Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Women of the Silent Era, not Bit Players!

I just feel that I must mention a few wonderful actors and actresses of the silent era.  Perhaps some of my readers are young and lack the exposure to silent films.  Then again, I have never seen a Theda Bara (1885 - 1955) film, but her name is known to me.  Some of these made a few talkies near the end of their career, but I will keep it mainly silent.

Theda Bara was one of the biggest stars in the early days of motion pictures.  Her screen name was an anagram of "Arab Death."  (Kewl!)  She made 44 films from 1914 to 1926, when she married and retired from the screen. 

Bara played a vampire in the 1915 movie A Fool There Was, and she became known as "The Vamp" which created the term.  In 1917 she had her biggest role in Cleopatra, which became a megahit movie.  Sadly, only about four of her films exist today.  If you get the chance to see one, it would be worth it.

Mae Murray (1889 - 1965) was "The girl with the bee stung lips."  She made 41 movies from 1916 to 1931.  She began her career dancing with Vernon Castle (1887 - 1918), and became a star Ziegfeld Girl before making movies.  Her big movie was The Merry Widow (1925) co-starring with John Gilbert (1899 - 1936).  Mae was a victim of her own poor voice when talkies became popular.

Mary Philbin (1902 - 1993) made 31 movies in just eight short years starting in 1921.  Philbin has what appears to be a complete biography written on IMDb with loads of info about a forgotten star.  And she was a star.  She co-starred in the original Phantom of the Opera in 1925 with Lon Chaney, sending thousands of fans screaming from the theaters as she unmasked the Phantom.

Philbin became a recluse after she retired.  She did come back into the spotlight a few times.  She came to a memorial service for Rudolph Valentino (1895 - 1926) in 1988, and attended the opening of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway by Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948), and once more to promote a book on The Phantom by Philip J. Riley. 

Pola Negri (1897 - 1987) would make about a dozen talkies, even one in 1964 (The Moon-Spinners) with Haley Mills (b. 1946).  She is known for more than 50 silent films starting in 1914, but her heavy Polish accent really ended her career.

Negri has some interesting tidbits in her history.  She was engaged to Charlie Chaplin before she met Rudolph Valentino, and apparently she was Adolph Hitler's favorite acrtress.  Who knows for sure?

Last, for today, Edna Purviance (1895 - 1958).  She was one of Chaplin's favorite actresses and if you have seen much Chaplin, you surely have seen Edna.  She was in about 40 of his films including The Kid (1921).  The Kid was the movie Chaplin made when he met one of his future wives, Lita Gray (1908 - 1995). 

Purviance was kept on Chaplin's payroll all of her life, and I am sure many have wondered if she was more than just an actress for him.

There are just a few names above, but they are important names.  People like that were the foundation of what movies have become.  Their work has inspired many, and even their looks have created styles that lasted.  And they were easy on the eye!

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