Astonishing Silent Women

by dictracy23 | created - 10 Mar 2014 | updated - 28 Oct 2017 | Public

as they are all equally astonishing, the order is random

1. Lillian Gish

Actress | The Night of the Hunter

Lillian Diana Gish was born on October 14, 1893, in Springfield, Ohio. Her father, James Lee Gish, was an alcoholic who caroused around, was rarely at home and left the family to more or less fend for themselves. To help make ends meet, Lillian, her sister Dorothy Gish and their mother, Mary Gish ...

2. Mary Pickford

Actress | Coquette

Mary Pickford was born Gladys Marie Smith in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to Elsie Charlotte (Hennessy) and John Charles Smith. She was of English and Irish descent. Pickford began in the theater at age seven. Then known as "Baby Gladys Smith", she toured with her family in a number of theater ...

3. Clara Bow

Actress | Wings

Clara Gordon Bow, destined to become "The It Girl", was born on July 29, 1905 in Brooklyn, New York, and was raised in poverty and violence. Her often absentee and brutish father could not or did not provide and her schizophrenic mother tried to slit Clara's throat when the girl spoke of becoming ...

4. Louise Brooks

Actress | Die Büchse der Pandora

Mary Louise Brooks, also known by her childhood name of Brooksie, was born in the midwestern town of Cherryvale, Kansas, on November 14, 1906. She began dancing at an early age with the Denishawn Dancers (which was how she left Kansas and went to New York) and then with George White's Scandals ...

5. Anna May Wong

Actress | Daughter of Shanghai

Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, was born Wong Liu Tsong on January 3, 1905, in Los Angeles, California, to laundryman Wong Sam Sing and his wife, Lee Gon Toy. A third-generation American, she managed to have a substantial acting career during a deeply racist time when the ...

6. Edna Purviance

Actress | A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate

Edna Purviance began working as a stenographer in San Francisco. Charles Chaplin invited her to join him at Essanay Studio in 1915, the year of her film debut in Chaplin's His Night Out. Over the next seven years she appeared as his leading lady in over 20 Chaplin films made by Essanay, Mutual, and...

7. Gloria Swanson

Actress | Sunset Blvd.

Gloria Swanson went to public schools in Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film debut was as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915). From the following year on, she had leading roles in pictures for Keystone, then a year with Triangle, and, in...

8. Norma Talmadge

Actress | Camille

Norma Talmadge was born on May 26, 1895, in Jersey City, New Jersey. The daughter of an unemployed alcoholic and his wife, Norma did not have the idyllic childhood that most of us yearn for. Her father left the family on Christmas Day and his wife and three daughters had to fend for themselves. Her...

9. Greta Garbo

Actress | Ninotchka

Greta Garbo was born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Anna Lovisa (Johansdotter), who worked at a jam factory, and Karl Alfred Gustafsson, a laborer. She was fourteen when her father died, which left the family destitute. Greta was forced to leave school and ...

10. Zasu Pitts

Actress | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Classic comedienne Zasu Pitts, of the timid, forlorn blue eyes and trademark woebegone vocal pattern and fidgety hands, was born to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, the third of four children on January 3, 1894. Her aged New York-native father, who lost a leg back in the Civil War era, had settled...

11. Mabel Normand

Actress | Mickey

Mabel Normand was one of the comedy greats of early film. In an era when women are deemed 'not funny enough' it seems film history has forgotten her contributions. Her films debuted the Keystone Cops, Charlie Chaplin's tramp and the pie in the face gag. She co-starred with both Chaplin and Roscoe "...

12. Joan Crawford

Actress | What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1904, in San Antonio, Texas, to Anna Belle (Johnson) and Thomas E. LeSueur, a laundry laborer. By the time she was born, her parents had separated, and by the time she was a teenager, she'd had three stepfathers. It wasn't an easy life; ...

13. Marie Dressler

Actress | Min and Bill

Once you saw her, you would not forget her. Despite her age and weight, she became one of the top box office draws of the sound era. She was 14 when she joined a theater group and she went on to work on stage and in light opera. By 1892, she was on Broadway and she later became a star comedienne on...

14. Norma Shearer

Actress | The Divorcee

She won a beauty contest at age fourteen. In 1920 her mother, Edith Shearer, took Norma and her sister Athole Shearer (Mrs. Howard Hawks) to New York. Ziegfeld rejected her for his "Follies," but she got work as an extra in several movies. She spent much money on eye doctor's services trying to ...

