Monday, January 28, 2013

Miss Blanche Sweet

Another one of those cases where I thought I had written about Blanche Sweet but apparently was thinking about an alternate universe where I do everything in an organized, perfect manner. Oy vey!

Blanche Sweet was born Sarah Blanche Sweet on June 18, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. From what I can find, it appears she was the only child of stage actors Gilbert and Cora Sweet. Now, I am not sure if something happened to her parents or if they were just constantly touring, but Blanche ended up being raised mostly by her grandmother whom she was named after, Blanche Alexander. Grandma wanted little Blanche to follow in the family footsteps and get into the acting business as well, so she put her on stage at only a few months old. She started touring with companies when she was four.

Around age 13, she signed with Biograph Studios and it only took a few months before she became a rival of Mary Pickford. The had quiet different screen personas though. While Mary was the typical Griffith heroine, demure and virginal, Blanche was gutsy and adventurous. Another rival of hers was Lillian Gish, who won the lead role in Birth of a Nation over Blanche. It was soon after this blow that she left Biograph and moved to Famous Players-Lasky...for way more money it should be noted.

The change in studios didn't hinder her career because she continued to be an audience favorite. And even better, the critics thought she was great too!

What did stall her career, like almost every silent actor's career, was the talkies. It wasn't that she had a bad voice, she had theatre training after all. But, times were changing and people's tastes were changing and they wanted to see new faces on the screen. Her last film appearance was in the 1930 movie, Show Girl in Hollywood with Alice White and Ford Sterling.

Blanche Sweet passed away on September 6, 1986 in New York City. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. They were also cultivated into a special area with soil that hold beautiful lilies.

Blanche was married twice. Her first husband was director/producer, Marshall Neilan. The two began an affair during the 1920s while he was married to actress, Gertrude Bambrick. When Gertrude found out about the affair, she filed for divorce from Neilan. Blanche and he married in 1922, but divorced in 1929 because he just could not stop cheating.

Her second marriage was to actor Raymond Hackett in 1935. The marriage lasted until his death in 1958. Neither marriage resulted in children.

After she retired from the screen in 1930, she did some performances on stage and for radio and even worked at a department store for a bit. During the 1960s, she worked with film historians in studying not only her work, but the silent film era in general.

When she was touring and staying at hotels, she would check in using the name "Daphne Wayne."

"...and, you know, I haven't the faintest idea how many silent films I made. I couldn't begin to count them." ~~ Blanche Sweet

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mr. Max Linder

I have been meaning to do this post for awhile, but I am lazy. That is the only excuse I can think of. That and it has a sad ending and those are such downers, ya know?

Max Linder. One of the silent screen's first clowns. His work inspired many silent film comics that are remembered today, yet he is relatively unknown. But, I am here to put my name on the list of people who know who he is and are trying to make sure his work is recognized for being as wonderful as it was.

Max Linder was born Gabriel-Maximilien Leuville on December 16, 1883 in Caverne, France. His parents owned a vineyard and hoped that one day young Max and his elder brother, Maurice, would join in on the family business. Unfortunately for the Linder parents, neither son was interested in that route. Maurice became a well known rugby player and Max began to show a fondness for the theatre at a young age.

When he was around 16 years old, he enrolled in a prestigious acting school and was soon getting praises for his comedic abilities. He began acting in the bigger productions put on by the school, even doing some dramatic roles, which he was also showing a lot of talent in.

It was around 1905 that Max started acting in bit parts in movies, still maintaining a more successful career on the stage. Some of his roles were in the famed director, Georges Meilies' films.

Interestingly, his start as a star in films happening on a happy accident. While working for Pathe', he took over acting roles for their main star who moved to a different company. The character he was going to be playing was a fancy dressing, dapper gentleman in a silk top hat, cane, the whole works. The 'obstacles' his character faced usually centered around his trying to woo women and getting into mishaps while trying to do so. The character was simply referred to as "Max."

Max's first onscreen appearance as the dapper "Max" was in 1907's, The Skater's Debut.

The film was not popular with audiences, so Max decided to pack and go to Italy to see what was cooking there. And wouldn't ya know, the same 'happy accident' happened there when Max went from small roles to leading roles after replacing another actor. He would appear in several different roles, including the Max character, and the studio found that the dapper gentleman was becoming the audience favorite.

