Most of the luminaries honored in this second edition of “Forgotten Stars” are, coincidentally, actors who hail from the silent era. To all but the most well-informed Stargayzing cinephiles, this listicle should provide some new and, I hope, interesting information. As I walked Hollywood Boulevard and took photos of the stars, most unknown to me and some just known vaguely by name, I asked myself, “Why did these individuals merit this recognition?” I longed to know more and couldn’t wait to begin the research. I was given pause to realize that 80 years from now there is a very good possibility that, with a few exceptions, the public will not know who most of today’s stars are. For every cinema legend there are so many dozens whose once brilliant place in Hollywood’s fickle firmament has dulled or completely disappeared. Here are ten additional mostly forgotten luminaries who prove that movie stardom, even being a top star of their day, is not an insurance policy on immortality.
“And we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten…there is a land of the living and a land of the dead.”
– writer Thornton Wilder ( 1897-1975)
Jetta Goudal (1891-1985)
Goudal was born Juliette Goudeket into an affluent Jewish family in Amsterdam. Her father was a diamond cutter. After WW1 she emigrated to New York where she began to pass herself off as Parisienne. She began on Broadway in 1921, before transitioning to films, first in New York and then, soon after, in Los Angeles. Her break came in 1923 in a film called The Bright Shawl. Ironically she received great recognition for playing a Jewish girl in New York’s lower east side in the 1925 film Salome of the Tenements. Apparently it was okay to play a Jewish girl as long as you weren’t actually Jewish. Miss Goudal peaked in the mid- to late-1920s, primarily via a series of successful Cecil B. DeMille films. She subsequently had a falling out with the powerful director who claimed she was so temperamental that he cancelled her contract. She sued and won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, as the litigation made her less employable. She married art director Harold Grieve in 1930 and transitioned into a successful interior design business which they ran together. She died in 1985 at age 93, still married to Mr. Grieve.
Marie Doro (1882-1956)
Here is Paul Rothwell-Smith’s mini bio from IMDB Classical stage and movie star Marie Doro a direct descendant of American Politician Patrick Henry. She was born Marie Katherine Steward in Pennsylvania in 1882. Intelligent, beautiful, witty brunette star first began as a chorus girl in musical comedy under the management of impresario Charles Frohman, who took her to Broadway, there she worked for actor/stage director William Gillette appearing in many melodrama, thrillers and comedies including The Admirable Crichton in 1903, Sherlock Holmes in 1905-06, Electricity in 1910 and Diplomacy in 1914. On tour of England in the mid 1900s, she starred with the unknown teenage Charles Chaplin. Marie Doro starred in at least 18 movies, first she was under contract to Adolph Zukor in 1915 making her film debut in the starring role as Carlotta in Edwin S. Porter’s comedy/drama The Morals of Marcus for the Famous Players Film Co. She is perhaps best remembered in the title role of Oliver Twist directed by James Young for the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Co in 1916.
Although still a well-known movie star by the early 1920s she became increasingly disillusioned with Hollywood and her acting career, she returned to the Broadway stage for one last time in Lillies of the Field in 1921, then Doro moved to Europe for a time and starred in few films in Italy and England, the last being Maurice Elvey’s Sally Bishop co-starring Henry Ainley at the Stoll Film Co in 1924. In later life she became increasingly drawn to a more spiritual life, and ended as a recluse, actively avoiding friends and acquaintances. She was briefly married to actor Elliott Dexter, the marriage soon ended in divorce, she had no children and never remarried. Sadly, most of her films are lost today.
Elliott Dexter (1879-1941)
Dexter was born in Galveston, Texas. He began in Vaudeville and on the legitimate stage before transitioning to silents at the relatively late age of 45. He starred in several Cecil B. DeMille productions and co-starred with actresses like Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson (Don’t Change Your Husband). He was briefly married to leading lady Marie Doro in 1915 (see above). He retired from films in 1925. The moment I saw Dexter’s horribly degraded star I knew I had to include him. I wonder if the city of Hollywood doesn’t have anything approximating perpetual care for their Walk of Fame stars; the metaphor of a physical star so neglected adds exponential (and literal) insult to the injury of being forgotten, don’t you think?
