Houston History Matters: Phantom & Betty Rand
The Auditorium Hotel, developed by Michele DeGeorge, opened in November 1926. This photo, courtesy of The Sloane Gallery, was taken in January 1927 by Calvin Wheat. It shows actress Betty Rand (also known as Grace Roden) and her horse, Phantom, visiting the front desk in the hotel lobby. Another photo, showing Phantom reading the hotel's guest register, can be found in the Lancaster Hotel's history album, Volume II, Auditorium Hotel.
While Phantom's owners, wealthy Houstonians Betty Rand and her husband Maurice LaGarde, were guests at the hotel, Phantom probably resided in a nearby stable on the site of today's Alley Theatre or Lyric Center. Phantom and Rand were both vaudeville and silent film stars. On this trip, Phantom portrayed Goethe's diabolical Mephistopheles in a movie based on Faust and filmed in Houston and on Galveston beaches.
Originally named Prince, Phantom was sold by Mohammet Bey, an Egyptian or Indian prince, to Betty Rand. Articles described him as Syrian or Arab and part Thoroughbred, "spirited, almost human in intelligence, fearless." He "can simulate anger, joy, affection, fear and sorrow. The lines of his body are beautiful and he is kept perfectly groomed by his owner."
In January 1928, Phantom and Betty were photographed on the airport tarmac in Paris, France. Betty had chartered a WWI Vickers Vimy aircraft to fly Phantom over the English Channel to England. The "Flying Wild Horse" was the first to fly over the Channel and the first to fly in an airplane, period. In February the duo made news again, flying back from England to Paris.
Betty Rand and Phantom often made international and American news. In February 1931, when they arrived in New York City by ship from Europe, newspapers reported she was looking for a plane to fly Phantom to San Francisco. In 1932, they said she wanted a plane to fly Phantom from New York to Havana for the races. In 1933, the "Modern Pegasus" flew from Roosevelt Field, in New York to Washington, D.C. In 1934, Phantom was featured boarding his private plane to entertain in Richmond, and then continue on to Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1947, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Phantom's death at age 30. He had spent the last 10 years with Betty at her and her-then-husband William A. Hamm's ranch near Watsonville, Larkin Valley, California, where the horse had the run of the pastures, walked in and out of their home as he pleased, and nodded to guests he knew at their parties. Phantom especially loved to go into the kitchen for sugar and never broke a bowl.
According to one reporter, Betty had a large scrapbook showing her beloved Phantom visiting the front desks of the Ansonia Hotel in New York and a hotel in Houston.
By Michaelene "Miki" Lusk Norton