Aileen Pringle was born on July 23, 1895, the daughter of William Bisbee, president of the Pioneer Fruit Company in San Francisco. She was educated in Paris and London. While in London, she married her first husband, Sir Charles Pringle, and made her acting debut on the stage in a production of The Bracelet . During World War I, Aileen and her husband, later governor general of the Bahamas, took up residence in Jamaica, then came to live in New York, where Aileen resumed her acting career, starring in a stage production of The Green Goddess and the motion picture Honor Bound with a then unknown Rudolph Valentino. As Aileen's interest in acting grew and she moved to Hollywood in 1922, precipitating her separation from Charles Pringle. They divorced 20 years later. She began her film career as a player for Metro studios (later MGM), but quickly moved into starring roles in silent features. She was chosen by Elinor Glyn for the lead in the screen adaptation of Glyn's popular novel, Three Weeks . Her portrayal of a runaway queen who falls for a lovelorn young man is perhaps her most notable role. She followed this success with leading roles in other Elinor Glyn adaptations as well as other popular romances, in which she was cast as the seductress. Among her best known films are: Adam & Evil (1927), Beau Broadway (1928), Body and Soul (1928) and The Phantom of Crestwood (1932). She continued working into the 1930s, but with the advent of sound films, her career faded and she was relegated to westerns and "B" movies. Her final role was a small part in Since You Went Away (1944).
She led an active social life in Hollywood. Living on the beach in fashionable Santa Monica, she was a frequent hostess to and guest of Joan Crawford, Eric Von Stroheim, Greta Garbo, and King and Florence Vidor. She developed a close friendship with Marion Davies that endured well beyond Aileen's acting career, though no letters from Davies are extant in this collection.
Aileen Pringle also developed a circle of literary acquaintances and friends, earning the nickname "the darling of the intelligentsia." Carl Van Vechten met Aileen in the mid 1920s and became her self-professed fan. He visited California in 1928 as Aileen's guest and used his experiences to write a series of articles about the motion picture industry. His second to last novel, Spider Boy, focusing on the fortunes of Hollywood types, features the character Auburn Six, a thinly disguised Aileen Pringle. Aileen played hostess to Blanche Knopf and was acquainted with novelist/gadabout Sadakichi Hartmann, illustrator Ralph Barton, playwright Rupert Hughes, and novelist Joseph Hergesheimer.
It was through Hergesheimer that Pringle met H. L. Mencken. While visiting California in June of 1926, Mencken attended a party given by Hergesheimer, where he was introduced to the popular actress. The two began a relationship that would last, despite major setbacks, until his death in 1956. The couple soon became an item in Hollywood gossip columns, and although they publicly denied any romantic relationship, they corresponded with the frequency and intensity of sweethearts. Mencken returned to Los Angeles in October 1926, where he spent much of his time with Aileen. In November 1927, Aileen visited New York City, and Mencken made the trip from his native Baltimore to see her. Their relationship remained intense until 1930, when Mencken announced to Aileen that he was to marry Sara Haardt, a writer whom he had known for years. Mencken returned Aileen's letters on his wedding day, August 27, 1930, and asked Aileen to return his. Upon receiving his letters, Mencken reportedly burned them all. The two remained polite during the next few years, then, after Sara's death in 1935, they began to correspond, and even saw each other more frequently.
Aileen married James M. Cain in 1944, but the marriage lasted less than a year. In the early 1950s, she moved to New York City where, along with her friend Saul Mauriber, she was a regular guest of Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff. She became a devoted theatergoer and remained in New York until her death on December 16, 1989.
From the guide to the Aileen Pringle papers, 1887-1970, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)