The Silent Collection
By Tammy Stone
There isn’t too much information about Colleen Moore out there today, and it
doesn’t help matters that most of her films, once so popular, are either
irretrievably lost to history or not deemed (as of yet) worthy of reissue. In
her heyday, Colleen – not the most beautiful, perhaps not even the most
distinctive – was nevertheless a force to be reckoned with, both at the box
office and in terms of her comedic talent. Touted as one of the three defining
flappers of the twenties – alongside Clara Bow and
Louise Brooks, both
better-remembered today – Colleen was one of the true innovators behind a new
style of female persona that transcended the more pristine images of
Mary Pickford and the
Gish sisters, and brought movie stardom into the modern Jazz
Morrison on August 19, 1902 in Michigan to an irrigation engineer father. Her
parents decided to send her to parochial school, but at a young age, her family
decided to move, taking little Kathleen first to Atlanta, and then to Tampa,
Florida, where she was reportedly happiest. Unlike the troubled or poor
childhoods of her future contemporaries (many perhaps exaggerated for the sake
of good publicity), Colleen always said that she had nothing but fond memories of her childhood. Her parents were very much in love, rarely argued (in her
memory), and provided their daughter with a safe, comforting environment in
which to grow up.
drawn to movies at an early age – by the time she was a little girl, the cinema
was already around a decade old – and she kept a scrapbook of her favourite
actresses, among them the already-huge star, Mary Pickford. Also am ambitious
little girl, she even kept a space at the end of her scrapbook – for herself!
Not many little girls with dreams of being a star actually have the real
intention or the courage to go after this dream! Of course, along with the
dreams come the ardent need to start realizing them, and little Kathleen did
this with whatever means she could find at her disposal. Thus one day she found
a delivery man on her street and implored him to bring a crate into her house –
this would be her first, and certainly not her last, stage.
Colleen and her
friends also used to put on plays in the neighbourhood before going to study at
the Detroit Conservatory, renowned at the time. But she didn’t need to study too
long before finding her way into the movie industry – as with
are everything, and luckily for
Colleen, she had some. Her uncle, Walter Howey,
happened to be editor at the Chicago Tribune (now home to the reviews of Roger
Ebert), and his influence was great enough that he was able to help master
director D.W. Griffith convince censors to approve his masterpieces,
Intolerance and Birth of a Nation.
Colleen wanted nothing more than to enter the movie business, so he pulled some
strings and asked Griffith if he could do anything to help Colleen get her
acting feet wet. Off to Hollywood went Colleen – if only all roads to fame were
paved with such luck and ease. She began working right away; in fact, sources on
these early dates often to send conflicting messages, and Colleen might have
actually moved to Hollywood in 1916, when her first uncredited role, in The
Prince of Graustark, appears. She made several films in 1917, including
The Bad Boy, The Little American and The Savage, before she
had her first breakout role in Little Orphan Annie (1918).
In the next few
years, she was still searching for her identity as a would-be major star, and
acted in several B pictures and Westers, but did not bide her time idly. Between
1918 and 1923 she made no less than 23 films, among them A Roman Scandal
(1919); When Dawn Came and The Devil’s Claim (both 1920); The
Lotus Eater (1921); and Broken Chains (1922). Notably, she played
opposite John Gilbert in The Busher (1919); acted in the legendary King
Vidor’s 1921 film, The Sky Pilot; starred opposite Malcolm MacGregor in
Broken Chains (1922). This was all before she hit the peak of her fame as
a flapper in 1923.
defining flapper role, she made several films that would further entrench her
leading lady status, including Broken Hearts of Broadway, costarring
Johnnie Walker – films about the making of plays or films have always been
popular, and this one was no exception; it also allowed Colleen to show off her
incredible range as an expressive actress. And then came Flaming Youth,
which catapulted her into fame and told the world that a new kind of woman was
here to stay. She bobbed her hair in the China doll style, which she helped made
famous (the better known Clara Bow got this look by imitating Colleen), and
continued to define the flapper style in several films for First National,
Flapper and Flirting with Love (both 1924).
A born diva, Colleen was also shrewd enough not to be upstaged by anyone,
including the up-and-coming star Bow – when they acted together, Moore, still
the reigning star, insisted that only she get all the major close-ups – a
rivalry between the two stars ensued.
In the next few
years, she was at the height of her fame, earning as much as $12,500 per week,
an extraordinary sum at that time for such acclaimed films as Ella Cinders
(1925) , Irene (1926) and Orchids and Ermine (1927). She wasn’t
the greatest beauty around, but she was fun, vivacious and wholly modern. F.
Scott Fitzgerald summed it up well when he said, “I was the spark that lit up
Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have
caused all that trouble.” She was also well-respected for her great comic
ability, impressing many with her comic timing and her incredible reaction shots
to situations her characters would find themselves in. Much of this kind of
talent simply cannot be learned. You either have it or you don’t – and Colleen
Moore had it.
eventually made the transition to sound more successfully than many of her
peers, making such films as The Power and the Glory (1933) and what would
be her final film, The Scarlet Letter (1934). She had a great run as a
star, and lived like one as well. She married no less than four times, and also
knew how to make the most of her money, investing very well, marrying two
stockbrokers and remaining extremely wealthy. The versatile Colleen even wrote
two books, one an autobiography and a book on investing called “How Women Can
Make Money in the Stock Market.” She did make one final appearance on a TV
mini-series called Hollywood in 1980, and died in Paso Robles California on
January 25, 1988 at the age of 87.
Tammy Stone is a freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. Watch for her
regular column on the greats of the Silent Screen in each issue of
Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.
Tammy invites you to write her at
firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments on her column.
Other Colleen Moore Pages:
Jackson's Colleen Moore Page -- She, along with Clara Bow, typified the