Friday, September 19, 2014

Edna Flugrath

Edna, Viola Dana, and Shirley Mason

And now on to the final Flugrath sister, the eldest, Edna. She may have gotten started first in her career but she eventually became the sister that is the least remembered today. Not anymore! We shall remember her here and now!

Edna Marie Flugrath was born on December 29, 1892 in Brooklyn, New York. 

She was the eldest child born to Emil, a printer, and Mary Flugrath. Her younger brother, LeRoy was born a few years later in 1895, but sadly he passed away on New Year's Day in 1901. Sister Virginia (Viola Dana) was born in 1897 and youngest child Leonie (Shirley Mason) was born in 1900. 

Mary Flugrath wanted her daughters to be actresses more than anything, so when her eldest daughter was old enough, she put her on the stage. Edna appeared not only as an actress but also as a premiere dancer. In her later teens and early twenties she was working with Anna Pavlova's dance company and even went on for the ballet diva a few nights. 

After awhile, Edna was tired of touring constantly on the vaudeville circuit. So, she decided to follow her younger sister's lead and try her hand at the movies. She debuted on screen in the 1912 short, What Happened to Mary

One of the reasons Edna wasn't as well known as her sisters was because she made the majority of her films overseas in England. This also explains why the names of people she acted with were not familiar to me. She did however appear in a few films with her sisters. In a 1912 short called Uncle Mun and the Minister, she appeared with sister Shirley, and in 1923 she appeared with sister Viola in Social Code, which would also be her last film. 

A film of some distinction in her career was a 1916 film called De Voortrekkers, or Winning a Continent. This film was the first feature film in the country of South Africa and was directed by Edna's future husband. I also want to mention that the leading man of this film was named Dick Cruikshanks...and I am just loving that.

Viola Dana and Edna in front of their beauty salon

After she retired from film in 1923, she began managing a Hollywood beauty salon called Gainsborough Beauty Shoppe that her sister Viola bought. 

Edna Flugrath passed away on April 6, 1966 in San Diego, California.

She was cremated and her ashes were interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery with her father and younger brother's ashes. Sister Viola was later interred there when she died in 1987.

Edna was married twice. Her first husband was director Harold Marvin Shaw who she married in 1917. The couple remained married until Shaw's tragic death in a car accident in 1926. His ashes were placed in the Flugrath family niche at Hollywood Forever. 

I want to point out the tragic connection that all three sisters shared. All three of the Flugrath girls first husband left them widowed and all three husbands were directors. Awful thing to have in common.

Edna's second marriage was to oil magnate Halliburton Houghton who she married around 1928. I do not know if they stayed married until death or if they did eventually divorce. 

None of the Flugrath sisters ever had children. 

For reasons I do not know, Edna became estranged from her younger sisters later in life. While Shirley and Viola remained close, they did not have any contact with their older sister for the last few years of their lives and actually only found out about her death from a stranger! Yikes!

On top of being an actress and a dancer Edna was also an accomplished seamstress who made most of the dresses she wore in her films. 

"When I am too old to act, I shall sew for my living." ~~ Edna Flugrath, Pictures and the Picturegoer, January 1916

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shirley Mason

Shirley and Viola Dana

On to the next Flugrath sister...Leonie, aka Shirley Mason! In my opinion, one of the most beautiful ladies to grace the silent screen. I mean, she is just gorgeous!

Now, I am taking the easy way out and copying a lot of information from the previous post about Viola Dana because, well, they are pretty much the same for all the sisters. So, if you see some repeated information, you aren't going crazy, it is just easier to copy and paste. If this is the first post you are reading, then you are gonna get all the information you need!

Shirley Mason Mason was born Leonie Flugrath on June 6, 1900 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the youngest child born to Emil, a printer, and Mary Flugrath. She joined older sisters Edna (b. 1893) and Virginia/Viola Dana (b. 1897) and brother LeRoy (1895-1901).

