Saturday, February 20, 2010

Miss Florence La Badie

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.

Florence La Badie was born on April 27, 1888 in New York City, New York. There is some mystery surrounding her early years. She was said to be the daughter of James, an attorney, and Amanda La Badie from Montreal. But, it is also said that she was born in Austin, Texas and was then adopted by the La Badies.

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.

When World War I broke out, many of Florence's friends and fans were sent overseas. After a fan sent her pictures of the terrible sights he was seeing, she became involved in promoting peace and traveled the United States showing the pictures soldiers sent to her, and showing others the horrors of war.

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.

From 1909 to 1917, Florence appeared in 185 films. She eventually announced that she planned on leaving Thanhouser, but she would not have to worry about being without a home for long since many other studios were ready to sign her.

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.

She had quite a large funeral, and was eventually buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. This was the place that Marie Russ had mentioned when she claimed to have been Florence's birth mother.

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.

BUT, not for long. He waited a few years and started up his investigation again. He located a former maid of Florence's who told Baird that Florence had had a child in 1915, but wouldn't say who the father was or what became of the child. The maid was one of the only ones to talk to Baird, her other friends, including Mary Pickford refused to talk about what happened to Florence, saying it was best left in the past.

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.

It is also interesting to note that Thanhouser President (and personal friend of Florence's), Charles Hite, was also killed in an automobile accident that involved the brake line being cut.

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.

Its unknown what kind of career Florence would have had had she not died. I would like to think she would have either followed the career of Mary Pickford and been a big star of the silent era, and only make a few talkies before retiring. Or, following Jean Harlow's career of uber-stardom, and then passing away at the height of fame again. That may sound cruel, but I think that some people are made legendary because they pass away before they become old (Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean...etc). It is this early death that helps them to live on as legends.

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.


  1. Wow, Florence was really beautiful. Such a tragic death though. I was not familiar with her...I plan to do some research on her. Thanks for posting this. Good luck with your blog-I love the name!

  2. I had never heard of Florence La Badie until I bought a book called "Stardust & Shadows-Canadians in early Cinema". I found her life and death capitivating. Of course this is now over 90 years ago and no one will ever know but she is tied to the president at that time Woddrow Wilson. They knew each other through her uncle. Apparantly he became quite captivated by her and would often visit the set and the studio wouls allow this since he was the president. She had stated to friends that she felt uneasy around him but shrugged it off. Her mom and her went to visit him at the Whitehouse upon an invitation and when she came back the other people on the set stated she was withdrawn. She looked "spooked" and sad and would hide away after scenes. She later stated she was "ill" and disappeared. Apparantly she had a child and the author found the birth certificate and knows she had a child but does not know where the child went. The speculation is that it was Wilson's. She was now trying to avoid the president and was ready to "talk" when the accident happened. It was found that the brakes on her car were tampered with but the car "disappeared"very soon after. The author also found out that she did not die a month or 2 after but 6 months later and was kept mainly out of sight. her mother also disappeared and when friends had gone to her home, the home was empty. There was a lady who stated she was the actual mother of Florence (this could very well be the case since she may have been adopted) but this woman who claimed to be the birth mother of Florence was living in a mental hospital and died a week after Florence according to what i read on the intyernet. This book though was quite intriguing and if true-very scary actually. I wish a film would be made on this actress.

  3. Oh my gosh. Thank you SOOO much Birgit for that information. I have heard of that book but have yet to get my hands on it.

    That is incredible information, I honestly never knew any of that. How bizarre and so sad. She was such a lovely girl and I agree, a film about her would be incredible.

