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.


  1. Hi Jessica,
    I wished and hope your day is going better. Here is a link to Tessie Harron's death notice:,death&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Qkb5UMreHaWT0QGZy4CwCw&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBjgK


  2. Hello Jessica,
    Thanks for the beautiful tribute to my family, the Harron's. John Harron was my grandfather, Robert Harron my Great Uncle. Edna died in the early 1990's and I was able to spend some quality time with her in her last years. She was the 2nd youngest of the 9 children, and I'm the 2nd youngest of 9 children. My mom, Colleene, was the only offspring from the Harron family, but the Harron family name carries on with one of my nephews, who's middle name is Harron!
    Thanks again for a great tribute.
    Jim Kiley

  3. Hi Jim, and thank YOU for stopping by. I am always so humbled to have relatives of silent film stars find my blog, it is amazing. Did Edna ever talk about her family's experiences in the movie industry? I am glad to know that the family name lives on!

  4. Edna was pretty young when Bobby was a star, but she did remember Mr. Griffith coming over to dinner quite often, and she kept in contact with Lillian Gish.
    My grandmother, Betty Egan Harron Westmore had the best stories, and I memorized every one of them. My grandma grew up in Hollywood starting at the age of about 10 years old, so about 1917. The best was her story about walking to go get milk from the store, she was about 13, and coming upon Charlie Chaplin watering the lawn in front of his house.
    "Oh hello Mr. Chaplin, is this your house?".
    "Hello Betty, why yes it is, would you like to come in and see it?"
    "Oh no I have to go get milk at the store."
    Then my Grandmother says to me, and she was 85 at this time, "of course now we know he liked 13 year old girls. Oh Jimmy thank God I didn't go into his house, my grandmother would have killed me!".

    1. Haha yeah, your grandma really did dodge a bullet with ole Charlie there!

      How amazing to have a sit down dinner with D.W. Griffith? I am sure it seemed like a no big deal occurrence at the Harron house, but man oh man! And to be friends with Lillian Gish? What a lucky lady she was.

      Did your grandma ever say anything about what happened to Bobby? That is, if he killed himself on purpose or accident?

  5. In terms of Edna, she was well alive in 1991. She was interviewed by me (4/21/191) at her home as I was planning for Bobby's 1993 Birth Centennial Event at MoMA. I was, obviously, researching things about his death. I firmly believe and "proved" it was suicide. I located the autopsy report and had 'current' medicals review it. Yes, they could not actually view the body but due to the spot, angle, & powder burn size they all agreed it was self-inflicted. My thesis is that he was disappointed being passed over for "Way Down East" and as a Catholic, DW had it determined an 'accident' so Harron could be buried with a religious ceremony & in an RC cemetery. She, Edna, was not able to give too many details as she was a bit young at the time of the death. However, she sure gave me a lot of info about the days when Hollywood was still rural! :-D

    Anyway, my info was presented april 1993 and the documents are still stored (I hope) at MoMA in NYC.

    1. Very cool info, Joe! Thank you!

      That is interesting (and sad) about Bobby. Hard to believe that it takes being passed over for a film role to push someone over the edge. He had so much promise too, it is too bad. That is great about Edna too. I am always so jealous of people who got to meet those who were around during the early days of Hollywood. I can only imagine how great their stories are about those times. You are a lucky man I must say.

  6. Hi Jessica, Jim and Joe...I am putting together a Facebook page celebrating the life and work of Robert Harron. I also plan to include photos and info on his talented siblings as well. Feel free to "like" the page and post any photos or info you would like!

    1. I just went and 'liked' the page!

      Thank you for the heads up about the page! :) So glad that the Harrons are being remembered.