During a fire on an ocean liner, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Ellsworth, a prosperous American couple returning from Newfoundland, are separated from their infant daughter. After the baby is found in a lifeboat by Cleave ( Edward Ayers ), a fisherman, he and his childless wife attempt to locate the parents, but when the attempt proves unsuccessful, they rear the girl themselves and name her Ruth. Twenty years later, when Mrs. Cleave ( Adelaide Woods ), now a widow and charwoman to wealthy American artist Paul Keith ( Elliott Dexter ), falls ill, Ruth ( Myrtle Stedman ), who has been discharged from a sweatshop, takes her place. Meanwhile, Keith is searching for a model who captures the American soul to pose in an international beauty competition sponsored by dissolute Herbert Lorrimer ( Howard Davies ). He persuades Ruth to model, and although Keith's painting, The American Beauty wins, Ruth's Canadian nationality is discovered and the painting is disqualified. After Lorrimer lures Ruth to his apartment and drugs her, Keith saves her from rape. Thinking herself inferior socially, Ruth declines Keith's proposal, but because of the painting's controversy, Ruth's parents learn of her existence, and at the end, Ruth asks Keith if she would make a model wife.
This 1916 melodrama was produced by Pallas Pictures and directed by William Desmond Taylor, starring Myrtle Stedman. The survival status of The American Beauty is listed as unknown, sadly suggesting it is a lost silent film. For fans of silent cinema one hopes a copy survives and resurfaces for public viewing.
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