Verna Felton (1890-1966)
Miss Felton enjoyed a long career that encompassed radio, film, and TV. Here is the prolific Frank Fob’s mini bio from IMDB: Verna Felton had extensive experience on the stage and in radio before she broke into film and television. Her trademarks were her distinctive husky voice and her no-nonsense attitude. She was quite in demand for voiceover work, as evidenced by her roles in Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Lady and the Tramp (1955). She appeared in many films, but is best remembered as Hilda Crocker in the hit Desilu TV series December Bride (1955-1959)), a character she carried over into its spinoff, Pete and Gladys (1960). Verna died in 1966 at 76 years of age of a stroke. Here is a great short clip of Felton doing some amazing physical comedy from December Bride:
Art Acord (1890-1931)
Acord was a Mormon rodeo champion from Utah who parlayed his skills into an impressive career as one of the most famous silent film cowboys. (An interesting bit of super arcane trivia: he was, allegedly, one of the few cowboys to have successfully ridden Steamboat, the bucking horse who inspired the Wyoming license plate.) After serving in WWI, Acord returned to Hollywood. All told, he made over 100 shorts, most lost today. Heavy drinking and difficulty adapting to talkies ended his career. Sadly, he wound up working in a mine in Mexico. One of the most interesting things about Acord’s life was his death. Acording to sources, he died in a Chihuahua, Mexico hospital in 1931 after “consuming poison,” the result of an apparent suicide after a period of depression. Apparently, many of his friends believed his death was, in fact, murder most evil, owing to an alleged affair with a Mexican politician’s wife. Like most of his body of work, the truth about Acord’s demise have been lost.
Mildred Harris (1901-1944)
Miss Harris began as a child star, making her film debut in 1912. She was known as “Innocent Mildred Harris.” At 15 she appeared in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance as a harem girl with complete frontal nudity which, I imagine, put the end to her nickname. In the 1920s, her golden period, she transitioned to adult parts and became a major star, working opposite some of the most famous leading men of the day, like Rod LaRoque, Lionel Barrymore, and Conrad Nagel. During this time, she was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. A highlight of her film career was her starring role in Frank Capra’s 1928 The Power of the Press, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Like many of her peers, Harris had a difficult transition to sound, though she was critically praised for her performance in the early musical No, No, Nannette (1930). She attempted to continue working in film and, sadly, her last few roles were uncredited or in bit parts, sometimes provided by former peers still in a position to help, like Cecil B. DeMille (Reap the Wild Wind, 1940).
Harris is, perhaps, best remembered as the first wife of Charlie Chaplin whom she was married at age 16 in 1918. The marriage lasted only a few years. Tragically, they had a child in 1919 who lived only three days. Allegedly, she went directly from her relationship with Chaplin to an affair with Edward, Prince of Wales whom she also, allegedly, introduced to Wallis Simpson in 1930. Mildred Harris married twice after Chaplin but died quite young from pneumonia after an operation. She is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She was portrayed by Milla Jovovich in Richard Attenborough’s 1992 film Chaplin opposite the pre-sell out Robert Downey, Jr.
Billie Dove (1903-1997)
Here are excerpts from Gary Brumburgh’s excellent IMDB bio:
“In her heyday, this ravishing and highly photogenic star, known for her voluptuous femininity on the silent screen, rivaled that of Mary Pickford, Marion Davies and Clara Bow in popularity. She retired after only a few years into the talking picture-era, however, and is not as well-remembered in today’s film circles as the aforementioned. Billie Dove was born Lillian Bohny on May 14, 1903 (several sources list 1900), to Swiss parents Charles and Bertha Bohny who emigrated to New York City before she was born. Educated in private schools in Manhattan, she was already singled out as quite a beauty in early teens. By 15 and 16 she was helping to support the family by working as both a photographer and artist’s model. It is said that the renowned poster painter/illustrator James Montgomery Flagg sketched her during this period. Although she could neither sing nor dance all that well, this stunning beauty was subsequently hired by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. to appear in his famous Follies. She was eventually given solo entrances in his extravaganzas (one was for the song “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody”), and also appeared as gorgeous window dressing in a few of his Follies’ sideshows — the Midnight Frolics and Nine O’Clock Revues — all between the years 1918 and 1920. Billie also served as a dancing replacement in Ziegfeld’s Broadway show Sally, which headlined Marilyn Miller in 1921.
