This is en edited, expanded version of an entry in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire site, written around 2005–07.
Raymond Griffith (23 January 1895-25 November 1957) was born into a theatrical family in the great city of Boston. He made his stage début at just fifteen months old. At age seven, he played the lead in Little Lord Fauntleroy, and at age eight, he played a female role in Ten Nights in a Barroom.
His stage career was cut short by two calamities: respiratory diphtheria and going mute. He stated the latter happened during rehearsals for The Witching Hour, when he screamed at the top of his lungs every night. However, other sources believe a childhood disease was the culprit. (You know, one of those diseases anti-vaxxers giggle off as no big deal, and an awesome way to “boost the immune system.”)
When Raymond’s voice finally returned, it was a hoarse whisper. His career as a stage actor was completely shot. After this setback, he joined the circus, worked in vaudeville, was a dancer and dance teacher, went on a European vaudeville tour with a group of French mimes, and joined the Navy for two years.
He broke into films in 1915, first with serious roles; then characters who weren’t presented as funny but involved in situations that often bordered on or ventured into slapstick and comedy; and finally out-and-out comedies.
Unfortunately, most of his surviving films aren’t widely available. Many people lucky enough to be familiar with his entire body of work feel he’d be much more highly-regarded if the public were able to see his films. In 2005, Hands Up! was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
He married actor Bertha Mann in early 1928, after which they took a six-month honeymoon tour of Europe. (Awesomely, Bertha was two years older than Raymond!) Sadly, their first child, Raymond, Jr., was a stillborn. Their next child, Michael, was born in 1931. They adopted a daughter, Patricia, in 1933.
When Raymond returned to the screen, the sound revolution was in full swing. He was one of the rare few actors whose career truly was ruined by sound. However, Raymond went out with a final bang.
In the 1930 screen adaptation of the classic anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front, he plays the small but unforgettable role of a dying French soldier whose injuries render him unable to speak above a whisper.
After this memorable performance, Raymond became a writer and producer at 20th Century Fox. All along, he’d co-written far more films than he was credited for. His daughter Patricia remembered him as a voracious reader of classic literature, and believed this provided much inspiration for his screenplays.
At age 62, during a dinner with his wife at the private Masquers Club in L.A., Raymond began choking on his food and died of asphyxia.