Is Nellie LaRoy real? Her origins explained

By Chege Karomo — ON Dec 29, 2022
Nellie LaRoy
Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Silent film and its stars peaked and spiraled in the late 1920s as the major studios realized, almost in unison, that the switch to sound films was inevitable. Babylon by Damien Chazelle chronicles the rise and dramatic fall of some of Hollywood’s stars during this transitional period. 

Babylon holds nothing back, showcasing the depravity and debauchery prevalent among the leading lights of the 1920s. Margot Robbie plays Nellie LaRoy, a ravishing, confident, and entertaining Jersey native looking to star in Hollywood. LaRoy is one of the most memorable characters in the film. 

Nellie LaRoy is based on several real-life actors, including Clara Bow and Joan Crawford

Nellie LaRoy isn’t based on one person – she is a conglomerate of many real-life actors, including Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Thelma Todd, Jeanne Eagels, and Alma Rubens. 

Like Nellie, Clara Bow had a difficult childhood and moved from the east coast to the west coast as soon as possible. Furthermore, Bow was hired on the spot – though not as dramatically as Nellie – as her energy and presence marked her out from the rest. 

Nellie’s squabble with Constance Moore on a film set draws from a real-life altercation Bow had with Colleen Moore on the set of 1924’s Painted People. Bow’s gambling problems, affairs, business interests, and downfall are referenced through Nellie in Babylon

Joan Crawford’s real name, Lucille Fay LeSueur, inspired Nellie LaRoy’s name in the film. Like Nellie, Crawford crashed parties and danced wildly while wearing flattering ensembles. She was also prodigiously talented, able to command the screen like few others. 

Nellie mirrors stars like Jeanne Eagels, Alma Rubens, and Thelma Todd, who struggled with and died prematurely of substance abuse.