During the years of 1909 and 1910, Max became a big star. He was popular in Europe and over in the states. He even had a movie theater named after him in Paris!

In 1911, Max's career screeched to a halt after he was bedridden due to appendicitis. A few months later, he returned to working both behind and in front of the camera. He was writing scripts and directing and had complete control over his films and it worked out really well for him.

The following year, Max had just come back from a tour of Europe and was fully aware of just how popular he was with fans. He told Pathe' that he wanted a raise...he wanted a million. And believe it or not, the studio gave it to him. It seemed like they were happy to oblige their biggest moneymaker, but behind closed doors, they called him "The Napoleon of the Cinema."

When World War I began, Max was eager to join up and help defend his country, but he was found physically unfit for battle. So, he did his part for the war effort by entertaining the troops and making movies, including a patriotic film in 1914 called The Second of August.

Max had concurred Europe, but now the States wanted this famous French comedian. Essanay came knocking and wanted him to sign a contract with them. He accepted and moved to the US in 1916. For curious reasons, his films didn't fair as well in the US as they did overseas. The only film that was somewhat well liked was Max and his Taxi.

With his plans in the US not going the way he wanted, he returned to France and began to make feature length films, the first being The Little Cafe. The film was popular in Europe, but once again, did not do well over in the US. He kept trying though, even forming a production company in Hollywood. It was there he made one of his most well known pictures, Seven Years Bad Luck. But, what is considered great now was not seen as all that much back in 1921.

Charlie Chaplin and Max

It was shortly thereafter that he decided to hang up his silk top hat and do away with the dapper Max character.  He instead wanted to try and do a satire of a Douglas Fairbanks-esque persona. The film was The Three Must-Get-Theres and was hailed by Fairbanks himself and also by Linder's new friend, Charlie Chaplin. Once again, those persnickety US audiences didn't like it though.

Back to France it was, and another non-comedic film role that was hailed by critics but wasn't allowed to be released for a few years in the US and his home country due to copyright issues. I'm telling ya, his career arc must have resembled a roller coaster!

Not surprisingly, the back and forth of his career and other issues began to wear down on Max's psyche and he started to suffer from severe bouts of depression. It didn't help matters that he met and married a woman who clearly also had some mental issues. Max had known Helene "Jean" Peters since they were children and they finally married in 1923. They had a daughter named Maud Max "Josette" Linder a year later.

Why do I say his wife had emotional problems too? Well, because the couple had a suicide pact agreed upon the year their daughter was born. They made an attempt at it but were discovered and were revived. The second time around, they achieved success.

Max Linder passed away on October 31, 1925 alongside his wife, Jean. The couple had attended a performance at the theater earlier that evening, returned home, drank Veronal (a sleeping agent), and cut their wrists. No one knows why they had decided on the suicide pact.

They were buried at the St. Loubes Cimetiere in Saint-Loubes, France.

Maud Linder was only a baby when her parents killed themselves, so her care was taken over by Jean's parents. They raised her without telling her who her father was or what had really happened to her parents. It wasn't until she was around twenty years old that her grandparents finally told her how her parents died. They must have left out how famous her father was though because it wasn't til years later that she saw his name on a movie poster and saw that he had been quite a star. She started to devote her life to making sure her father and his work was remembered and even created two documentaries (one in 1963, the other in 1983) talking about his life and his movies. She also wrote a book about him in 1992. Incredibly, Maud is still alive today and lives in France.

Charlie Chaplin and Max

Charlie Chaplin became a great friend and admirer of Max. During his various stays in the US, Max and Charlie would go out on the town together and help each other with script writing. When Charlie read after his friend's suicide, he closed his studio for the day and dedicated his next picture to him, calling himself "Max's disciple."

He made around 500 films, but only some 80 titles have been known to survive.

"He calls me his teacher, but I have been the happy one, to take lessons from his school." ~~ Max Linder on Charlie Chaplin

"When we do a film, I tell my story to my actors; I explain how I want them to behave; we rehearse once; and we shoot." ~~ Max Linder

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Around the world in silent days!

