HW’s True Hollywood Stories

28 May 2005 /

Florence Lawrence: The First Movie Star

Interesting fact: Prior to 1910, movies did not list the names of the cast members! Actors were just nameless faces on the screen . . .

Florence Lawrence

Movies must have been a lot better in those days . . . no special effects, no merchandising of the actors. A lot of what I dislike about movies would go away if the actors were anonymous . . .

In 1910, at age 24, Florence Lawrence became the first movie performer identified by name. She was already a very popular actress at that time — in 1909, she had starred in 65 films for D.W. Griffith‘s Biograph Studios – but was known only as “The Biograph Girl.”

Then Carl Laemmle, who later founded Universal Pictures, started up the IMP Film Company and lured Florence to IMP with an offer of far more money than the $25 a week she was making at Biograph — plus star billing!

She made almost 300 films in her career, but was not a leading star after 1914, and is almost totally forgotten today. Her later career included unsuccessful comeback attempts in 1916 and 1921, followed by bit parts in the 1920s and 30s.

Ironically, she received no screen credit for her final role in One Rainy Afternoon in 1936.

By 1938, she had divorced or outlived three husbands, and seen a significant part of her fortune evaporate in the Great Depression. A few days after Christmas — alone, discouraged, and suffering from a bone marrow disease — she ended her life with a mixture of ant paste and cough syrup.

She was buried in an unmarked grave (a marker was donated in 1991) at Hollywood Cemetery.

Hooray for Hollywood!


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