A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Title Page, Copyright
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As the title indicates, this volume is devoted to a wide spectrum of silent film performers, from the legendary stars to those who were little more than extras. In the silent era, to be a star meant to have one's name above the title - there was no other definition-and so, it might be noted, the majority of players...
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In many ways. this book has been more than thirty years in creation. during which time I have utilized the facilities of many major archives and libraries. including the British Film Institute. the Frances Howard Goldwyn/Hollywood Regional Library. the International Museum of Photography at George...
A Personal Odyssey
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Silent film, the truth at sixteen frames per second, has dominated much of my adult life. It has brought me happiness through the individuals I have met as a result of my interest, and it has also resulted in endless frustration in regard to both the lack of interest in the genre and the combined efforts of many who...
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She was a sad little creature, one might almost say pathetic, as unworldly as many of the ingenues she had played at the Thanhouser Company in the early teens. She lived in a small apartment, almost across the street from Warner Bros., a studio that had not existed when she was a leading lady...
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It would be foolish to claim that Mary Astor was a great silent star. She was certainly a pretty ingenue, but there was little substance to her performances. Only with the coming of sound and her own maturation as a woman did she develop a dignity and strength to her characterizations. After 1930, whether...
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Billy Bakewell, as everyone called him, was one of the few actors and actresses from the silent era to have been born in Hollywood-on May 2,1908. He was a star-struck teenager who frequented the studios, watching production and seeking work as an extra. In January 1928, Central Casting listed...
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There can be few autobiographies as outrageous as Lina Basquette's Lina: DeMille's Godless Girl. almost every page of which consists of remembered conversations dealing in large and intimate part with her sex life. the early death of her first husband. and. most entertaining of all. her attempted rape by...
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Louise Dresser is The Goose Woman. a sort of rural bag lady. in the 1925 Universal film. Her real life equivalent was Madge Bellamy (Hillsboro. Texas. June 30. 1899-Upland. California. January 24. 1990). who lived her final years in Ontario. California. in semi-rural squalor. her attire and her surroundings...
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Back in the 1970s, there was an aging film buff in Washington, D.C., by the name of Tom Fullbright. For somewhat obvious reasons, including a penchant for aging actresses (very much a gay trait), he had the nickname of "Fruity" Fullbright. Tom came up with the notion of presenting "Rosemary Awards" to...
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Priscilla Bonner's forte was playing the innocent, virginal heroine. "I was in rags a lot of the time and it was always raining. I was dragged through rainstorms and it was snowing and people were abusing me. That was my screen life," she once commented. In real life, she was a shrewd businesswoman with...
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Hobart Bosworth brought a sense of strength and nobility to the screen. He was a pioneering actor who seemed to continue on forever. as virile and capable in roles of the 1930s as he appeared two decades previous. Bosworth was the Dean of the Screen. and as such he symbolized old Hollywood...
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The majority of silent film players never took themselves too seriously. but few were willing to spare the time to view what they considered to be their worst screen appearance. An exception was Evelyn Brent. who sat down and watched with obvious amusement (and a few quite salty comments...
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Mary Brian is the greatest of the screen ingenues from the silent and early sound era. She is a competent. intelligent. and compliant actress who exudes a natural charm and personality. There is never anything forced or artificial about her performances. no matter if the storylines are not always believable...
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Both physically and emotionally, Gladys Brockwell (Brooklyn, New York, September 26, 1894-Los Angeles, July 2, 1929) was an outstanding presence on screen. There was a majesty to her leading roles with William Fox from 1916 to 1920, and her performances mask the cheapness of productions...
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A number of actresses gained fame for their characterizations as mothers in silent film. Mary Maurice was a pioneer with the Vitagraph Company. In the 1920s. Mary Carr was made up above her years to portray mothers. most notably the central character in...
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John Bunny was the first internationally recognized film comedian. He was also the most famous fat comedian of his day, at a time when fat meant cute and cuddly rather than obese and unattractive. There had been earlier fat comedians, most notably John Cumpson at American Biograph, featured in...