A burgeoning affair between Dove and Ziegfeld prompted Ziegfeld’s wife Billie Burke to arrange work out West for the young starlet in Hollywood films. Making her featured debut in George M. Cohan’s Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921), based on the 1910 Broadway play, the cameras instantly fell in love with the beautiful newcomer. Immediately set to star in what was only her second picture, Billie appeared in the backstage romantic drama At the Stage Door (1921) the story of a chorus girl and her sister (also a chorine) who compete for the affections of a wealthy patron. From there Billie went on to appear opposite some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men — from glossy, dramatic stars such as John Gilbert and Warner Baxter to sturdy cowboy idols Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson — and in several different genres. Billie also graced a number of pictures helmed by Irvin Willat, whom she married in 1923. These included All the Brothers Were Valiant (1923) co-starring Lon Chaney; the Zane Grey western Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924); The Air Mail (1925) with Baxter and Douglas Fairbanks; and The Ancient Highway (1925). Top stardom came while swept up in the arms of the dashing Fairbanks as the starry-eyed princess who is rescued by The Black Pirate (1926) in the classic silent adventure.
Billie was the first actress to receive a color screen test via this pirate yarn. Lovingly dubbed “The American Beauty” after appearing in the movie of the same title, The American Beauty (1927), in which she played a social-climbing hat check girl, Billie’s acting talent was considered modest. Her better pictures were those opposite stronger male actors and/or directors. Pioneer female director Lois Weber fit the bill and brought out the best in Billie in two of her films — The Marriage Clause (1926) with Francis X. Bushman and Sensation Seekers (1927). Divorced from Willat in 1929, Billie was still at the peak of her popularity come the advent of sound. The great multi-millionaire eccentric and (at that time) budding producer Howard Hughes became an obsessed admirer, which resulted in an all-consuming three-year affair. Hughes, who tried to take over and control her career, actually proposed to the star and they were briefly engaged. She abruptly ended the relationship, however, when she was unable to handle his quirkiness and long, unexplained absences. For Hughes she appeared on screen in the dramatic The Age for Love (1931) and comedic Cock of the Air (1932). In Blondie of the Follies (1932), the Marion Davies starrer, Dove was dismayed when her third-billed role was “trimmed” and “reshaped” at the urging of Davies’ highly influential paramour William Randolph Hearst. This was to be her last film, retiring from the screen shortly thereafter.
By 1933, she had remarried and focused on having a family. Married to Robert Kenaston, a rancher, oil executive, and real estate investor, in 1933, they had one son (Robert Alan) and an adopted daughter (Gail). The couple divorced in 1970 after thirty-seven years of marriage (he died three years later). A third marriage to architect John Miller also ended in divorce. Other than an unbilled bit part of a nurse in the movie Diamond Head (1963) with Charlton Heston, Dove never returned to the screen. She was eventually transferred from her Rancho Mirage (California) home to live out the rest of her life at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills. The nonagenarian died of pneumonia in 1997.”
