Welcome to the second part of “Appalachians in Moving Pictures.” This endeavor is a four-part series in our “Resurrecting Forgotten Artists” section. The first and second, as you have seen, are devoted to silent film actresses who were born in Appalachia. I chose the term, actress, because the denotation was used in 20th century film. The third and fourth parts will be devoted to Appalachia-born male actors.
Again, I determined the Appalachian birthplaces (from city, then county) from the the Appalachian Regional Commission website. I hope this post brings you a little joy during this difficult time for all of us.
Lulu Glaser (Lillian) was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania on June 2, 1874. She came to Broadway with no experience at all. She was both an actress and a vocalist. In 1900, Glaser formed her own opera company called the “Lulu Glaser Opera Company.” The company’s greatest success was Dolly Varden. Her motion picture career was brief – Animated Weekly, No. 44 (1913, short), Pathè’s Weekly, No. 63 (1913, short), How Molly Malone Made Good (1915), and Love’s Pilgrimage to America (1916).
She was married twice – the first to stage actor, Ralph Herz in 1907. They divorced in 1912. The second, short-lived marriage was in 1916 to actor Tom Richards. They divorced in 1917, the year she also “stopped performing altogether and slipped away into quiet farm life to raise chickens in Connecticut.”
Glaser died in Norwalk, Connecticut on September 5, 1958.
Odessa Warren Grey
Odessa Warren Grey was born August 13, 1883 in Greenfield, Ohio. She was a member of the African American vaudeville company called The Policy Players. She appeared in Lime Kiln Field Club Day (aka, Lime Kiln Field Day) the “oldest movie to date with an entire Black cast.”
After her acting career, she became a successful milliner with her own shop, “Odessa’s Millinery Shop,” in Harlem. (Another source says the name of the shop was “Pioneer millinery establishment by Negroes in Harlem.”) At one point, she became part-owner and manager (until 1935) of the New York Amsterdam News, to help her parents, Edward and Sadie Warren keep the paper afloat. The paper has been “one of the leading Black weekly newspapers for almost 100 years.”
She married musician/actor Joseph W. Grey in 1909. She later married the Deputy Collector for the Department of the Treasury, Roy Francis Morse. He was also a champion athlete. Odessa Warren Grey died in Long Island, New York at the Pilgrim State Hospital on April 28, 1960.
Wanda Hawley (Selma Wanda Pittack – some sources say “Pittach”) was born July 30, 1895 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She was largely a romantic comedy/drama actress for Cecil B. DeMille and Paramount. She graduated with honors from New York’s Master School of Music, sang in opera and was an “accomplished pianist.”
During the 1920s, her “cutesy comedies were no longer in style,” and “she was unable to jump genres.” She grew tired of playing the ditzy girl and tried to venture out in other roles. For some reason, the tabloids were particularly brutal to her. They criticized her weight – whether she gained or lost a few pounds – and issued statements like: “And so audiences tired of the saccharine comedies of Wanda Hawley,” or, “Wanda Hawley was smothered by sugar and the public decided that too much sugar is bad for the system.” Sheesh.
Hawley married Allen Burton Hawley but they divorced in 1922. She married racecar driver Jay Stuart Wilkinson in 1925. They divorced in 1933. In 1938, she married insurance salesman, Justus Livingston Richey and they stayed together until his death in 1957. From what I’ve read, they were a very happy couple.
Wanda Hawley died in Los Angeles, California on March 18, 1963
Henrietta Loveless was born August 26, 1903 in Polk County, Georgia. She married Melvin Anderson in 1928. Loveless starred in The Spider’s Web (1927 lost silent film) and the talkie, Murder in Harlem (1935). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much information on her. I also couldn’t find any photographs of her. And, since the silent film mentioned is lost, no images exist of it, either. She died in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 15, 1934 of “acute myocarditis.”
For further reading, I have compiled a list of websites and/or posts for African American silent film/early film here:
Early African American Film: Reconstructing the History of Silent Race Films 1909-1930
Smithsonian: The Oldest Known Film by an African American Director
Eric Brightwell: A History of Black Cinema 1915-1969
Amoeblog: Black Cinema Part I – Race Movies – the Silent Era (also an Eric Brightwell article/post)
Jobyna (pronounced “Jo-bean-a”) Ralston was born November 21, 1899 in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Her mother was a professional photographer and Jobyna posed for her numerous times. By age nine, Jobyna was a child actor. In 1915, she attended acting school in New York. Her film debut was in the Marx Brothers’ first movie, Humor Risk (lost film). She moved to California in 1921 and became comedian Harold Lloyd’s leading actress in 1923. Ralston starred as Sylvia Lewis in the famous movie, Wings. She married her Wings co-star, Richard Arlen, in 1927 but they divorced in 1945.
Her career spiraled downward. One reason was because she spoke with a lisp, an impediment that hindered her voice in “talkies.” In August 1929, the New York Times wrote that her “utterances are frequently indistinct.” To further her acting career, she performed on stage in a play called Bad Babies (1930) but authorities arrested the whole cast for “lewd and indent exhibition.” Every cast member “opted to pay the $300 fine as opposed to spending 30 days in jail.” She retired from acting shortly after that incident.