I am itching to go back to California and visit some old friends. And by old friends I am of course referring to my silent film friends: Buster, Rudy...etc. But, since I can't right now, I figured why not take a little trip around the world and check out some silent stars who graced the screen in other countries.

Marcella Albani
Born in Albano Laziale, Italy
Made films in Italy, Germany, Austria, France, and Czechoslovakia
Francesca Bertini
Born in Florence, Italy
In 1915 she was was making over $170,000 in pictures, beating Mary Pickford to the punch as the highest paid actress during that time. 

Lyda Borelli
Born in Rivarolo Ligure, Italy
Her son, Giorgio Cini Jr. was engaged to Merle Oberon, but sadly he died in a plane crash before they were wed. 

Elga Brink
Born in Waidmannslust, Germany
Appeared in films from 1922 through 1951
Maria Carmi
Born in Florence, Italy
Her and husband created the perfume company Prince Matchabelli
Patience Cooper
Born in Calcutta, India
Was one of the first stars of Bollywood 

Maria Corda
Born in Deva, Hungary
Was married to director Alexander Korda from 1919 til 1930

Leda Gys
Born in Rome, Italy
Her birth name was Giselda Lombardi. Her stage name was created by an Italian poet.
Lilian Harvey
Born in Hornsey, England
Helped people persecuted by the Nazis escape until she herself had to escape.

Maria Jacobini
Rome, Italy
Her sister, Diomira, was also an actress.
Vera Karalli
Born in Moscow, Russia
Was also a ballerina for the Bolshoi

Sumiko Kurishima
Born in Shibuya, Japan
Considered the first female Japanese movie star

Ruan Lingyu
Born in Shanghai, China
Also credited as Lingyu Ruan, she committed suicide at age 24 which made her an icon in the history of Chinese film.

Mia May
Born in Vienna, Austria
She didn't begin her film career until she was 34 years old. 

Raquel Meller
Born in Tarazona, Spain
Sarah Bernhardt once called her a genius.
Pina Menichelli
Born in Castroreale, Italy
She retired from the screen at age 34.

Karin Molander
Born in Vardinge, Sweden
Appeared in a film called Erotikon, about a professor obsessed with the sexual life of bugs...yeah...
Born in Paris, France
Her real name was Jeanne Roques
Henny Porten
Born in Magdeburg, Germany
She, and her films were boycotted by the Nazi regime because she was married to a Jewish man.

Elena Sangro
Born in Vasto, Italy
Her birth name was Maria Antonietta Bartoli Avveduti 

Kinuyo Tanaka
Born in Yamaguchi, Japan
Was the first female Japanese director
Wanda Treumann
Born in Koclin, Poland
Disappeared off the map around 1922. It is assumed she died during WWII.

Olga Tschechowa
Born in Alexandropol, Armenia
Before she died at age 82, she ordered a class of champagne, toasted her granddaughter and said, "Life is beautiful!" What a way to go!

Truus Van Aalten
Born in Arnhem, Netherlands
When the Nazis came to power, she had to stop acting. When she refused to act in their propaganda films, she had to retire completely.

Hanni Weisse
Born in Chemnitz, Germany
Went AWOL after her last film in 1942. All that is known about her is that she died in 1967.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pet Peeves

When it comes to my "job" as a silent film,, I have a few pet peeves, or quirks if you will. One of them popped up just the other day on Facebook. A picture was posted claiming to be that of Evelyn Nesbit, the beautiful girl involved in the "Murder of the Century" in the early 1900s. The picture was clearly not of her and people were arguing with me that it was...even when I showed other pictures as evidence. Now, I don't claim to know everything, but when it comes to stars of that era and their pictures especially, I do know my stuff. As I have stated before many times, my goal is to make sure that stars of the silent screen are not forgotten so having a photo of someone being mistakenly identified is just a travesty to me. I am fighting the good fight. Even if I come off as a bitch :)

The other thing that bugs me is colorized photos. I love the beautiful black and white photos of stars so making them look like clowns in colorized photos is just a terrible, terrible crime. Now, there are some photos that I have seen that have had color added and they don't look terrible. Examples:

I think when it comes to colorizing a photo, simplicity is key. So, if you feel the need to make a black and white photo come alive with color, please be light handed and do not do an injustice to the memory of these this:

*face palm* Poor Lana :(

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Harrons

I was trying to decide who to write about next, so I asked a few of my friends on Facebook. And the Harron family came up. I remember first reading about Bobby Harron online and then picking up a book that mentioned him and his siblings had all died at a young age. Of course, being the Death Hag that I am, this peeked my interest.

