Sunday, December 13, 2015

Clara Horton

Now, on to a child and teen star of the silent screen who I hope to pay a visit to soon...

Clara Marie Horton was born on July 29, 1904 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the only child born to Leroy Horton and Gertude Wilcox. The couple either divorced while Clara was still a child or Leroy passed away because he doesn't appear in any other census records with the family and Gertrude is listed as "single."

When Clara was still a child, she was lauded for her exceptional talents for ballet dancing. The little girl began touring the states in various shows displaying her dancing talents and eventually made her way overseas to Europe. However, it seems the years of touring and performing were taking it's toll on Clara's health, so Gertrude decided to take her daughter back to the U.S. for a rest.

Tired from touring and dancing? Let's try acting! As we know, during the early years of film making, the movie studios were on the east coast rather than the west coast, so Clara and her family were in the right place at the right time! 

Clara made her film debut in 1912's Because of Bobbie. The short was made at the Eclair studios, which would become Clara's home studio for many years. In fact, she became such a recognized and popular face that she earned the nickname "The Eclair Kid." Also, remember that this was during the time when film stars weren't credited on screen by name. 

During her years at Eclair, Clara shared the screen most of the time with Barbara Tennant, who Clara wanted to be like when she was older, and actor Lamar Johnstone. She frequently played herself or rather a character named 'Clara' in various shorts. Gertrude Horton meanwhile spent her time working in the wardrobe department at the studio. 

Clara once told a magazine that she preferred playing boy roles on screen because it allowed her to "get her face dirty." She stressed that it was only on screen that she liked playing a boy, and was very much a girl. She talked about how she did her own make-up and how she enjoyed sewing dresses for her many dolls.

Her best remembered film roles would probably be in 1917's Tom Sawyer and the 1918 follow-up, Huck and Tom. Clara played the role of Becky Thatcher, the sweetheart of Tom Sawyer, who was played by Jack Pickford. 

In 1919, Gertrude and Clara Horton filed a lawsuit against the film studios for breach of contract. The article describing the event doesn't say WHICH studio they sued, although it mentions that she was a popular actress with Triangle, so it may have been just them or the studios in general she worked with. In 1918, many studios closed due to the flu pandemic that killed around 20 million people, many of who were in the film community including Myrtle Gonzalez, Gaby Deslys, Harold Lockwood, Vera Kholodnaya, and True Boardman. Clara, and other actors who brought suit, claimed that they had been willing to come in to work and should have been paid what they were promised. I am not sure what the outcome of the case was, but judging by some of the other articles I read and their tone, it seems the actors may have won.

Her final film role was an uncredited part as a maid in 1942's Time to Kill.

In an interview conducted during the mid 1920's, Clara claimed that she left films at first because she was tired of living in a make believe world and was looking for something real. She got married and had a child and enjoyed a simple domestic life. Eventually, this began to bore her as well and she wanted to get back into acting. She reiterated that she was going to balance her home life and her movie career.

"Why am I returning to the screen? Listen, I'll tell you - because I want the money. That's a plain fact, so why not admit it?" ~~ Clara Horton to Picture Play magazine - October 1925

Clara Horton passed away on December 4, 1976 in Encino, California.

She was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California. 

Clara was married twice. Her first husband was a promoter (for a 'corporation' according to census records) named Hyman Brand. The couple was married sometime in the 1920's and had a son, Donald in 1929. The pair eventually divorced and in 1943 she married Edwin Laufer and the couple remained married until her death. 

When Clara was in her early teens she had a pet monkey that she would walk on a leash and it would carry her vanity case on a chain around his neck. Sure.

"Blessed with a wonderful head of long golden curls, great blue eyes fringed by dark lashes, and a complexion the color of peaches, Clara forms a beautiful picture indeed on the screen." ~~ Motion Picture World - October 3, 1914

"And everybody's my friend at the studio! You should see the lovely parties they give me on my birthday!" ~~ Clara Horton to Motography magazine - March 21, 1914


  1. Hi Jess. am wathing Laugh clown laugh on TCM wthis morning; Barnard Siegel is the love interest but they have his birth year 1868 which make him 60 in this movie. Can this be true....

    1. Hi Jill! It has been awhile since I have watched Laugh, Clown, Laugh so I couldn't picture Bernard Siegel. I looked him up and it does appear he was born in 1868, which does make him a pretty young looking guy! What is interesting too is that I tried to check and see where he was buried and see if his headstone had a different date, but it isn't listed on Find a Grave. Curiouser and curiouser...

  2. Very interesting about this gal who seemed to like the money and fun stuff. I think she should have counted herself lucky not to have died from that flu

  3. In a 1920 interview it was said that Clara Horton's mother was a pianist who graduated from the Boston Conservatory. She taught piano to Clara and had taught 200 pupils. Clara had her first public appearance playing piano when she was four. Clara lived with her mother Gertrude and her grandmother, there was no mention of her father.

    1. Thank you for the extra info, mysterious person! There really is a case of the missing father because he just dropped off the census!