Emil Flugrath is an interesting person, at least as far as research goes. His name appears in the 1900 census records I was looking through but he is not found in the 1910 or 1920 census records I had in front of me.  However, he was in TWO records in 1930. In one, his name is crossed out with "ERROR" written in the ledger, and in the other his name is listed but with no other family members. I haven't seen anything like that before so it was pretty interesting. From what I have read, Emil was a part of his daughter's lives and didn't desert them, so I am thinking that the census record taker misspelled their name and the family is on there under that name.

Mary Flugrath didn't just want her girls to be actresses, she wanted them to be stars! When she was younger, she wanted to be an actress but her parents refused to even entertain the notion. So, she took all that drive and determination and put it towards making her daughters into the stage and screen stars that she had dreamed of. Her husband Emil helped out with the process by building his daughters a gymnasium for them to work out and 'train' in. He was a former amateur athlete himself so that was right up his alley. 

Shirley and Viola

Older sister Viola was the one who was making the biggest splash on the stage and the one making trips to the studio to look for movie work. Shirley began to tag along with her sister and eventually the girls were cast in the 1910 version of A Christmas Carol, appearing as the daughters of Bob Cratchit in the final scene. 

She began her career using her birth name but sister Edna said that because she was the eldest, should should be the only one using Flugrath (whatever, sis). So, through a combined effort between the studios and the family, "Shirley Mason" was the name chosen for the youngest Flugrath sister. 

During her career, Shirley appeared with stars like Lewis Stone, Boris Karloff, Evelyn Brent, and Richard Arlen. She appeared with her sister Edna in the 1912 short, Uncle Mun and the Minister, and appeared with Viola in Children Who Labor (1912), The Portrait in the Attic (1915), and The Show of Shows (1923).

One of her most well known roles was as Eve Leslie in the "Seven Deadly Sins" series in 1917. It started with Envy, then Pride, Greed, Sloth, Passion, Wrath, and finally The Seventh Sin. The last installment should have been 'Gluttony' but the term was deemed too offensive by the producers so the title was changed. The same goes for Passion as 'Lust' was considered offensive as well. 

Her last film appearance was in 1929's Dark Skies.

Shirley passed away on July 27, 1979 in Los Angeles, California. 

She was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park.

Bernard J. Durning and Shirley

Shirley married twice. Her first husband was director Bernard J. Durning who she married in 1917. The couple was very happy and very much in love, but sadly the good times would not last. Durning reportedly drank some tainted water while working on a film in Brooklyn and got typhoid fever. Sadly, he passed away in August of 1923 with Shirley by his side. 

Her second marriage was to another director, Sidney Lanfield. The two were married in 1927 and remained married until Lanfield's death in 1972. Like her sisters, she never had children.

"Please don't repeat it, but I was born in Brooklyn, and live in the Bronx. I play solitaire between scenes at the studios; and -- ssh! -- I'm married!" ~~ Shirley Mason, Photoplay, December 1918

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Viola Dana

Viola Dana, Edna Flugrath, and Shirley Mason

I will be covering all three Flugrath sisters: Viola Dana, Shirley Mason, and Edna Flugrath. Each sister had a part in the silent movie industry and so all three deserve to be remembered. 

Oh, and because they are awesome and I love them!

Viola Dana was born Virginia Flugrath on June 26, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York.

She we was the third child born to Emil, a printer, and Mary Flugrath. The couple already had a daughter Edna (b. 1893) and a son, LeRoy (1895-1901). Youngest daughter, Leonie (Shirley Mason) was born in 1900. 

Emil Flugrath is an interesting person, at least as far as research goes. His name appears in the 1900 census but he is not found in the 1910 or 1920 census records I was looking through. However, he was in TWO records in 1930. In one, his name is crossed out with "ERROR" written next to his name and in the other, his name is listed by himself. I haven't seen something like that before so it was pretty interesting. From what I have read, Emil was a part of his daughter's lives and didn't desert them, so, I am thinking that the census record taker misspelled his/the family's name.