    Thank you so much again :)

  4. Hi Jessica Love your blog. Here you will enjoy many of Florence La Badie films from Thanhouser.

  5. Thank you! I will check it out! I own a DVD of early Thanhouser films, but always would love to see more!

  6. I completely agree. A movie should be made about Florence Labadie. I found out about her when reading about Mary pickford. I am impressed not only by how great an actress she was but also how truly beautiful she was inside and out. Everyone who knew her spoke very highly of her. They say she was smart, kind, sweet and charming. She even played her part in helping out during the first world war which shows what a wonderful human being she was. As a reporter in an article said: " To know Florence Labadie is to love her." I would love to read that book stardust to shadows to know more about her. I honestly dont think she had a consentual relationship with woodrow wilson. If its true that she felt uneasy about him and when she returned from the whitehouse she was scared and had a nervous breakdown which was not characteristic of her then it means wilson did something horrible to her during that month when she was away. Also the brakes on her car were tampered with meaning that she wasnt in an accident, she was murdered. Its sad to think there was never any justice for her and that her grave is unmarked.
    I think the world lost a great human being and a wonderful actress when florence died. I am going to study movie directing and if i have the opportunity i will make a movie about her so that she is finally remembered as she should be.

  7. I agree with everything you said. She truly was beautiful, and seemed like such a great person and was taken from the world way too soon. I hope you do get to make a movie, and put me in it! Haha

    I am hoping to one day to write a book about silent film stars and do a few documentaries. There are so many great stars from the silent era that are forgotten and they deserve to be remembered.

  8. I hope one day i can read that book that you want to write. Its thanks to florence i discovered my love in silent movies and interest in its stars. Florence died so young and its terrible that most of the world has forgotten her. Thats why one of my goals is to make a movie about her so her life and her achievements are remembered. Hopefully one day the world will see a movie about the magnificent Florence Labadie.

  9. That is so great! Her pictures are really breathtaking. What other stars do you like from the silent era?

  10. I really like mary pickford, she was really beautiful and talented. I was watching her movies the other day, coquette, sparrows and the poor little rich girl. I think that her performance in coquette was amazing because it was her first talking role. I also like maude fealy she was a beauty! Other stars im interested in are clara bow and the gish sisters. I also think Jamez cruze was a great one. Its sad that they are all gone. Movies arent what they used to be.

  11. I love "Coquette." I remember being so geeked hearing her talk for the first time. I agree with you about newer movies. The glamour is all gone...

  12. I made a video tribute to florence labadie since theyre were none on youtube if you want to see it. I think she really deserved a tribute.

  13. That was an amazing video! I had never seen most of the pictures before, and the clips along with the haunting and beautiful. I loved it. Would you mind if I posted it on here? Incredible job!

  14. No I dont mind. I was just suprised that no one had made a tribute to Florence because she was so beautiful and talented. Im glad you liked it. Post away!

  15. I forgot to tell you. If you go to and type in Florence labadie you can see her works.

  16. Oooh! Thank you Suilyaniz! I will definitely check it out. I will post your tribute as soon as I get a chance. I just got back from Nashville, so trying to get my bearings with work and everything else going on.

  17. Im planning to upload a tribute to mary pickford and i made one about maude fealy. Its on my youtube channel. I'll keep you posted on any vids about silent film stars i make. The more people know about them the more people will realize how great silent films are.

  18. I reuploaded my video about Florence to my new youtube account under the name silent movie queen if you still want to upload it.

  19. Thank you! I was gonna post it a few weeks ago and couldn't find it!

    I found this great profile on florence. Thought you would like to see it.

  21. Oh Suilyaniz, that was incredible! How great for someone to finally call her a screen legend, because she was. She was one of the first ones, and they are truly legends. What a great little clip, thank you so much for sharing it!!

  22. I have been reading about Florence La Badie all morning, and with the exception of gossip sites,there is nothing about a scandal or potential scandal between Woodrow Wilson and Florence La Badie.
    One site suggested that Wilson was her father, not her lover. I feel that assertion is quite a stretch without any kind (even gossip column) of evidence.
    There are many, many, loopholes in the story of Wilson and Florence La Badie. People state that she visited the President, came back to work very agitated, took a leave of absence and in that time had WW's baby.
    Well, she may have left to have a baby, we really don't know, assuming she did, we still don't know if it was WW's baby or not. La Badie, may have got pregnant and her behavior was erratic because at that time a single mom did not have much staying power as a symbol of purity, the way they used to present young actresses.