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Ruth Clifford enjoyed two very distinct film careers, the first as a silent star and the second, in later years, as a member of John Ford's stock company. Her innocent, slightly worried looks coupled with a pretty, natural beauty made her an ideal silent ingenue. Ruth's primary credentials for membership in the...
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Elmer Clifton has never received the recognition he deserves as a director. Active as both a director and screenwriter up until his death in Los Angeles on October 15. 1949. Clifton was reliable. efficient. speedy. and creative. despite the films seldom being worthy of much effort. He had the immense good...
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Miriam Cooper has never received the attention lavished on other D.W Griffith actresses. and yet she provides one of the most modern and naturalistic of silent film performances in Intolerance (1916). Only Mae Marsh is her equal in the film. but the styles are too different to be worthy of comparison. As the...
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Pauline Curley always had a childlike appearance even after she had graduated from child star to leading lady. Her screen career ran from the start of the silent feature film era in 1915 until its end in 1928. and yet few of her films are remembered today. and she remains a relatively unknown performer. Prior to...
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There is a much-praised sequence in the 1980 Hollywood television series. in which Viola Dana tells of the crash that killed her lover. stunt pilot Ormer Locklear. during the filming of The Skywayman in Los Angeles on August 20. 1920. As she recounts the moment that the plane hit the ground. the...
Bese Daniels and Ben Lyon
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Both were American silent stars, but Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon also hold a unique place in the history of British entertainment. They were the only major U.S. stars to sit out World War Two and the blitz in London and the only American performers to have starred in long-running BBC radio shows. from..
Philippe de Lacy
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After the death of Barbara La Marr, Philippe De Lacy (who was sometimes billed as Philippe De Lacey) and his adopted mother moved into her home, leading at least one fan magazine writer to note that "The boy who is too beautiful" now occupied the same address as had "The Girl who was too...
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Neither audiences nor her colleagues liked Carol Dempster very much. "I never cared for her," said Lois Wilson. "She had sharp features, you know, and I always used to say she was as sharp offscreen as she was on. She was working at the Paramount, Long Island, studios, and I was working there with...
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Petite and pretty and with a very homespun American charm. Dorothy Devore was one of the major second-league screen comediennes. She had neither the personality nor the commercial appeal of Mabel Normand. but as the leading female star of the Al Christie comedy company. her films had a guaranteed...
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With his footballer's build, the square-jawed Richard Dix (St. Paul. Minnesota, July IS, IS93-at sea, September 20, 1949) is very much a man's man, standing apart from the Latin lovers and the seemingly effeminate leading men who make up the roster of male silent stars, The hulking Francis...
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Billie Dove's last film. Blondie of the Follies. released by MGM in August 1932. is an example of art imitating life. Like her screen character. Dove had been a showgirl and dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies (in 1917 and 1918). as had the star of Blondie of the Follies. Marion Davies. (Of course. they were both looking a...
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Claire DuBrey was not an easy woman to know. She was outspoken. arrogant. and unwilling to listen to others. Her career was long and basically undistinguished. but. as she grew older, she saw herself as one of the last pioneers of the cinema. She was born in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, on August 3 I, 1892...
Virginia Brown Faire
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Leisure World is an upscale senior citizen retirement community close to the California resort town of Laguna Beach. It was also for many years the home of Tinker Bell or, to be more precise, the actress who played J.M. Barrie's fairy creation in the original 1924 screen adaptation of...
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The number of Hollywood extras is probably in the hundreds of thousands. As early as November 1934. Photoplay reported some 17.541 individuals registered as extras with Central Casting. Among the number of small part and bit players available at that time were former stars. including Monte Blue...
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Crucial roles in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance ( 1916) are played by a statuesque actor who has never received any recognition in his lifetime or since. The actor is an Englishman. Howard Gaye (Hitchin. Hertforshire. May 23. I 878-London. December 26. 1955). and the characters he created on screen...