Viola with her father and her mother

Mary Flugrath didn't just want her girls to be actresses, she wanted them to be stars! She had wanted to be on the stage when she was a child, but her parents refused to allow their daughter to become an actress, so she took all that focus and drive and put it towards her own daughters. She wanted them to practice to be the best and the whole family eventually got on the fast track to stardom. Emil, having been an amateur athlete, built a gymnasium for his daughters to exercise in to help keep them in shape. 

The middle Flugrath daughter, Viola, was the first one to start going to the nearby Edison studios to look for work. Eventually, younger sister Leonie/Shirley would tag along and the two would be cast in the 1910 version of A Christmas Carol. The girls appear as the daughters of Bob Cratchit in the final scene and Viola appears as the friend of a young Ebeneezer Scrooge earlier in the film. They are kinda hard to make out because they don't get up close to the camera but Viola's nose gives her away!

Shirley Mason as Natacha Rambova and Viola as Rudolph Valentino

The sisters only appeared in a few films together. The only film that all three girls appeared in together (where they were credited at least) was a 1912 short called The Third Thanksgiving. Viola and Shirley appeared together in Children Who Labor (1912), The Portrait in the Attic (1915) and The Show of Shows (1929), while only Viola and Edna appeared together once in 1923's The Social Circle

Early in her career she appeared under the name 'Viola Flugrath.' It wasn't until around 1914 that she began using the screen name 'Viola Dana.' She was given that name by Eleanor Gates, the author of the play "The Poor Little Rich Girl" which Viola had appeared in.

During her movie career Viola had the opportunity to share the screen with such notables as Boris Karloff, Zasu Pitts, Anna Q. Nilsson, and Chester Conklin. She played flapper-esque characters with names like Euphemia Miggles, Happy O'Brien, Fifty-Fifty Mamie, Tangletop, and Etta Concanna. (I just love these!)

Her last film appearance was in The Show of Shows, performing in a few sequences including "Meet My Sister" with sister Shirley. This is seriously one of my favorite classic film sequences because you get to see the Flugrath sisters along with other famous sister pairs. 

Viola Dana passed away on July 3, 1987 in Woodland Hills, California. 

She was cremated and her ashes were interred with her younger brother LeRoy, father (d. 1942), and older sister Edna (d. 1966) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Mary Flugrath died in 1922 but I don't see her name listed as being buried with her family. I am hoping that she is with them and that her name was just omitted from the urn. Younger sister Shirley Mason had passed away in 1979 but was interred at Westwood Memorial Park with her husband. 

Viola was married three times. Her first husband was director John Collins who she met while working at the Edison studios. The couple married in 1915 and were very much in love, Collins even saying that he loved her from the first day they met. The partnership worked well both at work and at home, with Collins taking his wife with him when he moved from Edison to Metro studios. Sadly, their happiness would not last. In 1918, Collins left to go to a training camp to possibly be sent overseas in the last days of World War I. He was sent back home the next day with a high fever, having fallen victim to the flu epidemic that was sweeping the country. He succumbed to the disease five days later.

Viola and Maurice "Lefty" Flynn

Her second marriage was to football player and actor Maurice "Lefty" Flynn, who was over a foot taller than little Viola! The couple married in 1925, but eventually divorced in 1929. Her third husband was golfer Jimmy Thomson who she married in 1930. She would retire from film and stage work in order to go on tour with Thomson as he continued his career. Unfortunately, the couple divorced in 1945. 

