Monday, February 25, 2013

Miss Priscilla Bonner

Priscilla is one of only a handful of stars that I knew about before I became head over heels in love with silent films. I had first read about her in the book "What Ever Happened To..." by Richard Lamparski. There are quite a few books in this series and they are all great reads, very fun, so check them out if you can! I remember seeing the picture of Priscilla and her sister and reading the biography about her. It was only a short while later that I saw her playing Clara Bow's friend and roommate in It.

Priscilla Bonner was born on February 17, 1899 in Washington, D.C. She was the oldest child born to John and Mable Bonner, followed shortly after by brothers Albert and Perry, and sister, Marjorie. 

She made her film debut in 1920 in the MGM film Homer Comes Home. She was soon appearing in films with such big names as Lon Chaney and Colleen Moore. 

In 1925, Priscilla caused some waves in Hollywood when she sued Warner Bros. studio for having been fired from the film The Sea Beast. The film was a starring vehicle for John Barrymore and apparently he wanted Priscilla out and his new love, Dolores Costello, in the role instead. Amazingly enough (for that time) Priscilla won the case, and a nice big check to boot. She also received a written apology from Barrymore himself. I wonder what it said...

The trial didn't seem to slow her stride though because a few years later she was appearing in films with some lovely flapper stars like Olive Borden and Clara Bow. She made her last film appearance in 1929.

Priscilla Bonner passed away on February 21, 1996 in Los Angeles. 

She was buried at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills.

Priscilla was married twice. She married Allen Wynes Alexander in 1922, but divorced him in 1926. Her last husband was Dr. E Bertrand Woolfan in 1928. They remained married until his death in 1962. Neither marriage produced any children.

She never appeared in a talking picture. She chose her personal life over a movie career. Her film retirement came right after her marriage to Dr. Woolfan. I also read somewhere that she suffered an injury to her eye right around the same time and that also could have been why she chose to retire then.

Later in life, Priscilla and her sister Marjorie were both widowed and childless, so they decided to live together in an apartment. 

I should also note that Marjorie Bonner was also a film actress, but as she put it, "I lacked Priscilla's ambition. Acting was never a serious thing with me. I'm not a bit sorry. I never missed pictures." It seems that she was more famous for being the wife of author, Malcolm Lowry.

Marjorie and Priscilla Bonner

"My voice was fine (for talkies). But my husband did not want me in pictures. I never stopped missing it though. There's no substitute for that kind of attention. But I made an agreement and I kept it." ~~ Priscilla Bonner

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Miss Margarita Fischer

Time for another February birthday celebration!

Margarita Fischer was born on February 12, 1886 in Missouri Valley, Iowa. She was the second daughter born to John and Kate Ficher. Her sister, Katherine, was two years older than her.

Judging from a 1900 Census record, the family was either upper class or upper middle class because they had two servants. Also good to note that Margarita's name is listed as 'Margarette,' so that very well could be her birth name. I have also read conflicting accounts as to the way her last name was spelled at birth. Some places say she was just born 'Fischer,' while others claim she was born 'Ficher' and changed the spelling of it during WWII, or that she removed the 's' from her original name...I am not sure which account is the accurate one, sorry. I also wanted to mention that while I read she had an older sister named Katherine, I also found that she had a younger sister named, Dorothy who later worked as an actress under a different name. clue.

She began her acting career early, working on stage as a child for various touring companies. Her father soon realized how popular his lively daughter was and he set up the Margarita Fischer Stock Company which toured along the west coast for years.

While touring in her own stock company, she began appearing in films in the new film town of Hollywood.  Her first screen appearance was in a 1910 short called There, Little Girl, Don't Cry. For about five years, that was all she appeared in...shorts. It wasn't until 1915 that she appeared in her first feature called The Quest.

The character she is most well known for is that of Eliza in the 1927 version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. What was so interesting (well, now it is) is that Eliza is an African American slave girl and Margarita was white. Playing black face wasn't a big deal back in the early teens and twenties, it was actually a form of entertainment. Can you imagine her playing that role nowadays?

What is interesting is that her most famous picture was also her last picture. Her career may have been short in years, but not in work. She had appeared in over 90 films! The girl needed a breather. She kept busy in her personal life though and also worked and traveled for various charities.