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There is a title that describes Lillian Gish's title character in Romola (1925) as "learned of books but of the world untaught." That probably provides the shortest, and best, word portrait of Lillian Gish as seen on screen and as she exists in the public psyche. She certainly loved books, and her apartment was crowded...
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With her jet black hair drawn tightly to the nape of the neck, Dagmar Godowsky had an exotic look. ideally suited to Spanish roles-or even pseudo-Chinese or Javanese. She was heavily reliant on makeup for her image on screen in the 1920s and throughout her life, but makeup could not conceal the effects of a...
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"Get the boy some cheese. Daddy." The boy is me. Daddy is the former silent art director Harold Grieve. and the speaker is his wife Jetta Goudal. The date is July 6. 1974. and the temperamental silent star is seated in a wheelchair and wearing a black veil. Despite the wheelchair. Jetta is every bit as...
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In the mid- to late 1970s, a routine developed, with Robert Gitt and I screening films in the library at the Motion Picture Country House for Herb Sterne and for another resident. Ethel Grandin. I don't know quite how Ethel became involved, but she was relatively lonely and enjoyed the opportunity to talk...
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Ralph Graves's goofy face and grin did not exactly match his muscular. boxer's body. On screen. his clothes never seemed quite to fit. He was a likeable character but not a great actor. He never seemed to know what to do with his hands. As he admitted, "I was no actor," and so perhaps the progression to...
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'That was a very interesting picture," said Percy Marmont, discussing Aloma of the South Seas. "The snag was it had the shimmy dancer Gilda Gray. She was the star of the picture in the same way that they would make a star of Rex, the king of wild horses, or Rin Tin Tin. She was a dancer. and she was...
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Silent stardom and beauty are often linked, at least in regard to female performers. (Although both Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino might both be considered top contenders in the beauty stakes if one is to adopt a pansexual approach.) Barbara LaMarr is described as the actress who was too...
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Audiences in the teens watched Robert Harron grow and mature from a teenage boy into an appealing young man. Ultimately. they also watched him die. Harron was an actor associated with only one director. D.W. Griffith. an actor of whom no unkind word was spoken. and an actor responsible for two of the...
William S. Hart
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William Surrey Hart (Newburgh. New York. December 6. 1865-Los Angeles. June 23. 1946) was already a major stage actor when he entered films in 1914 with the two-reel short His Hour of Manhood. He had originated the role of Messala in Ben-Hur in 1899 and played Cash Hawkins in the original 1905...
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When I first met George Stevens Jr. at the American Film Institute. I was aware of his father's contribution to cinema as a major director. but I did not realize there was another. more unusual. family connection through George Junior's mother. Yvonne Stevens. who married George Senior in 1930. was...
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Gracious and charming the way young matrons should be in silent films. with a reserve that is not condescending but rather indicative of good breeding and good manners. Alice Joyce (Kansas City. Missouri. October 1. 1890-Los Angeles. October 9. 1955) was also a pioneering actress. She was a New...
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It was hardly unusual to come across former silent stars in Los Angeles. It was more uncommon to find former stage performers retired in the city. It was virtually unique to encounter someone who had not only been a great silent star but an equally prominent performer on the Broadway stage. but...
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An intelligent. well-educated actress. Doris Kenyon had little time for reminiscing about her career as a silent star. In fact. she had no recollection of her work in silent films. She was happy to look through her scrapbooks and report on what she found therein. but when it came to any personal...
J . Warren Kerrigan
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It is perhaps difficult to understand just how popular was J. (Jack) Warren Kerrigan and how much he fell out of favor at the height of his career. Harold Lloyd was an extra at Universal when Kerrigan was the studio star: "Kerrigan was a tremendous figure in those days. He was a wonderful individual...
Laura La Plante
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The natural. down-home beauty of Laura La Plante was matched by an easygoing charm and personality. Her characterizations were generally wholesome and refreshingly light, a welcome relief from the exoticism of other leading ladies of the 1920s...
The Legends: Lon Chaney, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Buster Heaton, and Rudolph Valentino
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Fame may last somewhat longer than Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes. but it seldom lasts a lifetime. Film buffs. students and. yes. even a few scholars may recall actors and actresses of the silent screen who were once household names. but even those members of the audience who are still living would be...