    There is much supposition in the story, basically, we are hearing a story that has been retold and retold. Considering the fourth estates obsession with celebrities and their habits, especially bad habits, it would not surprise me if most of this tale has been concocted by over zealous reporters with a minimum of evidence.

    However, imagine if Wilson was her father and on that trip she also discovered her real mother, or grandmother, was living in a mental institution! And on top of the new facts she was pregnant to boot! My that would probably explain her state of mind.
    There is no smoking gun here, only silence and supposition. Considering that Florence La Badie lived for two months before she died, she had plenty of time to make a statement if she had wanted to. Her friend, Mary Pickford apparently knew the details, but she never revealed them even after many years had passed. The truth is there somewhere in the fog of history and it is not very likely to be solved, if indeed, it needs solving.

  23. I agree that we will probably never know all the details about Florence's death and even about her life. It was so long ago, and most, if not all the players in situation are dead. And when they were alive, they weren't talking anyway. It just adds a little more mystery to who this beautiful woman was besides an actress who died way too soon.

  24. I have been exploring this actress from a completely different avenue. There is a photo on the last page of William Shank's 1970 booklet " The History of the York Pullman Automobile" that shows an unnamed actress with a 1916 Pullman Deluxe Coupe at a Broadway event. I have learned that the actress was Miss LaBadie and that the Pullman was being presented to her for her work in raising funds for the World's Satue of Liberty Illunination. What I haven't been able to discover is whether or not she was driving the Pullman at the time of her automobile accident. Any help?

  25. Oh how neat! Is there anyway you could scan the photo? I would love to see it.

    As for the accident that caused her death, Florence was the one driving. In the passenger seat was her fiance, Daniel Carson Goodman. He survived with a broken leg and minor injuries, but Florence was thrown from the car so she got the worst of it.

    1. Jessica, I have been posting a wealth of information on the Pullman Motor Car Company (started as York Motor Car Company) and most resently, the Pullman Deluxe Coupe on my Facebook page. If you would friend me there, you will have access to these photos. Paul H Vaughn (not so anonymous)

  26. Hey there Paul! I am trying to find you on Facebook, but there are quite a few on there! Try adding me, maybe that will be easier. Jessica Wahl.

  27. florence was my grandfather,s cousin...Her father joseph was the brother of my great grandfather..
    so here a two things i know. Her father was a rich broker in New York and was living there when she died. so i do not see the idea of her mother beeing gone frome the house etc....he had been working or business administration for mister Wilson as he wroted himself in a curriculum to be used in a publication of the Chamber of Notaries in Montréal.
    second I HAVE a letter from my grandfather who stopped at his uncle,s house in new York returning from his wedding voyage in the Bahamas feb.1914
    In it he say that Florence looked absolutly exhausted.
    et voilĂ 

    1. Hello, Lise! I am very jealous of you first off, what an amazing lineage! Do you think you could take a picture of the letter or something? I would love to see it!
      And thank you for the information about her father. Finding info about her family life (or any of the early's stars family life) can be difficult.

  28. I am still investigating on some issues to try to find truth about different assertions that are half truth.
    one thing i can tell you both parents where still alive when she died and they were also alive in 1930.
    I Wonder where is the declaration of the bio mother marie russ. where could it be registered. Has anyone gone to the cemetery

    1. I want to one day go visit the cemetery where Florence is buried. Especially since I donated money to help buy her a headstone. Hopefully soon they will put it up!

  29. I am a genealogist who has been studying Florence's birth parents. They were Horace B Russ & Marie Lynch (Chester) Russ. Her parents were married when she was born in 1888, and she had a brother 4 yrs older than her named Horace E. Russ.

