She was born Bertha Bohny in New York City to Swiss immigrants. As a teen, she worked as a model to help support her family and was hired at the age of 15 by Florenz Ziegfeld to appear in his Ziegfeld Follies Revue. She migrated to Hollywood in 1922 and began appearing in films. Her great beauty and easily recognizable name helped her become one of the most popular actresses of the 1920s. She was soon dubbed The American Beauty which was also the title of one of her films.
She was often involved with her male counterparts during filming, and married the director of her second film, Irvin Willat, in 1923. The two separated and eventually divorced in 1929. Dove had a huge legion of male fans and one of her most persistent was Howard Hughes. She shared a three-