Shall we?

There were nine children born to John and Annie Harron, who were both born in Ireland and had moved to New York City. This is the easiest way to break them down:

Charles Peter Harron was born in 1892 (Passed away in a car accident on December 24, 1915)
Robert Emmett Harron was born on April 24, 1893
Mary Harron was born September 19, 1894
Anna Teresa Harron was born on February 16, 1896
Agnes Harron was born in 1897 (Who I believe passed away in 1972. She chose to join the sisterhood and become a nun)
Madeline Harron was born on October 30, 1899 (Passed away in 1975)
John Thomas Harron was born on March 31, 1903
Edna Harron was born in 1905
Frances Veronica Harron was born in 1907 (Passed away when she was just 2 years old)


In order to help support his large family, Robert got a job as a messenger boy for Biograph Studios. After only working there a few months, he was noticed by D.W. Griffith and was offered a contract with the studio.

Bobby appeared in a TON of films. I mean he appeared in more films than the number of years he was alive. Double! TRIPLE!

D.W. Griffith and Bobby

Anyway, some of the more notable titles Bobby had his name attached to were Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), and True Heart Susie (1919).

Bobby's name is not one that most people know, but back in the day, he was a popular star! He was young, good looking, charismatic...another Wally Reid, if you will.

He was getting to the point where he was wanting to branch out from the Griffith epics and work for other studios and do other pictures, but sadly it was not meant to be.

Bobby Harron passed away on September 5, 1920 from a gunshot wound. He was just 27 years old.

And here is where it gets a little tricky...

Did Bobby kill himself intentionally or was it an accident? The accident theory says that while placing his gun back into his pocket it accidentally discharged and shot him in the chest. But, why would you put your finger on the trigger to put the gun away? Could happen, you never know. There was also a story that he had placed the gun in his suitcase and while unpacking it fell on the ground and discharged. Again, kinda hard to believe because that would be one hell of a coincidence.

The suicide theory seems a little more plausible. After his death, there were rumors that Bobby was upset at being passed over for the lead male role in the Griffith film, Way Down East. His family and close friends couldn't believe the suicide story, saying that they didn't think he would ever do that. It was his lifestyle that supported his family and he wouldn't just screw them over like that.

Bobby didn't die immediately from the gunshot wound. In fact, he called the front desk of the hotel and asked if the manager could come up. When the manager arrived, Bobby was up and talking and even joking about the incident. Against Bobby's wishes, an ambulance was called for and he was taken down to it in a chair (he refused a stretcher). While he was at the hospital being worked on, he was put under arrest for having the gun in his possession without a permit. He died four days later.

He was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, New York along side his siblings Charles, Anna, and Frances.

Bobby was never married nor did he have any children. With all those films in that short span, doesn't seem like he had the time! He did however date Dorothy Gish for a bit. He was also apparently a virgin and never drank. Quite different from the regular Hollywood crowd!

"...His death marked the end of an era. With Bobby's passing, some thread of unity seemed to leave us...We felt that Bobby had brought us luck when he came to us so young and eager... After Bobby's death in 1920, it was never the same again." ~~ cameraman G.W. Bitzer


Anna was the fourth child born into the family, and was nicknamed "Tessie."

Tessie probably appeared an extra in a number of films, mostly her brothers but she only has one credit listed to her name: 1918's Hearts of the World with Bobby and both the Gish sisters.

Lillian Gish wrote later in her autobiography that she remembered Tessie because terrified about the Spanish flu epidemic that was gripping the nation and was trying everything she could to avoid catching it. Unfortunately, her fears came true.

Anna Theresa "Tessie" Harron passed away on November 9, 1918 from the Spanish flu. She was only 22 years old.

She was buried in the Harron family plot at the Calvary Cemetery in New York.


