I first came across this fantastic woman last year when I wrote about old Hollywood for my degree.
Today on her birthday she should be remembered for the great acting work she did and the changes she unknowingly helped to make to actresses in the acting world. She isn’t as well known as she should be but this lady is one of the silent greats with around 300 films under her belt.
Florence Lawrence was the first ever actress to have her name promoted. Before hand actresses were unknown by name. The audience just saw a pretty woman acting on screen and either liked or hated what they saw. This paved the way for many actresses becoming known worldwide and getting a slightly better wage. Florence Lawrence was more well known as “The Biograph Girl” or “The Imp Girl” Lawrence and the actress Mary Pickford were the original Biograph Girls when they worked for Biograph Studios. The company didn’t want to pay higher wages so audiences knew the two stars as Biograph Girls instead of their real names.
Florence Annie Bridgwood was born on 2nd January 1886 in Canada, many years before other silent greats like Lillian Gish, Clara Bow and Greta Garbo. Coming from a Vaudeville family gave her a step up in the arts and when she was 20 she stared in her first ever film. She was in around 300 films over the 30 years she starred in films. She was also fortunate enough to work with many production companies throughout her career where some actresses never left the company they originally signed with.
The first movie star’s life wasn’t all good. On the set of Pawns of Destiny (1914) an out of control stage fire burned her hair and caused her to have a bad fall that she would never recover from. She returned to acting but was never the same and sadly committed suicide by ingesting ant paste on the 27th December 1938. Her life was cut short but her achievements are much more than some actresses can boast today.
With around 300 films to choose from I’ve chosen a few films that really show Florence Lawrence’s talent for silent acting and her sheer beauty and passion for her job.
Lady Helen’s Escapade (1909) A short movie directed by D. W. Griffith and produced by Biograph Company. A strange love story where Lady Helen slums it and works at a boarding house where she falls for a dashing musician. Jealousy ensues from the other women.
The Taming of the Shrew (1908) Another short film directed by Griffith. Based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. Lawrence plays a very convincing Katharina to Linda Arvidson’s Bianca.
And for your viewing pleasure: Those Awful Hats (1909)
I’ll let you decide the third… Florence Lawrence as well as having a great name is a great place to start your exploration into silent films. The only main problem is getting hold of the short films to watch. But don’t let that put you off!