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There are some images that are indelible. As I write, the May 28, 2001, issue of The New Yorker has just appeared, and on its cover is a sketch by Barry Blitt, showing Harold Lloyd hanging from a modern clock face surrounded by New York skyscrapers, with the title "Safety Last, Again." With Chaplin, it is...
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In the 1923 Christie comedy, Kiddin' Kate, the hapless bridegroom arrives expecting that his mail order bride is Dorothy Devore but is shocked to discover that he is to marry overweight Babe London, looking totally unappealing in a oversize woolen sweater, a dress that is too short, and ankle-length...
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for an apt and early description or Bessie Love, one should turn to a self-published 1926 monograph, Who's Whose in Hollywood: A Sorta Saga of Screenland, by B.W. Sayres (either a pseudonym or an anagram): "Lillian Gish with a Charleston complex ... No sex appeal, but a lotta loose and lovely...
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Hull or. to be more precise. Kingston upon Hull. is a grim seaport on England's West Yorkshire Coast. Dorothy Mackaill was born there on March 4. 1903. I began my working life there as a local government employee. in 1960. I have no particularly happy memories of the place. only the overwhelming...
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It might well be a Hollywood novel. There were two sisters. The younger, Katherine MacDonald (Pittsburgh, December 14, 1891-Santa Barbara, July 4, 1956) was not a great actress but a noted screen beauty. She died in luxury with a villa in the affluent Montecito suburb of Santa Barbara. She entered...
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Watching Percy Marmont as the personification of the English gentleman on screen in more than thirty British films from 1928 through I 968-typified by his role as the Chief Constable father of Nova Pilbeam in Hitchcock's Young and Innocent/The Girl Was Young (1937)-it is difficult to imagine him as a...
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When Mae Marsh died at her longtime home in Hermosa Beach, California. on February 13, 1968, Pauline Kael reminded us in one the finest modern tributes to silent film ever published in The New Yorker (February 24, 1968), "She is our dream not of heavenly beauty, like Gish, but of earthly beauty, and...
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Winsome. boyish James Morrison was the perennial silent screen juvenile. a leading member of the Vitagraph Company from 1911 through 1916. who returned to the company as a freelance player in later years. He was small in stature. good-looking in a boy-next-door fashion and was so passive in his..
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If you wanted to chat with Jack about his career, he was usually to be found, ready to entertain fans, at the Screen Actors Guild. There he told me that the secret for acting in silent films he found not from watching one of the great names of the screen but rather from House Peters and Lewis Stone...
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"I don't believe Mae Murray was temperamental." said Blanche Sweet. "I've never known a harder worker than she was. She could work any hour. any day. to accomplish something that she thought was right. Not that Mae was a great actress. but she was a beautiful person. beautiful body. danced lovely...
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Conrad Nagel (Keokuk. Iowa. March 16, 1897 -New York. February 24, 1970) was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1932 to 1933 and received a special Oscar at the twelth Academy Awards presentation for "outstanding services to the industry." He probably deserves...
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Nobody played Nita Naldi better than Nita Naldi. She lived the outrageous vamp character that she had become on screen. With her high cheekbones. jet black hair. strong nose. large. piercing eyes. and a sensual mouth that cried out for the bee-stung lips effect of Mae Murray. she was the screen...
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Mabel Normand. The name has a distinctive and euphonious quality to it. a pleasing ring summoning forth an attractive presence. One immediately thinks of later cinematic beauties-of Marilyn Monroe-whose images are symbolic of both beauty and an undercurrent of fun. At the same time. there is a sense...
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Blonde, blue-eyed Jane Novak was a starstruck teenager who became a star almost overnight at a time when stardom was a commodity neither really known nor understood. Born in St. Louis on January 12, 1896, to parents of Hungarian ancestry-her father actually came from Prague...