15. Marion Davies

Actress | Going Hollywood

Marion Davies, was one of the great comedic actresses of the silent era and into the '30s.

Marion Cecelia Douras was born in the borough of Brooklyn, New York on January 3, 1897, the daughter of Rose (Reilly) and Bernard J. Douras, a lawyer and judge. Her parents were both of Irish descent. Marion ...

16. Mary Astor

Actress | The Maltese Falcon

Mary Astor was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke, on May 3, 1906 in Quincy, Illinois to a German immigrant father, Otto Ludwig Langhanke, and an American mother from Illinois, Helen Marie Vasconcellos, of Portuguese and Irish ancestry. Her parents were very ambitious for her as they recognized ...

17. Loretta Young

Actress | The Farmer's Daughter

Sweet, sweeter, sweetest. No combination of terms better describes the screen persona of lovely Loretta Young. A&E's Biography (1987) has stated that Young "remains a symbol of beauty, serenity, and grace. But behind the glamour and stardom is a woman of substance whose true beauty lies in her ...

18. Jean Arthur

Actress | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

This marvelous screen comedienne's best asset was only muffled during her seven years' stint in silent films. That asset? It was, of course, her squeaky, frog-like voice, which silent-era cinema audiences had simply no way of perceiving, much less appreciating. Jean Arthur, born Gladys Georgianna ...

19. Eleanor Boardman

Actress | Souls for Sale

Philadelphia-born Eleanor Boardman had always wanted to be an actress, and as soon as she graduated high school she headed for New York to conquer Broadway. When Broadway proved not quite ready to be conquered yet, she took whatever jobs she could find, including one as an artist's model. In that ...

20. Helen Hayes

Actress | Airport

Known as "The First lady of the American Theater", Helen Hayes had a legendary career on stage and in films and television that spanned over eighty years. Hayes was born in Washington, D.C., to Catherine Estelle "Essie" Hayes, an actress who worked in touring companies, and Francis van Arnum Brown,...

21. Blanche Sweet

Actress | Judith of Bethulia

Born into a family of show people, Blanche Sweet first appeared on the stage when she was 18 months old. She was a dancer by the time she was four and a talented actress by 1909 when she started work at the Biograph with D.W. Griffith. By 1910, aged 14, she was four years younger than Mary Pickford...

22. Florence Lawrence

Actress | Not Like Other Girls

Florence Lawrence was the first film player whose name was used to promote her films and the studio (Independent Moving Pictures Company [IMP]) for which she worked. Before her, actors and actresses worked anonymously, partly out of fear that stage managers would refuse to hire them if they were ...

23. Billie Burke

Actress | The Wizard of Oz

Billie Burke was born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke on August 7, 1885 in Washington, D.C. Her father was a circus clown, and as a child she toured the United States and Europe with the circus (before motion pictures and after the stage, circuses were the biggest form of entertainment in the...

24. Myrna Loy

Actress | The Thin Man

Myrna Loy was born Myrna Adele Williams on August 2, 1905 in Helena, Montana, to Adelle Mae (Johnson) and David Franklin Williams. Her paternal grandparents were Welsh, and her mother was of Scottish and Swedish descent. Myrna was raised in Helena and nearby Radersburg. Her father, a rancher, was ...

25. Helen Twelvetrees

Actress | Millie

Helen Twelvetrees was born Helen Marie Jurgens in Brooklyn, New York on December 25, 1908. Her interest in the theatricals was apparent at an early age. After graduating from high school. Helen embarked on a stage career. She participated in a number of plays in New York City, but gravitated toward...

26. Marceline Day

Actress | The Cameraman

The younger sister of actress Alice Day, Marceline Day achieved stardom in the mid-'20s, appearing opposite such stars as John Barrymore and Lon Chaney. Adept at comedy, she also starred with such top comics as Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon. Her career faltered in the early '30s, however, and she...

27. Madge Evans

Actress | Dinner at Eight

Lovely Madge Evans was the perennial nice girl in films of the 1930's. By then, she had been in front of the camera for many years, starting with Fairy Soap commercials at the age of two (she sat on a bar of soap holding a bunch of violets with the tag line reading "have you a little fairy in your ...

28. Pearl White

Actress | The Perils of Pauline

Born on her father's farm in Green Ridge, Missouri, the youngest of five children. Moved with her family to Springfield, Missouri, where she grew up. Joined the Diemer Theatre Company during her second year of high school, and went on the road with a touring stock company at age 18, in 1907. Signed...

