10 December 2013

Some famous silent movie stars

I mentioned in my previous blog about my collection of photographs of silent movie stars that some of them are famous names. Here are a few of those, starting with the ladies.

American actress Gloria Swanson was born in 1899 and died in 1983, having starred in more than 70 short and feature-length films, both silent and talkies. She was one of the few silent movie stars to make the successful transition to talkies, she was a fashion icon, she produced movies and acted in theatre and, eventually, moved on to cameos in such television shows as Dr Kildare, My Three Sons and The Beverly Hillbillies.

She received Best Actress nominations for her roles in Sadie Thompson (1928) and The Trespasser (1929), and for her most successful movie, the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, for which she also won a Golden Globe.

A lot of the photos I have show sultry, seductive, smouldering images of young women, similar to this portrait of the very beautiful Lillian Gish. Born in 1896, Lillian was particularly active in film-making from 1912 to 1921, starring in movies like The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance and Way Down East, amongst others, and it has been argued that she was the greatest film actress of that era.

Lillian continued her screen career later in life, starring in television programmes from the 1950s to the 1980s. She received a Special Academy Award in 1971 for “superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures.” She starred in her last movie, The Whales of August, in 1987 aged 93, and passed away in her sleep at the age of 99.
Lillian Gish was a close friend of our next movie star, Mary Pickford. Born Gladys Mary Smith – hardly a movie star’s name – in 1892, Mary began her career as a performer at the tender age of 5 and continued to play young girl roles, even in her adult years. The fact that silent movies were relatively short meant she was able to appear in over 40 movies in just one year.

Mary went on to found the film company United Artists, with fellow moviemakers D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, whom she later married. Though she retired from acting in 1933, Mary continued to work in the industry, helping to establish the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and producing movies.

Mary’s brother Jack was also a child actor but was never in the same league as his sister. One movie in which he was successful was Tom Sawyer, a 1917 silent movie in which he played the lead role and which also starred Robert Gordon (shown here in the role of Huckleberry Finn).

Born in 1895, Robert Gordon acted in 35 films between the years of 1917 and 1949, including the 1919 movie Dawn, If Only Women Knew (1921) and The Mysterious Witness, from 1923. Though I could find little information about Gordon online, he was obviously a favourite with Adela Dawson, the woman who compiled my photograph collection, as there are many images of him later in life. He was rather handsome!

Next up is another name most people will recognise, Will Rogers. According to Wikipedia, Rogers (1879 – 1935):
was an American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor. He was one of the world's best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s.

Known as "Oklahoma's Favorite Son”, Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). He travelled around the world three times, made 71 movies (50 silent films and 21 "talkies"), wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns,[ and became a world-famous figure. By the mid-1930s, Rogers was adored by the American people. He was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era, and was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time. Rogers died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in Alaska.

In 1908, Rogers married Betty Blake (1879–1944), and the couple had four children: Will Rogers junior, Mary Amelia, James Blake, and Fred Stone. Sadly, the youngest, Fred, died of diphtheria at the age of two.

Will Rogers made 48 silent movies and 21 feature films but is equally famous for his writing and penned some brilliant one-liners. A couple of my favourites are: "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there" and "Lettin' the cat out of the bag is a lot easier than puttin' it back in."

My last movie star needs no introduction, though you might not recognise him from the photos below. Charlie Chaplin – or, rather, Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin – lived from 1889 to 1977, and is world famous for his slapstick comedy, in particular for his role as ‘the Little Tramp’. But that is not the limit of Chaplin’s contribution to the movie industry. By the age of 30, he had acted in and/or directed 62 movies, and his 75-year career also included movie production and musical composition.

The French government honoured him with the rank of Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1952, he was awarded a Special Academy Award in 1972 for his "incalculable effect in making motion pictures the art form of the century”, and in 1975 he was made a Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the entertainment industry. But, for me, as a big fan of the old black-and-white silent movies, Chaplin will forever be that funny little man with the ‘toothbrush moustache’, the bowler hat, the twirling walking stick and that crazy funny walk.

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