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With his good looks, outgoing personality, and athletic credentials, George O'Brien (San Francisco, April 19, 1900-Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. September 4, 1985) was a natural for Westerns, a genre in which almost all of his sound career was spent. He became a star in John Ford's semi-Western...
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Lunch in the early 1970s with Jetta Goudal's husband. Harold Grieve. was always a pleasant experience. The meal would generally be held by the swimming pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel-presumably in the hope that Harold might spy a few attractive young men in the water-and followed by a visit to...
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"Do you remember Seena Owen in Intolerance with those long eyelashes?" asks Margery Wilson, who plays Brown Eyes in the Griffith feature. Who could forget Seena Owen, not only in Intolerance but also at the end of her acting career in Queen Kelly? She is as memorable as her name and one of...
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Some actresses marry their leading men, some their directors. Norma Shearer married Irving Thalberg, the head of production at MGM. Jean Paige worked for only one company, Vitagraph, and she married the head of the studio, becoming the only silent screen performer to make such a major transition. It...
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A visit to the Motion Picture Country House in the 1970s was never complete without a social call on Kathryn Perry, who was a longtime resident of the Lodge out there. She had aged from a sophisticated brunette to a gray-haired old lady with risque sense of humor. She was no longer "The Most Beautiful...
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Olga Petrova was a major performer on stage, onscreen, and in vaudeville; she also wrote plays and advice columns. She was an extraordinarily strong and determined female who seized upon the entertainment industry as a means not only to wealth but also for the propagandization of her beliefs. She was...
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One silent star noted as a recluse was Mary Philbin (Chicago. July 16. 1903- Huntington Beach. California, May 7. 1993). who had lived in the same house on Fairfax Avenue since the early 1920s.1f she was out working in the garden. film buffs might stop and ask for an autograph. but she did not grant...
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks
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They were the king and queen of Hollywood. more beloved and respected by their peers and their fans than most constitutional monarchs. Neither had the virginal qualities expected of royalty when they married in 1920 and moved into the royal residence of Pickfair. Both had been previously married and...
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Blanche Sweet is a real name, perfect for a silent film star, and so is Arline Pretty, which sounds too good to be true. (What was appropriate for silent films did not work later, and in the 1950s British film star Violet Pretty changed her name to Anne Heywood...
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Paramount's 1924 release of the first and only live-action screen adaptation of Peter Pan confirmed the prominence of Betty Bronson as Peter Pan. and made stars of Mary Brian as Wendy. Virginia Brown Faire as Tinker Bell. and Esther Ralston as Mrs. Darling. It seems somehow appropriate that Tinker...
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Charles Ray has little to commend him to modern audiences. His round-faced boyish looks lack charm, and his characterizations of small-town or rural American youths whose naivete and lack of sophistication never prevent their winning in the end do not ring true. In many respects, he is similar in style to...
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Long before Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino. Wallace Reid was the screen's first matinee idol. and unlike his successors he was very much an American hero. Reid began a series of films dealing with fast cars with The Roaring Road (1919). in which he is an automobile salesman who wins the...
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When I first came to Los Angeles in 1971. one of the first actresses I contacted was Billie Rhodes. I had seen a number of Christie comedy shorts in which she had appeared in the late teens. and was impressed by her charm and her light comedic style. In 1915. Picture-Play described her as "one of our...
Charles "Buddy" Rogers
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A leading man of some 38 feature films. including three in the United Kingdom. Buddy Rogers never overcame the "pretty boy" label. a label that was even more damning when coupled with the title "Mr. Mary Pickford." Buddy was the perennial college boy-even in old age with silver hair. he had the look...
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Nineteen-twenty was a bad year for both D.W. Griffith and for American filmgoers. That year saw the deaths of two of the director's brightest young stars, Robert Harron and Clarine Seymour, both of whom might have had brilliant careers ahead of them. Clarine Seymour had the makings of a...
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D.W. Griffith is responsible for some of the greatest villains of the silent screen. There is the massive presence of George Siegmann, menacing Lillian Gish in Hearts of the World (1918). Donald Crisp plays against later type as the father, beating his daughter Lillian Gish senseless in...