Mary Harron too only had one credit to her name, and it was the same one as her younger sister, Anna, younger brother John, and their mother, Annie.

Edna Harron also appeared as an extra in films, but nothing was credited to her name.

Both sisters have passed away (obviously) but I don't have any info on how or when.


John Harron had a bit part in the "family film" and really enjoyed the experience, so he wanted to appear in more films. But, for some reason, a majority of his film appearances were uncredited. He worked all the way up until the late 1930s.

Like his brother, he appeared in a ton of movies. After shooting the last one, he was exhausted, which is understandable but for some reason, this time felt different. He went to Seattle for some leisure and rest but as soon as he got there, his head was killing him to the point where he felt he needed to go to the hospital. After a few tests, he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis.

John Harron passed away on November 24, 1939. He was 35 years old.

He was buried at the Calvary Cemetery, but not the same one as his family in New York. He was buried at one in California.

John is the only one of his siblings to get married and have children. He married actress Betty Westmore in 1929 and they had a daughter, Colleene the following year. Later, when Colleene got married, she had nine kids of her own...just like her dad's family.

Interestingly enough, after her husband died, Betty Westmore Harron was given the remainder of John's movie contract by Jack Warner. She ended up only appearing as a stand in for other actresses, but it was a nice gesture.


John and Annie Harron outlived quite a few of their children. Sad tale full of so much promise.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Reckless Romeo

I had a reader suggest I write an entry about Doris Deane, the second wife of Roscoe Arbuckle. So, I thought...why not write about all three of his wives? After all, they were all actresses too.

The first Mrs. Arbuckle was Minta Durfee. For the record, I love her name. Her birth name was Araminta Estelle Durfee and she was born on October 1, 1889 in Los Angeles. According to a census record I came across, her parents names were Charles and Flora Durfee. She also had a younger sister named Marie and a younger brother named Saul. Her father worked for the railroads, and her mother apparently made clothes for local prostitutes.

She first met Roscoe when she was appearing in various plays, mostly in the role of chorus girl. They married on August 6, 1908.

Around 1914, Minta and Roscoe started to cut their teeth in the brand new motion picture industry. Her first film role was in one of her husband's many, many shorts, Fatty's Day Off. Later that year, she appeared in the film Making a Living with Charlie Chaplin. She was his first of many leading ladies. She was also one of the few he didn't sleep with.

For the next four years she appeared in more of Roscoe's films as well as her buddy Mabel Normand's more famous films like Tillie's Punctured Romance and Mickey.

Charlie Chaplin and Minta Durfee

In 1921, Minta and Roscoe separated. It was just a few months later that the Virginia Rappe scandal occurred which changed Roscoe Arbuckle's life forever. Even though they were separated, Minta was 100% on his side. Once when she went to the courthouse in his defense, she was hit by rocks thrown from the angry mob gathered out front.

The couple did eventually divorce in 1925, but Minta only had kind words to say about her ex husband.

Supposedly, Minta and Roscoe had two sons together...which was news to me. I can NOT find out what their names are or anything else for that matter. So...not really sure about this little tidbit.

Later in life she did appear in a few popular movies such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), but they were just minor roles. Her last film appearance was in 1963 in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

After she retired from acting, she went on speaking tours all over the country talking about silent films and Roscoe's work. She got a kick out of sharing stories about her old film friends, like talking about her grievances against Charlie Chaplin and saying that most of the rambunctious film comedians were really very shy when the cameras weren't rolling.

Minta Durfee passed away on September 9, 1975 at the Motion Picture Country Home.

She was cremated, and her ashes were interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

"[Roscoe] was the most generous human being I've ever met, and if I had to do it all over again, I'd still marry the same man." ~~ Minta Durfee

This is an AMAZING site that has an interview Minta did shortly before she died. It has a ton of information and is definitely worth a read. Also involved in the interview is Steven Normand, the great nephew of Mabel Normand. Minta Durfee Interview


The second Mrs. Arbuckle was Doris Deane. Welcome to the shortest biography in this entry. And also the token shrew...

Doris and Roscoe

Doris Deane was born Doris Anita Dibble on January 20, 1900 in La Crosse,Wisconsin. She was born to Charles, a merchant and saloon worker, and Martha Dibble. I am pretty sure she was an only child.