William S. Hart (1864-1946)
Here is Ed Stephan’s terrific IMDB bio:
“A storybook hero, the original screen cowboy, ever forthright and honest, even when (as was often the case) he played a villain, William S. Hart lived for a while in the Dakota Territory, then worked as a postal clerk in New York City. In 1888 he began to study acting. In 1899 he created the role of Messala in Ben-Hur, and received excellent reviews for his lead part in The Virginian (1907) [both on the stage]. His first film was a two-reeler, His Hour of Manhood (1914). In 1915 he signed a contract with Thomas H. Ince and joined Ince’s Triangle Film Company. Two years later he followed Ince to Famous Players-Lasky and received a very lucrative contract from Adolph Zukor. His career began to dwindle in the early 1920s due to the publicity surrounding a paternity suit against him, which was eventually dismissed. He made his last film, Tumbleweeds (1925), for United Artists and retired to a ranch in Newhall, California. By that time audiences were more interested in the antics of a Tom Mix or Hoot Gibson than the Victorian moralizing of Hart. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, NY.” An interesting bit of trivia, also from IMDB: “(Hart) Donated his estate to the City of Los Angeles, on the condition they install a fountain and use the park for the arts. Today, the internationally renowned Actors Studio has its West Coast branch at the William S. Hart Park, in West Hollywood, in Hart’s old estate.”
May McAvoy (September 8, 1899 – April 26, 1984)
Miss McAvoy is best remembered as the female lead opposite Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, the 1927 Warner Bros. film that is generally regarded as the first “talkie” (it isn’t; it is, rather, a silent film with sound musical numbers. Miss McAvoy’s voice is not heard). She did, however speak in Warner Bros.’ second “all-talkie” film, The Terror, directed by Roy DelRuth and co-starring Conrad Nagel. A New York City native, McAvoy made her film debut in a 1917 film entitled Hate and made over three dozen films, mostly in the silent era. Aside from her role in The Jazz Singer, McAvoy is probably best known for playing Esther in the legendary 1925 version of Ben-Hur, which also starred Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. Miss McAvoy was married once but never had children. She died in 1984 from a heart attack.
Kent Taylor (1907-1987)
Popular “B” actor of the 1930s and 1940s who later enjoyed success on television. Here are some excerpts from Gary Brumburgh’s IMDB bio:
“Born Louis William Weiss, the tall, dark and handsome leading man who sported rugged looks, a slick, pencil-thin mustache and solid physique was certainly star material with the potential and durability of a Clark Gable and Errol Flynn, but he somehow lacked the star quality and charisma of the aforementioned pair. An avid outdoorsman, Taylor nevertheless churned out over 110 films during his lengthy career, appearing in a number of quality “A” pictures as a second lead. The son of farmers, he was born just southeast of Nashua, Iowa. As a teenager he performed in several high school plays. The family then moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where he made a living as a window trimmer in a ladies’ clothing shop. After a brief move to Chicago, the family relocated to Los Angeles, where his father and he started an awning company.
Taylor pursued acting as a profession after being introduced to director Henry King. He apprenticed for a couple of years in bit parts after making his unbilled debut in The Magnificent Lie (1931). He peaked in the 1930s with prominent support roles in Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) with Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney, I’m No Angel (1933) as one of Mae West’s earnest pursuers, the classic Death Takes a Holiday (1934) again with Fredric March, and Ramona (1936) top-lining Loretta Young and Don Ameche, which was directed by his old friend Henry King. Taylor then starred in his own modest succession of “B” programmers throughout the 1940s which, at the very least, kept him busy and in the public eye. More noticeable during this period was his portrayal of Doc Holiday in Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die (1942) opposite Richard Dix’s Wyatt Earp.
With his film career on the decline, Taylor turned more and more to TV, becoming the medium’s Boston Blackie (1951) for a couple of seasons, a role that had him following in the popular footsteps of Chester Morris, who starred in a series of Boston Blackie films as the urbane master thief-cum-detective. He followed that with a lead in the series The Rough Riders (1958). Taylor was also a frequent visitor on the sets of popular western series, including Zorro (1957), Laramie (1959), The Rifleman (1958) and Rango (1967). Toward the end of his career, however, the elderly actor took a bizarre John Carradine-like turn into Grade “Z” schlock. Some of these included The Crawling Hand (1963), Brides of Blood (1968), Satan’s Sadists (1969), Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970), Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1967) and Girls for Rent (1974). Taylor died following a series of heart operations at the age of 79.