Stars Of The Silent Film Era
Actor Charlie Chaplin with Edna Purviance in The Cure. Source: (The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Charlie Chaplin: 'The Tramp'
Charlie Chaplin is probably the most famous of all the silent films stars. He acted in or directed nearly 100 films. He was born in London in the late 1800s. He arrived in America as part of a pantomime group before he got into movies. His character, ‘The Tramp’ is what he is most known for in the movie industry. In his personal life, he was known for liking very young women. He was married four times. He passed away in 1977. His body was notoriously stolen from the grave but later recovered. He was then buried in cement, so it could not happen again.
Greta Garbo: 'I Want To Be Alone'
Greta Garbo was born with the name Greta Gustafsson in 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden. She was discovered while working at a department store. She began making films in Europe then came to America where she found true stardom. She worked for the MGM studio. She co-starred many times with John Gilbert, with whom she was romantically tied. Greta Garbo also made films with sound. One of her big movies was “Romance” where she spoke her most famous line, “I Want To Be Alone.” Garbo made a few more movies before she left Hollywood for good. After making movies for twenty years, she retired and spent the next fifty years in her New York City apartment, making no public appearances. This has led to a cult following with people always wondering what happened.
Buster Keaton was born in 1895 in Kansas to Joe and Myra Keaton. The Keatons were vaudevillians and it wasn’t long before Buster became part of their act. He remained with the family act until he was twenty-one. He began on Broadway then made the leap to films. His first film was ‘The Butcher Boy’ starring Fatty Arbuckle. Buster was very interested in how movies were made, so he studied with Arbuckle, who was also a director. MGM bought out his production company and that was nearly the end of Keaton’s career. He developed a drinking problem and was fired from MGM. Over the next twenty years, he picked himself up and was able to get back into the business. He made several commercials and guest appearances on television shows. He starred in ‘Sunset Boulevard’, playing himself. He was more popular than ever at the end of his life. He died in 1966, four months after receiving a five-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, the longest ever recorded.
Clara Bow was born in 1905 and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She got into the movies when she won a photo beauty contest. She starred in fifty-eight movies. The movie, “It” was pivotal in her career. She represented a rebellious youth which was a reflection of society, as the Flappers were becoming popular. Clara Bow was receiving over 45,000 fan letters every month. Being that popular has its downfall. When films began using sound, her thick Brooklyn accent did not go over well. She had court battles over unpaid taxes and even divorce court, where she was accused of stealing husbands. She was unable to regain her earlier appeal at the box office. At the age of twenty-six, she married Rex Bell who was an actor in cowboy films. She officially retired from the movie business when she was twenty-eight. She suffered from mental illness and was committed several times. She died in 1965 at the age of 60.
Rudolph Valentino: 'The Great Lover'
Rudolph Valentino was known as ‘The Great Lover’. He was born in Italy in 1895. He immigrated to the United States in his early teens. He was working odd jobs when he was hired by a nightclub to dance with women customers. He was caught up in a marital scandal between a high society couple. He left town to avoid being dragged to court. He ended up in Los Angeles and began to focus on acting. His big break was in the movie, ‘The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse.’ This movie contained the famous tango scene which made him a star and heartthrob. He made several more movies, his last being ‘The Son Of The Sheik’. Right after the premiere of his last movie, Valentino, age thirty-one, died suddenly of a ruptured ulcer. His death created a worldwide hysteria. There were riots at his lying in state, which had crowds that went on for eleven blocks. Over 80,000 fans attended his funeral. Even now, on the anniversary of his death, women dressed in black go to his tomb.
Mary Pickford: 'America's Sweetheart'
Mary Pickford was born in Canada in 1893. She was known as ‘America’s Sweetheart’ at the height of her success. She was born into a family of actors. She began acting as a child and by the age of ten, she was on Broadway. Her first movie was ‘The Warrens Of Virginia’. She was fourteen. Her star rose fast and soon she had her own production company. She, along with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks organized the United Artists Corporation. She had divorced her first husband then married Fairbanks. Her first talking movie, ‘The Taming Of The Shrew,’ was with her husband and she won an Academy Award for it. After making 194 films, she retired. She went on to produce films with United Artists. She spent her later years doing charity work. She died in 1979, a recluse.
Tags: 1800s | charlie chaplin | greta garbo | Rudolph Valentino | silent film stars, silent films, stars, era of silent films
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