Florence Lawrence 1886-1938
Virtually forgotten today, Florence at her peak was one of the most famous and popular actors on screen. Known as the "First Movie Star," "The Biograph Girl," and the "Imp Girl"; most of the 270 films she acted in from 1906 onward have disappeared. Her career never recovered after a horrific accident on-set in 1914 left her in chronic pain. MGM put her on payroll in the 1930s as part of their assistance to ex-silent stars but she died a suicide. In 1991 actor Roddy McDowell found and placed a marker on her then-forgotten and unmarked grave.
Ned Sparks 1883-1957
Better known to fans of 1930s films as a raspy voiced, stone-faced character actor, Ned started his film career in 1915 and played in such films as Seven Keys to Baldpate (1925) and Alias the Deacon (1927). He took out an insurance policy for $10,000 from Lloyd’s for damage to his image if he happened to be photographed smiling
Sam De Grasse 1875-1953
Bathurst, New Brunswick
Originally trained for a career in dentistry, De Grasse followed his older brother into the fledgling movie business and acted in his first film in 1912. At first, Sam played standard secondary characters but when fellow Canadian Mary Pickford set up her own studio with her husband Douglas Fairbanks, he joined them. Usually cast as a shifty-eyed villain, De Grasse soon specialized in bad-guy roles. He appeared in over one hundred films, including such notable silents as The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Robin Hood, The Black Pirate, The King of Kings, When a Man Loves, Our Dancing Daughters, The Man Who Laughs, and Last Performance.
Mack Sennett 1884-1960
Richmond, Eastern Townships, Quebec
The self-proclaimed "King of Comedy" began his storied career in burlesque and vaudeville before joining the Biograph studio in 1908. He soon was directing comedies under D. W. Griffith’s tutelage, and left to form Keystone Co. in 1912.
Considered the father of slapstick comedy in motion pictures, he produced the first U.S. feature-length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), and made over 1,000 comedy shorts, often featuring the wild antics of the Keystone Kops. He hired Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, among other notables. Important directors such as Frank Capra and George Stevens also received their early training under him. Sennett excelled at comic timing, improvisation, and editing, using trick camera work and high-speed and slow motion photography to produce his famous comic chase scenes. In 1932 he received an Academy Award for Best Short Subject for Wrestling Swordfish, and an Honorary Award in 1938 for his contribution to film comedy.
Further reading: Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, by Brent E Walker
Allan Dwan 1885-1981
Born Joseph Aloysius Dwan, Allan Dwan was one of the most prolific of all film directors, with a career lasting from 1908 to 1961. It is thought he directed close to one thousand films—well over 400 films (100 of which still are extant) have his name in the screen credits. Dwan’s film credits include Manhattan Madness (1916); Robin Hood (1922); The Iron Mask, starring Douglas Fairbanks (1929); Zaza (1923); Stage Struck, with Gloria Swanson (1925); The Joy Girl with Olive Borden and fellow Canadian Marie Dressler (1927); and the now-lost Girl of Yesterday (1915) with Mary and Jack Pickford
Mary Pickford 1892-1979
Canada’s most famous export to Hollywood. A talented and hardnosed visionary, Pickford was actress, producer, writer, and co-founder of United Artists, founding member of the Academy of Motion Pictures, marketer, businesswoman, and fundraiser…the list goes on and on. Worshipped during her career by fans all over the world, she is often overlooked today. Her legacy lives on in her films, and through the]Mary Pickford Foundation. http://www.marypickford.com/library/about-mary-pickford
Jack Pickford 1896-1933
Mary’s lesser known little brother was more famous for his drinking, excessive partying and attachment to scandal than for his films. But he proved a decent actor in the roles given him and his legacy deserves better. His most available role would be opposite fellow Canuck Bea Lillie, in the excellent Exit Smiling (1926).
Beatrice Lillie 1894-1989
Dubbed "The Funniest Woman in the World," it’s hard to believe this woman, whose sophisticated wit won her international acclaim on stage, would also star in one of the best silent films made, Exit Smiling (1926). Although she is best remembered for her stage career, she occasionally (and thankfully) returned to the screen, stealing every scene she was in.