    Florence's father died in Nov 1890 of "disease." The estate proceedings for Horace B Russ name his wife, Horace Everett Russ and Florence Marie Louise Russ. Someone else explains online that they obtained Florence's adoption record from Nov 1891.

    A court record is online explaining that Florence's brother was adopted by his great-great-aunt, Louisa (Blancard) Marsh, who lived in New Rochelle, NY. It refers to a statement made by Louisa in the adoption record that "she was better able to care of Horace than his mother."

    So what happened to Florence's mother? One thing we can know for certain, she was perfectly SANE! Online decriptions of the "Home for Incurables" in Bronx SPECIFICALLY state that they did NOT accept mentally ill patients. Their mission was to offer care for people disabled by DISEASE, such as strokes or heart disease. This hospital's mission was well known to all at the time Florence died; it was a pioneer in it's field.

    Obviously, those in charge of Florence's care didn't doubt that Marie was sane, or feel that the facts in her affidavit was in question. She is indeed buried in the cemetery plot that would have been named in the affidavit. Among other (birth) relatives buried there are her father, her father's parents, Horace P & Louisa (Blancard) Russ, and Louisa Russ's aunt, Louise (Blancard) Marsh, the adopted mother of Florence's brother.

    So why did Marie suddenly reveal this information only days before Florence died? Who knew the real truth through the years.? I would have to make some educated guesses here. I don't think that the adoption was a closed one at all. Florence's ancestors left a large number of orphans over the years,and several wills listed online clearly show that this family didn't forget the fatherless among them. They did what it took to keep them in the family. Just like the distant, elderly aunt who adopted Florence's brother. But Florence went to a couple who don't appear to be related to her.

    I suspect that this decision was made by Marie, perhaps before anyone in her late husband's family could attempt to take her themselves. Marie Russ and Amanda LaBadie were both born abt 1865. Were they friends? I believe whatever the connection, Marie and the extended family was well aware of who Florence's new parents were. I'm guessing that Joseph and Amanda LaBadie required Marie to agree not to reveal herself. It may have been part of the adoption contract.

  30. continued...

    Obviously, Marie knew that Florence had inherited a burial plot near her father. Whether the Labadies knew that, I don't know. When Florence was near death, Marie must have either known for sure, or been afraid that if she didn't break her silence, Florence would be buried elsewhere. Either Amanda never knew about it; she did know but Marie was afraid Amanda would be quiet to keep her secret; or Marie knew that Amanda wasn't around. I DON'T think Marie had ulterior motives, because she stated in the affidavit that the adoption was legal, so she knew she had no legal claim to Florence.

    So had Florence known who her family was through the years? There would have been some contact between the families for several years after 1901, when Florence was named in the will of old Louise (Blancard) Marsh. A special administer was appointed for Florence since she was still a minor. But it would have been possible for her to not be aware of the proceedings.

    What about her brother? I haven't found any record of him after he was named in the same will of his adopted mother, Louise Marsh. He was 6 when his father died, and 19 when Louise died, so if hadn't kept track of Florence up until then, he surely became aware of her whereabouts during the probate hearings.

    I find it interesting that Florence went to New Rochelle for a job in 1911. Perhaps her brother was still there, even though I can't find him.

    I have not found any indication of a source for Amanda not being at Florence's funeral, or that she "disappeared" after that. I did find an article stating that in Jan 1818, Amanda Victor LaBadie requested letters of administration in Florence's estate. It is true that I can't find Florence's parents in the 1920 census. But they, or at least Amanda, is found in New York City in 1925 & 1930.

    Lastly, the story about Florence having a child. Ned Thanhouser of Thanhouse Film Preservation has written me that their records show Florence DID make film appearances during the time that she would have been pregnant and her immediate post-partum period.