29. Mary Boland

Actress | The Women

Lively, buxom character actress Mary Boland made a name for herself playing vacuous or pixilated motherly types during the 1930s. One of her most memorable performances was as the addle-brained Mrs. Rimplegar of Three Cornered Moon (1933), who gives away her family fortune to a swindler because he ...

30. Gladys Cooper

Actress | My Fair Lady

Gladys Cooper was the daughter of journalist William Frederick Cooper and his wife Mabel Barnett. As a child she was very striking and was used as a photographic model beginning at six years old. She wanted to become an actress and started on that road in 1905 after being discovered by Seymour ...

31. Pola Negri

Actress | Die Bergkatze

Pola Negri was born in Lipno, Poland, and moved to Warsaw as a child. Living in poverty with her mother, a teenage Pola auditioned and was accepted to the Imperial Ballet. Due to an illness that ended her dancing career, she soon switched to the Warsaw Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts and became ...

32. Theda Bara

Actress | A Fool There Was

Theda Bara was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, as Theodosia Goodman, on July 29, 1885. She was the daughter of a local tailor and his wife. As a teenager Theda was interested in the theatrical arts and once she finished high school, she dyed her blond hair black and went in pursuit of her dream. By 1908 ...

33. Colleen Moore

Actress | Why Be Good?

Colleen Moore was born Kathleen Morrison in Port Huron, Michigan. Her father was an irrigation engineer and his job was good enough to provide the family a middle-class environment. She was educated in parochial schools and studied at the famed Detroit Conservatory. Colleen's family moved to ...

34. Dolores Costello

Actress | Little Lord Fauntleroy

Dolores Costello was once known as the Goddess of the Silent Screen but is probably best remembered today as Drew Barrymore's grandmother. She was born in 1905 to actors Maurice Costello and Mae Costello. Her father began his film career in 1908. He would soon become the most popular matinée idol of...

35. Ethel Barrymore

Actress | None But the Lonely Heart

Ethel Barrymore was the second of three children seemingly destined for the actor's life of their parents Maurice and Georgiana. Maurice Barrymore had emigrated from England in 1875, and after graduating from Cambridge in law had shocked his family by becoming an actor. Georgiana Drew of ...

36. Marie Prevost

Actress | The Racket

Popular star in Hollywood for two decades through 1936, Marie Prevost began as a Mack Sennett "Bathing Beauty" in 1917, later starring in dozens of light comedies. But not long into the sound era, she encountered problems with her burgeoning weight, to the jeopardy of her career. Her self-remedy ...

37. Janet Gaynor

Actress | A Star Is Born

Janet Gaynor was born Laura Gainor on October 6, 1906, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a child, she & her parents moved to San Francisco, California, where she graduated from high school in 1923. She then moved to Los Angeles where she enrolled in a secretarial school. She got a job at a shoe ...

38. Dorothy Mackaill

Actress | Bulldog Drummond at Bay

Dorothy Mackaill was 11 when her parents separated; she then lived with her father. A rebellious teenager, Dorothy -- who had long wanted a career in the theater -- ran away to London and finally persuaded her father to pay for her board and lessons. Her first job was in the chorus; she then ...

39. Marlene Dietrich

Soundtrack | Witness for the Prosecution

Her father was a police lieutenant and imbued in her a military attitude to life. Marlene was known in school for her "bedroom eyes" and her first affairs were at this stage in her life - a professor at the school was terminated. She entered the cabaret scene in 1920s Germany, first as a spectator ...

40. Mae Busch

Actress | Sons of the Desert

Mae Busch can certainly claim career versatility, having successfully played Erich von Stroheim's mistress, Lon Chaney's girlfriend, Charley Chase's sister, James Finlayson's ex-wife and Oliver Hardy's wife! She was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1891; her parents were in the theater and when she...

41. Betty Compson

Actress | Mr. & Mrs. Smith

A mining engineer's daughter, blond, blue-eyed Betty Compson began in show business playing violin in a Salt Lake City vaudeville establishment for $15 a week. Following that, she went on tour, accompanied by her mother, with an act called 'the Vagabond Violinist'. Aged eighteen, she appeared on ...

42. Barbara Bedford

Actress | The Last of the Mohicans

Barbara Bedford was born on July 19, 1903 in Eastman, Wisconsin, USA as Violet Rose. She was an actress, known for The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Smoke Bellew (1929) and Sunshine of Paradise Alley (1926). She was married to Terry Spencer, Alan Roscoe and Irvin Willat. She died on October 25, 1981...



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