Boles, John (1895–1969)

By: David Minor

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

John Boles, stage and screen star, the son of John Monroe and Mary Jane (Love) Boles, was born on October 27, 1895, at Greenville, Hunt County, Texas. In early childhood he demonstrated an affection and talent for acting and singing. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1917, he returned to Greenville, where he was one of many "locals" selected by an out-of-town producer to act in an opera at the King Opera House. This experience convinced him that he preferred music and the stage to the preference of his parents, a medical degree and a doctor's practice. On June 21, 1917, Boles married Marielite Dobbs and, submitting to his parents wishes, decided to attend medical school. For two years in World War I he served in the army intelligence service.

Afterward Boles studied music in New York. His voice, physique, and handsome face led to his selection as the lead in the 1923 Broadway musical Little Jesse James. He quickly became an established star of Broadway and attracted the attention of Hollywood producers and actors. Gloria Swanson persuaded him to travel to Hollywood and star in the film Loves Of Sunya (1926). After portraying Capt. Jim Stewart in Rio Rita (1929) he accepted the lead of Red Shadow in the The Desert Song (1930) and became a matinee idol.

His arrival in Hollywood coincided with the introduction of talkies. Unlike many of his colleagues, Boles made the transition from silent to sound films with few problems. He acted in over a dozen films during the 1930s, normally playing a successful, sophisticated, urban businessman. He played opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937), Rosalind Russell in Craig's Wife (1936), and Shirley Temple in Curley Top (1935), Littlest Rebel (1935), and Stand Up and Cheer (1934). He also had roles in Frankenstein (1931) and Back Street (1932).

By the end of the decade, however, Boles's fame waned, and he left movie-making for eleven years. Over the decades he had saved his money and invested it in the oil business in Texas. In 1943 he starred with fellow Texan Mary Martin in One Touch of Venus on Broadway. He returned to the screen in Babes in Baghdad in 1952. From the mid 1950s, however, he lived and worked in San Angelo, Texas. There on February 27, 1969, he suffered a stroke and died. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.

San Angelo Standard Times, February 28, 1969. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Music
  • Stage and Film
  • Military
  • Soldiers
  • West Texas
  • San Angelo

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

David Minor, “Boles, John,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994

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