Her film career was nothing to write home about since it consisted of a little over 10 films. She did have brief appearances in two notable Buster Keaton films though, Sherlock Jr. and Seven Chances. Her last screen appearance was on a television show in the 1950s.

She married Roscoe on May 16, 1925.

This was not a happy time in Roscoe's life. He had just divorced his first wife only a few months before remarrying, the three trials he had to endure with the Virginia Rappe scandal, and the public had labeled him as an evil man and wanted nothing to do with him or his movies. Not the best time for someone to get involved in another relationship.

Doris and Roscoe

Doris filed for divorce in 1928 citing desertion and mental cruelty. The divorce was finalized in August of that same year. When asked about the separation and pending divorce Roscoe said, "We haven't gotten along happily for some time. And, if I've got to be lonesome, I might as well be lonesome here [a hotel]."

She stated to the court that her husband would go to wild parties and get really drunk and try to force himself onto other women. (ARE YA KIDDING ME?!) She said he would also nag her, and verbally abuse her. She even claimed that on the way home from one of these wild parties that he yelled at her and basically called her a whore. *face palm* Another instance has him throwing a woman down and kissing her at a beach party. When Doris went over to confront her husband, he reportedly hit her.

In February of 1929, Doris apparently wasn't finished with her ex husband because she took him to court in regards to alimony allowance. I believe she was asking for something in the $700 range per month.

Doris and Roscoe

In 1932, Doris walked down the aisle for the second and last time. She wed Elmer Hartz, an insurance broker. They went through some legal trouble of their own before divorcing in 1934. This time Doris claimed her husband deserted her.

Doris lived quietly after her two divorces. As far as I know, she never remarried and she never had children.

Doris Deane passed away on March 24, 1974. She was found dead in her Hollywood home from an apparent heart attack.

She was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery without a gravestone. To this day her grave remains unmarked.

Apparently Doris once told someone that Roscoe had told her that he didn't think he would ever live to old age because of his weight. Poor Roscoe.

She sometimes spelled her name "Dorris" for her film roles. I am not sure if this was her wish or if it was misspelling on the part of the writer of the title cards.

Last but not least is Addie McPhail. She had the cute little flapper look about it. So adorable, and she seemed to really make Roscoe happy in the last few years of his life. Thank goodness for that.
Roscoe and Addie

Addie McPhail was born Addie Oakley Dukes on July 15, 1905 (although a census record states 1906) in White Plains, Kentucky. She was born to Van, an insurance salesman, and his wife, Cordie. She also had an older brother named Hubert.
She made her film debut in 1927 and appeared in films all the way up until the 1940s. Running through the lists of films and shorts she was in, nothing really substantial pops out.
Before she married her famous husband, she did have a brief marriage in the late 20s (I think, there is no wedding date that I can find). She was wed to a songwriter/pianist named Lindsay McPhail. They divorced in 1932, but did have a daughter together named Marilyn.
Addie and Roscoe did in fact know each other through work before they got together romantically. According to Addie, they saw each other on the set for months before they finally had lunch together.
Jimmy Durante, Roscoe, and Addie
Roscoe and Addie married on June 21, 1932 in Pennsylvania.
Addie really believed in her husband's talents and wanted him to be happy, so to get him back on the good side of the public, they set off on a vaudeville tour. It worked! Jack Warner offered Roscoe a contract to appear in a few comedy shorts under  his own name, none of this William B. Goodrich business.
Things were going very well for the couple both personally and professionally. In fact, the night before Roscoe died of a heart attack in June of 1933, they had been out celebrating their first wedding anniversary. I guess the only positive point to such a quick ending of his life is that he was happy when he did pass away. I think Addie played a big part in that.
I am not sure what happened to Addie after Roscoe died. According to a notice about her death in a newspaper, she did remarry eventually to a man with the last name of Sheldon.

Addie and Roscoe
Addie McPhail passed away on April 14, 2003. She was 97 years old. Unfortunately, I do not know where she is buried.
"When I reminded Norma Shearer, Caryl Lincoln, Viola Dana, Stepin Fetchit and others who I was, they would always smile and say something good about Roscoe." ~~ Addie McPhail