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Sitting with her husband, George Sherwood, in a small Santa Monica, California, apartment, Pauline Starke tries to answer my questions. She is no longer the freckle-faced kid who appealed to D.W. Griffith as a potential leading lady. She looks old. This is September 1975, and she...
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To the majority of Americans, Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950) is the archetypal silent film star, deranged, out-of-touch with reality, clinging desperately to the past, and wearing makeup that even Theda Bara might have rejected as over the top. If anything, for all its entertainment...
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Blanche Sweet was the first silent star whom I got to know well. someone with whom I remained close throughout her life. My correspondence file on her contains over seventy items. dating from 1969 until shortly before her death. in New York. on September 6. 1986. The first letter enclosed...
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Of the three Talmadge sisters. Norma was the great dramatic star and Constance (Brooklyn. New York. April 19. 1900-Los Angeles. November 23. 1973) the great light comedienne. The third sister. Natalie (1899-1969) was married to Buster Keaton at the height of his career and that was probably...
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While there are dramatic performances in individual silent films that stand out-most notably Mae Marsh and Miriam Cooper in Intolerance-there is only actress whose entire silent career is exemplary of the best in dramatic performance. That performer is Norma Talmadge. each one of whose...
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Two leading ladies of the silent screen who were married to their directors were Enid Bennett (Mrs. fred Niblo) and Alice Terry (Mrs. Rex Ingram). Both. it was suggested were nothing blondes with influential meal tickets, and while the comment might be partially true of End Bennett, whose biggest role...
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It is odd that the first two pioneering actresses of the silent screen should both have been named Florence. Florence or Flo-what an old-fashioned name, inappropriate for Florence Lawrence (1890-1938), who had a youthful charm when she entered films at the American Biograph Company in 1908, but most...
The Vamps: Theda Bara, Louise Glaum, Kitty Gordon, Olga Grey, Alice Hollister, and Valeska Suratt
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The vamp was a character unique to silent films. neither heroine nor villainess. She was a predatory female. whose behavior was so distinctly lacking in eroticism that she was positively asexual. Many actresses might spend time vamping the leading man. but only a handful gained distinction at the art and...
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Pomona is a small. dusty community east of Los Angeles. It is not exactly a glamorous spot for a movie star. but here I am in June 1972 at the ranchstyle home of leading man George Walsh. Perhaps "ranch" is too grand a description for the one-story home and single field that appear to comprise the Walsh...
Henry B. Walthall
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There is no other player from the silent era so closely associated with one screen role than Henry B. Walthall. for better or worse. he will always be the "little colonel" of The Birth of a Nation. the epitome of the Southern gentleman and to some. the symbol of Southern racism. Everything that Walthall...
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The leading lady with the Chicago-based pioneering film producer. the Selig Polyscope Company. Kathlyn Williams progressed with ease to the portrayal of mature women of the 1920s. and always impresses with her low-key performances. She was not a great beauty. but she had strong. attractive and...
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Hollywood basically wasted Lois Wilson's talents. She was a pretty, not a beautiful star, and producers tended to cast her to type, completely ignoring the fact that she could act-very well-in a number of characterizations. As she would so often complain to me, any actress could have played many of her...
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Margery Wilson was a multi-talented individual. To label her a silent star is a gross misnomer. She was also a film director, a writer, a radio broadcaster, and a personal counselor on self-improvement and on charm. A D.W Grififth discovery, she had some of the ethereal presence of Lillian Gish, mixed with a...
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There is an enigmatic quality to her features, the suggestion of a passion raging just under the surface. Claire Windsor was beautiful, but never strikingly so until she got older. Then, she became an acknowledged aging beauty - rather like Fannie Ward had been in an earlier age. Lois Weber discovered...
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Fay Wray has the good fortune or, more accurately, the misfortune to be associated with only one film. Thanks to her role as leading lady to an ape in King Kong ( 1933), she is assured of a permanent place in film history. At the same time, the role and the film do a disservice to a performer who may not have...
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Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2010