He was one of the biggest stars of the silent film era. He was a multi-millionaire, and an early body-builder. His name was Francis X. Bushman (1883 - 1966) and he is almost forgotten today. He was a victim of the Talkies.
Bushman's movie career began in 1911, about the same time as the great movie migration to California. He started work at Essanay Studios in Chicago, about three years before Charlie Chaplin started working there. As you may know, Essanay was an elongated name for the initials of the founders, George Spoor and G. M. 'Bronco Billy' Anderson. Other famous stars at Essanay were Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery, Tom Mix and Harold Lloyd. Louella Parsons got her start at Essanay as a screenwriter before becoming a gossip columnist.
90% of Bushman's titles are silent films. Most of these have been lost to deterioration of the nitrate film stock, or just plain carelessness on the studio's part. Who would have thought that a 20 minute short film would need to be preserved? We can only hope someone has a film vault somewhere with these forgotten films. It does happen.
Bushman owned a large estate, somewhere near Baltimore, MD. It is said he was always seen in public with five Great Danes, and he had 295 more of them at home. He was considered one of the most handsome men in America, and he was also a model. He was married four times.
In 1925, Bushman was cast as Massala in MGM's Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. This was, perhaps, his most famous role. Ramon Novarro (1899 - 1968) was cast in the title role, and it was possibly MGM's biggest silent success. The silent version is included with the 1959 release in a box set.
In Ben Hur we also see Betty Bronson (1906 - 1971) who played the first screen Peter Pan in 1924, and Leo White (1873 - 1948) who made a living as a Bit Actor and extra in over 430 films from 1911 (at Essanay) until The Fountainhead was released in 1949 after his death.
He was the only one on the Ben Hur production who could handle driving a team of horses pulling a chariot, without being injured or killed. When Charleton Heston had to master the same task for the 1959 release, he said "The only one in Hollywood who could drive a chariot was Fancis X. Bushman...and he was too old."
Frank Capra. This was their only work together.
I was unable to find a quick answer to why his popularity waned with the talkies. Perhaps his voice wasn't clear enough for the mike, or maybe he didn't want to let go of the silent film style of acting. In sound films you don't need big body language and facial expressions to carry the story as you do without sound.
Bushman would appear in about 20 more big screen films, plus numerous teleplays and TV shows. His final film was a 1966 Tommy Kirk (b. 1941) vehicle called The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, and his last appearance was as an old man on "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" that same year.
He's a hunk...isn't he?