I am going to start out by introducing the beautiful Florence La Badie. She is known mainly today by silent film enthusiasts, which really is tragic. I don't recall how I first came across Florence. I think I saw her picture in a book or online, and her beauty drew me in. Then, when I read that she was the first movie star to die at the height of her fame, I was really intrigued. (You should know, I am a Death Hag and a bit morbid, so of course this part of her life intrigued me). But, it was the picture above that made me want to know more about her and get a hold of her movies.
Another scenario was brought forth by a woman named Marie Russ, who claimed to be Florence's birth mother. She said her proof was the Russ burial plot in New York, with Lot 17187 being reserved for Florence La Badie aka Florence Russ. Although it is generally accepted that Florence was indeed adopted, Marie's story was challenged when the fact that she was living in a mental institution was brought forth. It was never proven whether or not Marie was Florence's birth mother, but there was evidence that the woman who had purchased the burial plot, Louisa Russ, was Florence's grandmother.
Like most girls wanting to go into show business, she started out as a model and then began acting in plays. During one of her stage play tours, she met a young Mary Pickford. Mary invited Florence to the Biograph Studios in 1909 so that she could watch motion pictures being made. After a bit part in one of Mary's films, she was invited back to appear in more. Her first credited motion picture was in D.W. Griffith's The Politician's Love Story in 1909.
Soon after, she joined the studio that she would become the most associated with, Thanhouser. Here she appeared in the first screen adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1912 and in the 1914-1915 serial The Million Dollar Mystery.
Besides acting, Florence enjoyed singing, playing the piano, dancing, painting, and sculpting. She also enjoyed riding roller coasters. (That makes me smile...she was a bit of a daredevil, even did her own stunts).
Her nickname among her friends was "Betty."
She received marriage proposals from her fans all the time and every 100th letter she received, she would send the writer a little gift and a note. She considered this as garnering her good luck.
On August 28, 1917, Florence and her fiance, screenwriter/doctor, Daniel Carson Goodman, were driving near Ossining, New York when the brakes on her car failed and her car was sent flying down a hill , finally landing upside down at the bottom. Goodman suffered only a broken leg, but Florence was thrown from the car, suffering life threatening injuries, including a compound fracture of her pelvis. She did not die right away, but held onto life for six weeks in the hospital and seemed to be steadily improving. But, an infection (septicemia) set in, and she died suddenly on October 13, 1917 at 1:35 pm.
Shortly after Florence's accident and subsequent death, tongues began wagging that it was no accident at all. Some say she was killed because of an affair she was having with President Woodrow Wilson. A reporter named James Baird said years later in an interview with a fellow reporter that he had looked at Florence's car after the accident and noticed that the brake line had been cut. Everyone thought that this was going to be front page news, and just blow everyone away. But, the next day, Baird was told not to do anymore looking into the accident and to basically keep his mouth shut.
He didn't listen, and instead kept looking. When he went back to look at the car again, it had disappeared. Shortly after, Baird was fired from his job. Months later, he had moved and was working someplace else when he was visited in the middle of the night by a couple of men who were just checking to make sure he forgot about the whole Florence La Badie accident. They "politely" told him that it would be best for his health if he stopped looking into it.
It wasn't until 1943, when a friend of Florence's, Valentine Grant, came forward with more details. Grant told an interviewer that Florence had met Woodrow Wilson when he was just the Governor of New Jersey. He became obsessed with her, going to the studio everyday to see her...she didn't like this. She tried her best to avoid him. He finally got the hint, and decided instead to run for President (hey, why not?) Florence was afraid that he would make his attraction to her even more well known (since his first wife had just passed) and ruin her career and reputation.
Feeling she was unable to refuse to see him now that he was President, she accepted his invitation to visit the White House during Christmas of 1914. She returned from the trip a different person. She was an emotional wreck, forgot her lines on set, stopped answering her telephone or speaking to her friends...her mother, Amanda, was acting the same way. She took a break and came back better than ever. But soon, she took another rest and Studio execs claimed she was "retiring." No one heard much from her until her accident, and when her friends tried visiting her in the hospital, they were turned away and told that she was fine and there was nothing to worry about. Her absences could have been because she was pregnant with Wilson's baby, not that is just speculation.
Amanda La Badie did not attend her daughter's funeral, and no one knows why. She abandoned her home, and just disappeared. No one saw her again. The plot where Florence is buried is a double plot with a space that was supposed to be for Amanda, but it is still empty.
Aside from Daniel Goodman, her other known beau at one time was Val Hush, a car salesman and sometimes actor. Hush and Florence were engaged until she met Goodman and fell for him.
Florence seems like a legend to me, almost unreal. She just seems like a beautiful woman who only exists in lovely portraits. But, she was a real woman. She loved roller coasters, she loved to sing and paint, and loved being in movies. I hope that by talking about her more and more, that her name will be remember forever as it should be.
** The new information on Florence's death was found on this site Legion of Decency.