Real movie lovers don’t limit themselves to those movies made in the present. True movie lovers have their roots in the history and beginnings of the magic that is movies and the stars that shined brightly to bring those characters we love to life.
For me, my love of movies and a new perspective of them began when I was all of eight-years-old. My grandfather and I spent our Saturday mornings watching old movies on WGN. That was the cool thing about having cable television – old movies.
I was introduced to a whole other part of motion pictures that captivated me and fostered my love for everything cinematic. Even though my grandfather would tell me this actor had “died several years ago” or so-and-so “is pretty old these days”, all I knew was they were great actors and I envied them. Some of them made me laugh myself silly and others made me cry. Silent movies forced me to read in order to know what was happening. I loved it. I was probably the only kid in school who knew or cared to know the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Stan Laurel, and Rudolph Valentino were.
Without further adieu, I give you the Unforgettable Legends of the Silver Screen:
In 1910, while performing with Fred Karno’s vaudeville troupe, Chaplin arrived in New York where he would decide to stay. Three years later, he signed a contract with Keystone Film Company‘s Mack Sennett. Chaplin’s first movie, Making a Living, was released in 1914. In that year alone, Chaplin made a total of 35 movies, which wasn’t uncommon back in the day.
Charlie Chaplin is considered by many to be the greatest comedian to ever live. Anyone watching his movies would have to be absent a funny bone if they don’t laugh.
Another thought about Chaplin is his trademark clothing: an ill-fitting suit, oversized shoes, cane, and bowler hat. When I envision Charlie Chaplin, I see him waddling away from the camera like a penguin and twirling his cane.
Perhaps Chaplin’s most well known character was the Tramp. Charlie Chaplin played the Tramp in a total of eleven movies including: Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914), The Tramp (1915), Shanghaied (1915), A Dog’s Life (1918), and The Kid (1921),
During the McCarthy Era, the U.S. government accused Chaplin of having Communistic tendencies. Outraged, he left the United States and moved to Switzerland where he died in 1977, just two years after Queen Elizabeth II knighted him.
CharlieChaplin.com says of the actor, “Charles Chaplin was one of the rare comedians who not only financed and produced all his films (with the exception of “A Countess from Hong Kong”), but was the author, actor, director and soundtrack composer of them as well.”
Mary Pickford was considered America’s sweetheart. Having come from parents in the acting business, it was in her blood to follow suit. She began performing as Baby Gladys Smith in 1906.
In 1909, when she was 16-years old, Pickford starred in Mrs. Jones Entertains and would go on to appear in a total of 51 movies that year. She would go on to appear in 250 movies, produce 34 movies, direct one movie, and write eleven movies.
Pickford, along with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and D.W. Griffith, formed United Artists Pictures in 1919. She was also among the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The Academy would go on to award her the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1976.
The talented Mary Pickford died in 1979 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. According to Golden Silents, “She was a pioneering, unique artist, writer, and director; a savvy businesswoman in an industry controlled by men, a strong woman who took pride in making quality films which still hold up beautifully today, and she will never be forgotten.”
Silent movies starring Mary Pickford include: Little Red Riding Hood (1911), Cinderella (1914), Madame Butterfly (1915), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921).
Who could forget Stan Laurel with the pouty, whiny face that made him look like a child while scratching his head? Before he was the other half of the famed Laurel and Hardy duo, he was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy with Fred Karno’s vaudeville troop. The first time he came with the troop to America, he made the return trip home to England while Chaplin remained in the U.S. However, on a subsequent trip, he opted to stay and was cast in Nuts in May in 1917. He later made his first two-reeler, 45 Minutes from Hollywood, in 1926 with soon-to-be partner in comedy Oliver Hardy.
Stan Laurel’s movies include: Nuts in May (1917), No Place Like Jail (1918), Mixed Nuts (1919), and The Lucky Dog – a silent movie in which he first worked with partner Oliver Hardy in 1921.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences says of Douglas Fairbanks, “Swashbuckler extraordinaire, actor, comedian, civic leader, industry mogul…Douglas Fairbanks was all that and more.” The Academy added that Fairbanks is “one of the few silent stars whose work resonates with audiences today.”
The first Douglas Fairbanks movie I ever saw was Robin Hood released in 1922 and boy was I hooked. All the swashbuckling action really piqued my interest and left me wanting more.
Other Douglas Fairbanks movies that were released during the silent movie era include: The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Muskateers (1921), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), and The Gaucho (1927).
One of the most charismatic actors of the silent movie era was Italian heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, also known as The Great Lover, The Latin Lover, and The Sheik. He left female fans swooning in his wake. According to IMDb, he was once accused by the Chicago Tribune of “effeminization of the American male”, and rumors were afoot that the actor was gay or bisexual.
Valentino said in 1923, “Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.”
And paint they did. Who could resist that penetrating gaze of his? I always thought he could see right into my soul years and years after he had died. I was hooked.
Other silent movies starring Rudolph Valentino include: The Cheater (1920), The Sheik (1921), The Hooded Falcon (1924), and The Son of the Sheik (1926).
Rudolph Valentino died in New York City in 1926 of a perforated ulcer and blood poisoning. He was just 32-years old.
Did you know?
The first silent movies were only a few minutes in length and by the 1910’s, became more complex and lengthier.
In 1929, after years of experimentation with recording sound, silent films began to go to the wayside to make room for the next era of movies, movies with sound.
With all these old movies still available for our enjoyment, there’s no wonder there are so many of us who can trace our interest and love of movies back to that bygone era of silent movies. Long may they live.
Silent Movies Fan
Charlie Chaplin : Overview of His Life, CharlieChaplin.com
Golden Silents, Mary Pickford, Silent Movie Star – goldensilents.com
Stan Laurel, IMDb
Douglas Fairbanks: The First King of Hollywood | Exhibitions Presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Rudolph Valentino – Biography, IMDb