Viola and Ormer Locklear

In 1920, Viola was dating daredevil pilot Ormer Locklear. Sadly, after losing her first husband only a few years earlier, Viola would once again lose someone she loved, and even worse, she would be front row at the tragic accident. Locklear was doing some night shots for a film he was working on and this specific shot called for him to do a power dive and then pull up right before he hit the ground. The cue for this stunt was for someone to shut off the surrounding lights so that he would be able to see well enough to pull up from the dive. Well, someone was clearly not paying attention because they forgot to cut the lights which resulted in Locklear being too blinded to pull up in time and he crashed into the ground. He and his co-pilot Milton "Skeets" Elliott were killed immediately. Viola saw the entire thing and was understandably upset and screaming and had to be held back from running to the mangled airplane. Locklear was married at the time but his wife hated his daredevil antics and this caused them to have quite a fracture marriage. Viola on the other hand loved to go flying around with him! 

Viola and Buster Keaton

Now, Viola was quite close to my love, Buster Keaton. How close? Well, we don't know for sure. What is known is that Buster loved spending time not only with Viola but with her entire family as well. They were way more laid back and warm hearted as compared to his stuffy in-laws, the Talmadges. According to some sources Buster and Viola would go out on the town with Alice Lake and Roscoe Arbuckle, even though Alice was an ex of Buster's and Viola and Alice were friends. Good Lord...Anyway, on the other end of the spectrum there is a niece of Viola's that claimed that Viola was "too prudish" to take up with Buster in that way. I am thinking they DID have some sort of relationship, be it sexual or just a fling. Viola was the breath of fresh air that Buster needed after dealing with "The Shrew" and how cute would they be together?

Viola was a big help in the documentary series "Hollywood" and offered tons of little tidbits about Buster Keaton as well as her relationship with Ormer Locklear. This series sadly is NOT on DVD and probably never will be. But, if you can get a hold of a VHS copy, you should because it is wonderful. 

[when asked if she would advise young girls to 'go in for the movies'] "No. It's hard work and only a few reach stardom. The tax on your nerves and strength is too great. After you get in, however, you wouldn't do anything else." ~~ Viola Dana, 1922

"Viola Dana is a sister of Peter Pan - a girl who never grew up." ~~ Viola Dana, Picture-Play Magazine, July 1918

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lucille Ricksen

Alright, this is going to be a nice, renewing experience for me. It has been about four years since I wrote my first entry on Lucille Ricksen, and a lot has changed in that time. I have learned how to research more efficiently and thoroughly and I have found information that was not available at that time, like where Lucille was buried for instance. So, here we have more information so that others out there who hear Lucille's name or see her picture can learn more about who she was in the short amount of time she was on this earth.

DISCLAIMER: This is the only part of the entry where I will mention the television show The Ghost Within My Child and the episode where there was mention of Lucille. My views on that horror show are not pleasant and I would rather Lucille be remembered as a beautiful and sweet film star, rather than supposedly being in the body of someone else in this century continuing the cycle of being paraded out by adults. 

That being said, let us begin the story.

Lucille Ricksen was born Ingeborg Myrtle Elisabeth Erickson on August 22, 1910 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Samuel, a buyer for a clothing house, and Ingeborg Erickson. 

Older brother, Marshall, was born in 1907. Marshall too appeared in a few silent shorts in the early twenties, but it wasn't really his bag. 

Lucille had the face of an angel and her mother knew it and knew that photographers and artists would enjoy having little Lucille pose for them. She helped earn money for her family while working as a child model, but quickly it became apparent that people were wanting Lucille to look and act older than she really was. There is a rather disturbing photograph of her around the age of five, nude, with a sheer cloth draped over her. I'm not posting it here because it weirds me out. 

Lucille during her Edgar series days

Her first onscreen acting job was in the 1920 short, Edgar and the Teacher's Pet, which was part of the Adventures and Emotions of Edgar Pomeroy series. There were around twelve installments in the series with Lucille playing the role of Edgar's friend with a head full of blonde ringlet curls. 

One of her next features was in 1922's The Married Flapper which starred Marie Prevost. The following year had her appearing in Dorothy Davenport's (aka Mrs. Wallace Reid) film about the pain of drug addiction, Human Wreckage. 

