With the video revolution of the past 20 years, many of us are seeing silent films and wondering what happened to some of the players we have enjoyed. Many of these players were moderately successful, but when they left Hollywood, they seem to have vanished without a trace.
With the 1995 publication of Billy Doyle’s book, The Ultimate Directory of the Silent Screen Performers, we can now find answers to many of our questions. This is a book which has required decades of research to put together, probably at an astronomical cost to the author. Through social security records, obituaries and other sources, Mr. Doyle provides birth and death dates for over 7,000 other performers of the silent era.
Billy Doyle is very dedicated to the revival of lost screen players. He presents the reader with 50 fascinating essays, with a photo section of several of these principals. In the “Lost Players” section, Mr. Doyle relates to us the sad story of what happened to Mary Fuller, who gained fame in the Edison serial, What Happened to Mary? (1912). She remained a star for a few years, and then seemingly disappeared from the planet. Mr. Doyle tracked down family members through social security records, and tells us how Mary Fuller suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of a broken heart, and eventually was committed to an insane asylum for the last 25 years of her life. She died in 1973 at the age of 85 while still institutionalized. In another essay, we find out what happened to Mollie King, the heroine of the Mystery Of the Double Cross (Pathe, 1917). He reveals her final days as well. Especially dear to Mr. Doyle’s heart (who is a native of Kentucky) is Kentucky born film star Virginia Pearson. She was the greatest rival of Theda Bara. He has gathered tough to find information on Miss Pearson that brings her back for recognition in the silent film renaissance.
Among the other “lost” players featured in this section are Marjorie Daw, who starred with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in more of his features than any other actress; Francelia Billington, leading lady of Westerns and also known for her role in Blind Husbands (Universal, 1922); Maude George, who supported Erich von Stroheim in four of his directed films for Universal – ironically this lost player appeared in a von Stroheim film on the Silents Majority lost film list, The Devil’s Passkey (Universal/Jewel Production, 1920); Pauline Bush, who starred in dozens of films with the great Lon Chaney in support in the 1910’s; Fred Mace, popular Keystone comedy star who perished professionally and personally when he left Sennett’s employ; and Martha Mansfield, who supported John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Paramount-Artcraft, 1920). Speaking of Barrymore, S. (Sidney) Rankin Drew is also highlighted. He is the cousin and contemporary of Lionel, Ethel and John. Also included are Lillian Hall, famous for The Last Of the Mohicans (Maurice Tourneur Productions, 1920); and Dorothy Phillips, who starred in Heart Of Humanity (Universal, 1918) besides appearing with Lon Chaney in over 15 films previously. There are more lost players you will be glad you became aquainted with, such as Fay Tincher, Leah Baird, Bessie Eyton, William Garwood, Winifred Greenwood, David Powell and many others.
Many reviewers have measured The Ultimate Directory of the Silent Screen Performers to Gene Vazzana’s Silent Film Necrology (McFarland, 1995). Vazzana’s book approaches the subject of deceased silent stars from an entirely different angle, listing vital information and research resources. In Mr. Doyle’s book, we have the 50 essays which provide in-depth, valuable information, much of which is exclusive to Doyle’s book. In the birth and death section, Doyle covers players who do not appear in the Vazzana book. Mr. Vazzana credits Doyle’s massive research for the foundation of his own book. Each book is unique in it’s own right, and these two engrossing volumes compliment rather than compete with each other.
The Ultimate Directory of the Silent Screen Performers is one that no cinema history library should be without.