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The Silent Collection

By Tammy Stone


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Ghiradelli's Milk Chocolate card featuring Colleen MooreFan Photo featuring Colleen MooreThere 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 Age.

Born Kathleen 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.

Colleen was 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 5x7 Fan Photo featuring Colleen Mooretoday, connections are everything, and luckily for 1922 American Caramel card featuring Colleen MooreColleen, 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.

Walter knew 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.

Before her 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, including 1931 Jasmatzi Tobacco Card featuring Colleen MooreThe Perfect 1920's Strip Card featuring Colleen MooreFlapper 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.

Colleen 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 The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.  Tammy invites you to write her at with any questions or comments on her column.

Other Colleen Moore Pages:

Denny Jackson's Colleen Moore Page -- She, along with Clara Bow, typified the Roaring Twenties!