I’m taking somewhat of a detour regarding my A to Z theme on my main blog this year. Instead of choosing something related to my writing, I finally moved a long-planned theme out of my queue. I began putting this list together in late 2015, but kept pushing it off every year, thinking I’d get around to it eventually.
My 2019 theme will be actors, writers, directors, and producers of the silent era. To make it original, my focus is on lesser-known stars (at least, outside the community of people already passionate about silent cinema). Most people know names like Clara Bow, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, and John Barrymore, but I doubt the average non-fan knows about someone like:
Raymond Griffith, a dapper comedian in a silk hat whose voice was severely damaged as a boy. He spoke at the level of a hoarse whisper, but was able to use that to deliver an incredibly moving, unforgettable swan song performance in his only talkie.
June Mathis, one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, the mystic-minded screenwriter who sought to elevate movies into a serious artform. She gave Rudy Valentino his big break and lovingly mentored him when no one else believed in him.
Larry Semon, a brilliant comedian who burnt out early after getting far too big for his britches with over the top special effects and budgets, and is now almost exclusively remembered for his dreadful 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. He also thought it’d be hilarious to credit an African-American co-star as G. Howe Black.
Anna May Wong, one of the first Chinese-American moviestars, who became very frustrated with the stereotypical roles offered to her, and was barred from being a romantic lead due to strict anti-miscegenation laws.
Xuan Jinglin, one of China’s most important female actors of the silent era, who was sold into a brothel by her mother due to extreme poverty. One of the founding fathers of Chinese cinema saved her by giving her a bit part in a film and buying her freedom when her acting deeply impressed him.
Fred Thomson, a very popular cowboy actor who was a Presbyterian minister and WWI Army chaplain before becoming involved in acting. His second wife, screenwriter Frances Marion, was one of Hollywood’s most powerful women. Fred died of tetanus on the eve of making his first talkie.
Olive Thomas, a fellow Pittsburgher who was poised for superstardom when she fell victim to accidental mercury bichloride poisoning while on her second honeymoon with husband Jack Pickford.
Wallace Reid, a matinée idol destroyed by greedy studio executives and doctors. Instead of letting him recover after a serious train accident, they got him addicted to morphine and kept overworking him, forcing him to crank out one film after another without any breaks. Wally could barely stand up by his final film.
Marie Prevost, one of Mack Sennett’s famed Bathing Beauties, who became a huge star working for several studios, until several personal tragedies plunged her into depression, drinking, and an eating disorder. Hers was one of several tragic deaths which inspired the acting community to create the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.
Ernest Torrence, a big, bulky character actor who specialized in villains and tough guys, but played nice guys once in a rare while. His touching, sweet performance as Peter in the original King of Kings is one of the film’s highlights.
Though many of these posts originated in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire site, written around 2005–07, they’ve all been significantly edited and expanded. Most of them read like entirely new posts!
Miraculously, I found the long-missing Part II of this six-part series through a recent cache search of archive.org. That was one of the pages I was most upset about not recovering after my Angelfire site was deleted without warning in September 2010.
My names blog will feature Slavic names, from languages including Czech, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Belarusian, and Bosnian.