    Anyone wanting more information on my sources is welcome to contact me. mollynightingale at agapemail dot net

  31. hi Molly,
    I just read your article about Florence. always nice to see that you are still putting the pieces together..
    I want to state here that I have the certitude and proof that both parents where still living in 1930 to 1934. The mother amanda was visiting Montreal in around that date and her sister-in-law Aurelia widow of Jos.Augustin Labadie notary brother of Joseph E.LABADIE the father of Florence who was living in Montreal for certainty since between 1926 to 1930. I have a letter from him with envelop and stamp. He died in 1935 and is buried in Cote des Neiges. I do not know where or when Amanda died but it is after 1930
    after her lover decorator died. I also have a grieving letter she is writing to Aurelia about the pain she is having to have lost him...I believe this letter was written the day he died because she is saying in it that the funerals will be on tuesday.

    About looking for a job in Larochelle..She was for some years living there 200 claremont ave.
    I know this from a letter Amanda writes to Aurelia
    where she is inviting the cousinsto writemore ofter to florence and reminds the adress.

    Molly if you have anymore informations I would very much appreciate that you write to me. You have my email. I did write to you recently...did you get my mail?

    Could we not get anyone to go and verify at new york records the original birth certificate of Marie c.She must not have been liked very much because nobody fought to get her a place in the family plot..

    I also have another proof that Carolena Russ did not want to have any labadie in the cemetery although she did not know them.. So I think there is a story about who accepted to put Florence there and under what circonstances or conditions that where probably not kept. I think molly that your assumption about Marie doing the adoption without others knowing could be correct. It makes a lot of sense.

    The paper signed by Marie C. who had by then been is the hospital for 20 years has her signature UNDER the judge signature which is bizarre. The judge is supposed to signed after to confirm the veracity of the persons' signature. On the other hand she does not say that Florence has to be buried there..She only says that Florence WILL PROBABLY BE BURIED THERE. This signing judge is from New Jersey where Carolena Russ the sister of Horace b.Russ lives and is married to very weatlthy Van Vleck.

    I still have a lot of interrogations which I wish we would have answered before putting a monunent on the ground.

    The Labadies had a sketch of a momument but the Russ family refused. We do not know where the sketch is.

  32. A monument to Florence is scheduled to be dedicated on April 27, 2014, at Greenwood Cemetery. For the record, Florence's adoptive mother Amanda did not disappear. She and her husband continued to live in New York for many years and appear in several census collections. No one of the right age to be Florence's child appears in their household records. If there was a baby, I imagine an adoption was arranged. For what it's worth, I don't think a politician of that time would arrange anyone's death over an illegitimate child. Grover Cleveland won 20 years earlier despite it being well known that he fathered a child out of wedlock. Brake lines can be cut accidentally by road debris. It does sound like Florence was harassed by Wilson, or possibly much worse. I agree that Florence's life deserves a movie treatment.

    1. I contributed to the funds to get Florence's headstone, so I am really excited that it is finally being put up. I wish I could go to the ceremony itself because it is the day before my birthday, and what a great gift that would be! But, day though!

  33. I attended the headstone dedication at Green-Wood Cemetery for Fearless Flo. The weather was beautiful. My brother & friends, all of us interested in film & Green-wood, also attended. My friend Margaret & I had visited briefly when the grave was still unmarked.

    I met Ned Thanhouser grandson of the founder of Thanhouser Studios and preserver of the studio's films & history, a wonderful man! Many years ago Margaret worked on a book about the studio but sadly it never published. All of us were delighted to learn the material became the basis for the text on the Thanhouser website.

    The ceremony was simple yet eloquent with the President of Green-Wood and Mr. Thanhouser speaking. Silent film music was played by a gentleman who plays professionally at screenings.

    For those interested, William S. Hart & Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz) are both buried at Green-Wood.

    Thanks so much for this post about Florence. None of us knew much about her.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, Barbara! I hope one day to make it out and pay Florence a visit. I have the picture of the new headstone as my computer background at work. I am very proud to have been able to donate to get her a proper headstone.

  34. I was at the ceremony, too, Barbara.