for the first-ever “Academy Award for Best Actress” in 1929, alongside Janet Gaynor and Gloria Swanson; however, Gaynor won the award. Dresser retired in 1937 and passed away on April 24, 1965 in Woodland Hills, California (, 2017; Kibler, 2009).

References (2017). Louise Dresser biography. Retrieved

Kibler, M. A. (2009 March 1). Louise Dresser. Retrieved from