‘PRIVATE STATS’ OF SILENT CINEMA STARS REVEALED (OR HIDDEN) IN HISTORIC STUDIO ARCHIVES NOW ONLINE
Thousands of stars of the early silver screen detailed in Motion Picture Studio Directories – online today at Ancestry.co.uk
* Includes records of Charlie Chaplin, “Fatty” Arbuckle and Oliver Hardy
* Directories reveal ‘vital statistics’ stars probably didn’t want you to know…
Ancestry.co.uk, the UK’s favourite family history website, has launched online records of the original Hollywood film studios, which profile the superstars of silent cinema at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Motion Picture Studio Directories feature thousands of leading actors, actresses cinematographers, writers, editors, directors, producers and screenwriters of the day – at a time when cinemas were selling more than 100 million tickets a week.
Actors’ entries include details of past film roles, age, birthplace, physical description (including weight for most female entries), other personal details and even a home phone number in some cases. The biggest stars often paid to include photos in order to attract greater interest from film executives (images available).
The records are littered with recognisable names such as British-born Charlie Chaplin, who reached the height of his fame during the silent film era by using mime and slapstick to great effect. His records describe him as 5’ 4” with brown hair and blue eyes, and list his address as the Charlie Chaplain Film Co on La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles. By 1921 (aged 32), he labels himself a producer/director, and interestingly his record states his birthplace as Paris rather than Walworth in London.
In fact, several actors omitted or amended their information to make them more marketable. The entry for one of the most famous of all silent movie actresses, Gloria Swanson, has the date of birth omitted, despite being just 32 at the time, and Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle - one of the highest paid actors of the silent era - has a number of facts excluded, notably his weight.
Much like today’s online film and actors database IMDB, the directories were compiled by executives of the ‘big five’ studios – Warner Bros, FPL Corp (Paramount), RKO, MGM and 20th Century Fox. ‘Up & coming’ studios also contributed to the records, among them Universal, Columbia and United Artists.
Digitised in partnership with California State Library (where the originals ledgers are held), the records are now fully searchable online for the first time by name, birthplace and date of birth.
Some further famous names listed include:
• Oliver Hardy – The ‘big man’ of comedy double act Laurel & Hardy, Hardy appeared in hundreds of films in a career spanning over 30 years. His directory entry includes his industry nickname ‘Babe’, his unusual height for the era (6’1”) and weight (350lbs/25st).
• Lillian Gish – One of the leading actresses of the silent era and considered to be one of the greatest of all time, Gish played a lead character in The Birth of a Nation – the largest grossing of all silent movies, which made an estimated $10 million in 1915.
• Buster Keaton – Known for his constantly stoic, deadpan expression during his comedy appearances, Keaton earned the nickname “The Great Stone Face”. He is listed as having taken part in military service, fighting for the US in WWI. It is during his service that Keaton developed an ear infection which left his hearing permanently impaired.
• Mary Pickford – Known as the “American Sweetheart” or “Girl with the Curls”, Pickford was a world-renowned actress. Her records detail her career starting as early as five-years-old and list her address as 4500 Sunset Boulevard, LA.
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “These records paint an intriguing picture of how the early film industry operated and include some of the first and biggest names ever to appear on the silver screen.
“It’s fascinating to see the details that would have been kept reserved for film executives of the day and perhaps the details within might provide the link needed to prove your relation to a film executive, famous director or even one many movie stars found in the directories.”
(With thanks to Annabel at Ancestry)