Sunday, October 13, 2013

Miss Marvel Rea

So, this young lady is someone that kinda haunts my thoughts when I look through my pictures or think about who to write about next. She was a beautiful girl and even though she is almost completely forgotten today, back in the early 1910s and 1920s, she was a popular fixture in Keystone films. I would like to believe that Marvel Rea would have continued appearing in films until she retired later in life, but sadly, life dealt her a terrible blow that she just couldn't keep coping with.

Marvel Rea was born Marvel Luciel Rea on November 9, 1901 in Ainsworth, Nebraska. She was third child born to John, a farmer, and his wife, Nellie. She had an older sister named Eva, an older brother, Thomas, and a younger brother, Clyde.

John Rea seems to be a bit of a mystery. I am not sure if he passed away or if he and Nellie divorced. I cannot find any information on his death or even a grave, but I did find Nellie's and she was buried under the name 'Nellie Rea Blalock.' Poor Nellie ended up outliving all four of her children. Her eldest daughter, Eva, died in 1936, from what I am not sure. Thomas Rea worked in Hollywood like his sister Marvel, but chose to work behind the camera as a cinematographer. He died of a heart attack in 1957. Youngest child, Clyde passed away in 1943. Nellie Thurman Rea Blalock didn't pass away until 1964. How awful to out live all of your children.

In 1910 the Rea family moved to California and in 1917 she joined up with Mack Sennett and the Keystone Studio. She made her film debut that year in the short, Her Nature Dance. 

Marvel was an adorable blonde and was a perfect choice to become one of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties. The girls wore scandalous (for the day) bathing suits and frolicked on the beach for comedy shorts and for promotional ads for the studio. The Beauties weren't often named in film credits, but a lot of them did become stars in their own rights like Marie Prevost and Gloria Swanson. Gloria would later claim that she was NOT one of his beauties, but I've seen the pictures and she was frolicking with the girls. Marvel frequently appeared in shorts with fellow Beauties Juanita Hansen, Vera Steadman, Phyllis Haver, Laura La Varnie, Harriet Hammond, and Myrtle Lind. I just love them!

From top to bottom: Phyllis Haver, Vera Steadman, Marvel, Beulah Sunshine, Myrtle Lind, and Vera Reynolds

Marvel's film career only lasted from 1917 until 1921 and contained almost thirty films. When she wasn't acting as a Bathing Beauty, she was appearing alongside Ford Sterling in his comic shorts. 

On September 2, 1936, Marvel was walking down the road when three men drove up next to her and asked if they could give her a lift home. She told them no, and kept walking. The men then grabbed her and threw her into the back of their van and sped off to an eucalyptus grove on Compton Avenue in Los Angeles. They then assaulted her and beat her with glass bottles before leaving her semiconscious on the ground. She woke up a few hours later and somehow was able to get help. The details about how she got to the police and got home are a little confusing so I am leaving that part out. The police were able to find the men, brothers Elmwood and Homer Gidney Harvey Zike, and take them into custody. 

The trials to convict the men were a circus. They at first denied having anything to do with the kidnapping and the jury and judge were starting to lean in their direction. Eventually they were sentenced to serve up to fifty years in prison, but because of some BS technicality, they were released after only serving three years. Gotta love the justice system.

Marvel Rea passed away on June 17, 1937 after ingesting ant poison. It seems that the kidnap, assault, and eventual release of her attackers may have been too much for her to handle. Can't say I blame her, poor thing. 

She was buried at Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach, California next to her older sister. 

Her suicide seems to have been something she had been thinking about because according to her great nephew Stephen Rea, Marvel had made a suicide pact with her younger brother, Clyde. Now, I am not sure if this pact was made right before she killed herself or if this was weeks/years beforehand. Well, as we know, Marvel went through with the pact, and Clyde simply passed out drunk. Man oh man...

Marvel was married twice (although I have heard maybe three times, the second husband was supposedly a violinist). Her first husband was a banker named named Henry Page Wells. The two were married in October of 1918, and were separated a few weeks later. I read in an article that Marvel claimed two weeks after their wedding, Wells "stood her on her head." I have absolutely no idea what this means, but I am assuming it is a way of saying that he hit her. The pair didn't officially divorce until 1922, when Marvel accused him of spending all of his money on drugs.

Her second marriage was to Edwin J. Wilkinson in 1936. Edwin's sister, Dorothy was married to Marvel's brother, Tom. Even though they were still married when Marvel died, she is buried under her maiden name of 'Rea.'

Marvel, Ford Sterling, and Alice Maison

Neither of her marriages produced children but according to great nephew Stephen, she was pregnant at one point and suffered a miscarriage after filming a scene where she was in a cage with a gorilla. I would love to know the whole story here because this just sounds bizarre. Bizarre or not, apparently this accident made it so she could have children. 

A film magazine from 1917 ran a profile of Marvel singing her praises. They had her at 5'2'' with a weight that was 'sculpturally correct.' (Hmmmmm....) Her eyes were hazel, and her hair was 'the color of sunshine and champagne.' It also stated that she enjoyed surfing, a new fad on the beach. Love it. 


  1. What an absolute beauty! It kills me that so many of their stories ended so horribly. :( Poor kid.

  2. Great blog, Jessica. I just discovered silent movies and came upon your blog through one of my Buster Keaton searches (a new found love of mine). I highly appreciate the huge effort you put on this blog -well researched and entertaining. Keep up the good job!

    1. Thank you very much! I love knowing that there are more people out there who love silent films and love people like Buster Keaton all these years later.
      Thank you again for reading my blog, I try not to disappoint.

  3. What a poor girl and the justice system does suck. I feel actually very sad for the mother as you are right, it must have been horrible to outlive all the children. Now is that Stephen Rea the actor??

    1. It truly is just awful. Such a bright looking girl and having to experience such pain.
      I do not know if she is in fact related to THAT Stephen Rea in particular, sorry.