Margarita Fischer passed away on March 11, 1975 in Encinitas, California.

She was interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

Margarita was only married once, in 1911 to actor and later director, Harry Pollard. They remained married until his death in 1934. The couple never had children.

In 1914, Photoplay magazine held a contest asking who the public thought was the most popular star in America, and Margarita was the winner! She beat out such big names like Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand!

She appeared nude in the 1916 film, The Pearl of Paradise.

According to a 1920 article from Photoplay, Margarita was only five feet tall, had copper colored hair, and gray eyes. She also enjoyed driving and working in her victory garden.

Her niece, Kathie Fischer, also appeared in some early silent films. Kathie later donated a bunch of silent film archival material to the Wichita State University to help keep the memory of her Aunt Margarita and Uncle Harry Pollard alive. Please visit the website here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Miss Anita Stewart

I need to take a break from fixing up older entries because it can be very time consuming and finicky and, yeah...need a break. So, what better way than to give my mind a workout and look at another beauty from the silent screen. Especially when said starlet was born 118 years ago today. So, let us meet the lovely Anita Stewart.

Anita Stewart was born Anna May Stewart on February 7, 1895 in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother's name was Marsha, and her father's name was William. She joined sister, Lucille, and brother, George.

While she was in high school, she began to get very interested in acting and it was around this age that she began work as an extra in various films at the Vitagraph studio. And as she got older, she became more recognizable and loved by the movie audiences.

Her first billed appearance was in 1911 in the film Prejudice of Pierre Marie. She was billed by her birth name at that time. She also appeared under the name 'Anita Stuart' at one point, but I am not sure if that was a choice on her part or an error on the film maker's part.  She started using the name 'Anita Stewart' around 1913.

One of her biggest hits was during her first year appearing on film which is quite extraordinary. She appeared in A Tale of Two Cities with such big names as Mabel Normand, Norma Talmadge, and John Bunny.

Anita finally left Vitagraph in 1918 and went to sign with the fairly new man in town, Louis B. Mayer. She did have some conditions though  to make her leave her home studio, she wanted her own production company. She got her way, which seems out of character for Mayer who was a bit of a control freak. There is also speculation that the real reason he got Anita was because he offered her an enormous amount of money...that sounds like the L.B. we know!

In the early 1920s she worked as the producer of some of her films including Rose o' the Sea in 1921 with Kate Lester. Her last silent film was in 1928's Sisters of Eve.

For some reason, Anita's talents didn't transfer well into the era of the talkies. The only talkie film she appeared in was a musical short in 1932 called The Hollywood Handicap (appropriate title, eh?). Alas, her glory days were behind her.

Anita Stewart passed away on May 4, 1961 in Los Angeles. Her sister, Lucille, found her unconcious at her home and called 911 to assist her in waking up Anita, but they were unsuccessful. It was later determined that she died of a heart attack.

She was interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

Anita was married twice. Her first marriage was in 1917 to a man named Rudolph Cameron, who was also an actor at Vitagraph. They two divorced in 1928. Her second marriage was to George Peabody Converse in 1929. They divorced in 1946. Neither marriage produced children.

Her sister, Lucille, was also an actress during the silent era. She was married to director Ralph Ince from 1921 to 1925. Their brother, George also worked as an actor, but after being confined to the bed after a drunken fight with then brother-in-law, Ralph Ince, his career went downhill. Anita helped take care of him until his death in 1945.

On April 14, 1941, Anita and her then husband, George Converse hosted the wedding of Jimmy Roosevelt, son of Franklin and Eleanor, to Romelle Schneider. Apparently the couple could not get married in a Catholic church because Jimmy Roosevelt had gone through a divorce the previous year.

"Dear Mr. Editor: Here I come with three good rousing cheers for Anita Stewart, Queen of the Movies, the best and most beautiful actress the screen possesses in my opinion...I have seen many very popular actresses, each very good in her own way, but give me Anita Stewart, my screen heroine, in preference to any of them. I will close wishing Anita the greatest success a movie fan can. I remain, Anita's Fifteen-year-old Admirer." ~~ The Toronto World - April 13, 1916 [this was from a number of letters written to the newspaper in response to their "World's Moving Picture Popularity Contest]