In 1924, she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star along with her friend Dorothy Mackaill and Clara Bow. This year also had her sharing the screen with Louise Fazenda and Sydney Chaplin in The Galloping Fish and then with Jack Pickford in The Hill Billy.

Now, keep in mind that around this time Lucille was only around 14 years old. On one end of the spectrum, she was playing adult roles like that of a character's fiance in 1924's Vanity's Price. However, in the film The Denial (filmed in 1924, released early in 1925) Lucille plays the young daughter of Claire Windsor. So, while some wanted to see Lucille as the child she was, others were pushing to make her a leading lady before she was even a teenager! Welcome to Hollywood, I guess.

It was while filming The Galloping Fish that Lucille was first beginning to get sick. She tried to keep at her usual pace but eventually she had a total collapse. Her mother told newspapers that she had a nervous breakdown and just needed time to rest, and rest she did. For months Lucille lay in her bed, her illness eventually becoming tuberculosis.

Her mother, Ingeborg, kept a constant bedside vigil for her daughter, caring for her night and day. Sadly, in late February of 1925, Ingeborg collapsed on top of her daughter in bed and died, the victim of a heart attack. If there was even a sliver of hope of Lucille getting better, it pretty much disappeared with the death of her mother. 

Lucille held on for a few weeks, with actress Lois Wilson (who Lucille called her "older sister") taking over the bedside vigil left vacant by Ingeborg's death. Other Hollywood friends came to visit her as well, May McAvoy, Mildred Davis Lloyd, Margaret Livingston, Pauline Garon, and Paul Bern. The latter was helping the family pay for round the clock nurses as well as all other medical expenses. 

Sadly, on March 13, 1925, Lucille Ricksen passed away. She was only 14 years old. 

She was cremated and her ashes were put in an urn along with her mother's ashes and placed in a niche at Forest Lawn Glendale. 

At the time of her death, her father, Samuel had been in and out of the picture. I have read that he and Ingeborg had been divorced but also have read that his ashes are also with his daughter and wife's at Forest Lawn. I do know that he popped back around after his daughter's death to help determine the fate of his son, Marshall. While Lucille lay dying, she and her brother asked their film friends Conrad Nagel and Rupert Hughes to be their legal guardians. Samuel was not happy with this arrangement and fought them on it, eventually telling the courts that Hughes was a blasphemous atheist and was not the kind of person that should be raising a child. Hughes countered with the claim that Lucille and Marshall had begged them to be their guardians to protect them from their father, a revelation that shocked Samuel. Eventually, joint guardianship was granted to Nagel and Hughes. They helped support Marshall Ricksen, who later become an attorney and the father of twin boys, one named Rupert in honor of his guardian. Samuel Erickson passed away in April of 1928. 

Dorothy Mackaill and Lucille

Like many Hollywood deaths, there are rumors and scandal tied to the story of Lucille and her early death. Her death certificate says cause of death was tuberculosis but some believe she died because of a botched abortion, or pernicious anemia. I read about the last one in an article published in the September 1926 edition of Motion Picture Magazine. This same article also listed Lucille's birth date as September 2, 1907, so...that should show how reliable it is. The truth is, we will never know what happened with Lucille. All we do know is that this was one very worn out young lady.

Speaking of ridiculous things written about Lucille, I found this little excerpt about her written in the book Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince by Mark Vieira: "He [Paul Bern] paid the hospital bills and funeral expenses of tubercular teenaged actress Lucille Ricksen (after her sister committed suicide)." I have NO idea where this information came from, but, yeah....very incorrect. 

"To be a leading woman at sixteen is something of which to be proud. Yet Lucille Ricksen who has attained that eminence, hasn't been heard to brag. She has a fascinating wink, has Lucille, and also has the honor of being a WAMPAS 'baby star' for this year." ~~ Photoplay, May 1924

"They never say or do anything worth while. I do have such good times playing with the folks here." ~~ Lucille Ricksen, when asked why she doesn't have many friends her own age. Picture Play Magazine, October 1923.