Watch an excerpt from Exit Smiling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSqW8jR4L1I
May Irwin 1862-1938
Florence Lawrence is usually listed as the first actor to be named alongside a movie title, but in fact, May Irwin’s name was listed 13 years earlier, in the infamous 50-second film The Kiss (already remade in 1900!) A noted stage performer, she succumbed to Thomas Edison’s pleas to film a scene from the hit play, The Widow Jones, in which she was appearing on Broadway. The brief film proved a to be a sensation Irwin appeared in only one more film, the two-reel comedy Mrs. Black is Back (1914). On the day of her funeral, New York theatres marquees were dimmed for a one-minute tribute.
Watch The Kiss http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q690-IexNB4
Al Christie 1881-1951 & Charles Christie 1880-1955
If the Christie Brothers are remembered today, it’s because of the first movie studio built in Hollywood—The Nestor Studio, built by Al in late-October 1911. Al had started in film in 1909 for Nestor and built their West Coast studio where he also produced films. He and his brother formed their own production company The Christie Film Co. in 1917, producing over 750 films, all of them known for their high quality, especially in comedy. They continued the operation until 1933 when it went into receivership.
Fay Wray 1907-2004
Near Cardston, Alberta
Best known as the beauty to Kong’s beast in King Kong, Fay began her film-acting career in 1923 in Gasoline Love. By 1926 she was selected as one of the WAMPAS baby stars along with Mary Astor and Janet Gaynor. Her biggest break came when Erich von Stroheim cast her in the lead for his infamous Wedding March.
Sidney Olcott 1873-1949
A pioneering film director, Olcott was responsible for the first version of Ben Hur in 1907 and one of the first American feature length films 1912, From the Manger to the Cross. He directed Mary Pickford in Madame Butterfly (1915), Marion Davies in Little Old New York (1923) and Rudolph Valentino in Monsieur Beaucaire (1924). He never made another film after 1927, and died a wealthy man, donating a large sum to a The Toronto Boys Home and requesting to be buried next to his parents in Toronto as well.
Nell Shipman 1892-1970
Victoria, British Columbia
Another pioneering woman in film, the talented Shipman produced, wrote, acted, directed and trained wild animals. She is most famous for her outdoor adventure films, the most celebrated of which is the Canadian silent film Back to God’s Country (1920).
Read Toronto author Kay Armitage’s biography The Girl from God’s Country for an in-depth look at her life. http://www.utoronto.ca/shipman/
Norma Shearer 1902-1983
Norma is best remembered today as one of the great stars of the 1930s and wife of MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Her rise to become "Queen of MGM" took a long time, beginning in the early-1920s with bit parts, moving on to small roles and to eventual stardom by the end of the silent era. Her most famous non-talkie films were The Devil’s Circus and The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg, made at MGM. Her transition to sound films cemented her status—she won an Academy Award for The Divorcee in 1930. Her brother, Douglas Shearer, was instrumental in sound engineering and also won many awards.
Marie Dressler 1868-1934
"Once you’ve seen her, you’ll never forget her" is often the quote used to describe Marie Dressler. Her life story is long, varied, full of tragedy and full of love. She became a star at everything she did-vaudeville, Broadway, films.
Marie’s accomplishments were many.
The famous Tillie’s Punctured Romance in 1914 with a young Charlie Chaplin became a hit film in addition to the first known comedy feature film. She had played the character for years on the stage.
During the First World War, Marie outsold Fairbanks, Pickford and Chaplin during Liberty Bond Rallies.
In 1919 she became the first president of the Chorus Equity Association (later to become the Actors Equity Union) in order to champion the rights of chorus girls. She was blacklisted off the Broadway stage.
At age 60 she won a Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal in Min and Bill (1930). She was nominated again in 1932 for Emma. In 1933, she became the first woman to grace the cover of Time Magazine