As Ralston aged, she suffered from rheumatism and had several strokes. She died of pneumonia on January 22, 1967 in Los Angeles, California.
Her hometown made November 21 “Jobyna Ralston Day,” and installed a state marker in her honor.
Madame Robinson was born in Virginia in 1879. Once again, I had a difficult time finding information on or images of Madame. Two church-going ladies appear as supporting cast members in Body and Soul (1925). I’m pretty sure one of those women is her. She starred in three (known) silent films. She married actor Walter Cornick. Madame Robinson died April 24, 1939 in New York City.
Olive Thomas was born Olivia Duffy on October 20, 1894 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. She married Bernard Krugh Thomas when she was fifteen years old, but they later divorced.
She posed for several illustrators and artists: Harrison Fisher, Howard Chandler Christy, Raphael Kirchner, and William Haskell Coffin. She also posed for Peruvian pin-up artist, Alberto Vargas, in the famous nude portrait, Memories of Olive.
She became a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics, a risqué exhibition where she wore balloons on stage and men were encouraged to pop them with lit cigars. Thomas had an affair with Florenz Ziegfeld, but ended the rendezvous because he refused to leave his wife, Billie Burke, for her. When she became a film actress, Thomas was the first actress to play a flapper girl. She met Jack Pickford , brother of the famous Mary Pickford, at a dance in Santa Monica, California, and they married in October 1916. (Incidentally, on a personal note, I once asked my grandfather which movie star he thought was pretty when he was a young man. He answered, without hesitation, Mary Pickford.)
Their marriage became somewhat strained so the couple decided to rekindle their relationship with a trip to France. One night, they partied late into the evening, and arrived back at their hotel at approximately 3:00 a.m. Evidently, Thomas had difficulty going to sleep because she needed to make a sleeping medication (“sleeping medicine at the time was in a powder form, to be mixed with a liquid for consumption”). Instead of drinking what she thought was this sleeping remedy, she accidentally ingested mercury bi-chloride (used to treat Jack Pickford’s STD, now used as a disinfectant). Jack immediately rushed her to the hospital, where many attempts were made to save her life, from pumping her stomach to inducing her to vomit. But she died five days later on September 10, 1920. Rumors circled about her death, but, after a thorough investigation, authorities deemed her death a tragic accident. From everything I’ve read, Jack Pickford was never the same after her death.
Lois Wilson was born on June 28, 1894 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her career path changed from a teacher to an actress when she won Alabama’s “Universal Beauty Contest.” She played in small or uncredited roles until 1919, when she signed a contract with Paramount (known as Famous Players back then). She was known to have “serene beauty and expressive eyes,” and rapidly acquired leading female roles. Her most notable roles are as Molly Wingate in The Covered Wagon (1923) and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1926).
One source wrote that she was also an amateur photographer and/or videographer, and “filmed invaluable footage” of the United States’ “last major cattle drive” in 1924. She was an actress who navigated her roles wisely. In other words, she wouldn’t be typecast. This was probably a strength in the Silent Film Era, but a weakness once “talkies” came about. When she demanded better roles at the tail end of her silent movies, Paramount suspended her for nine months. Talking pictures arrived soon thereafter and her career fell to supporting roles. She continued a successful career in stage acting and appeared in some television.
Wilson never married and lived with her parents for a good portion of her life. She died of pneumonia in Reno, Nevada on March 3, 1988.
For your enjoyment, consider watching the following silent film clips or movies (listed by actresses in parts I and II)
Ethlyne ClairQueen of the Northwood (1929)
Dolores CostelloThe Sea Beast (1926) Sources say Dolores really fainted after this famous kissin
Helen GardnerCleopatra (1912) – full movie.
Odessa Warren GreyLime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)
Wanda HawleyThe Midnight Message (1926) full movie. She appears at the 10:46 mark.
Jobyna RalstonFor Heaven’s Sake (1926) full movie
Madame RobinsonBody and Soul (1925) full movie
Olive ThomasThe Flapper (1920) full movie
Lois WilsonThe Show-Off (1926) Clip with Louise Brooks. Lois Wilson appears at the 4:42 mar
** Featured Image: Olive Thomas in The Flapper (1920)/ Source: IMDB
Thank you, Delonda, for the clips and silent movies featuring the actresses in your post. I have watched all the clips but it will take me some some to watch all the movies. I really enjoyed watching Ethlyne Clair getting chased by the Wolf Devil. Shades of SPN! I watched The Midnight Messenger but I believe Johnnie Fox, JR. stole the show. I know this project has been a labor of love for you. It shows.
Thank you, Peg. It was very much a labor of love. I enjoyed writing it, but it was certainly much more labor than I expected! I’m glad you watched the clips and look forward to your opinions about the movies. I watched all these in between writings (and sometimes, I must confess, in the process of writing).