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The Silent Collection

By Tammy Stone

Featuring:
Corinne Griffith

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1923 Corinne Griffith Picturegoer At Home Card1930 Corinne Griffith BAT Tobacco CardFrom beauty queen to movie star: this was the trajectory for Corinne Griffith, a silent era starlet lived the dream before it was the dream of every little girl growing up in later decades. (Maybe not every little girl, but more and more every generation). So let’s turn back the clock and see how it all began for the Toast of Hollywood, about whom it was allegedly said: “There are pretty women and there are beautiful women and there are witty women. And there is Corinne Griffith.”

Corinne was born in Texarkana – you guessed it, Texas – on November 21, 1894, which isn’t to say there’s no dispute over her year of birth. We can easily guess that she was a couple of years older than her stated age, but at least Corinne Griffith was her real name. After a few years of school, she moved to New Orleans to join the Sacred Heart Convent. We know she didn’t follow this route to its logical end!

Even while in school, Corinne was starting to get noticed for her beauty; she was quite the gal about town and once won a Mardi Gras beauty competition. There was a solid class system in place back then, and Corinne became established in the society set. In fact, it was at one gala affair that she met one of the early moving picture directors, Rolin Sturgeon of the Vitagraph company. She loved the attention and vied to show him what she was made of. It’s said that he granted her a picture contract that night. She was still young, and her parents weren’t sure she should get into the business, but as fate would have it, the biz beckoned, and Corinne and her mother were soon moving to California, bypassing the New York film industry altogether, for a time.

It was 1916, and Corinne was about to make it big. At 5 feet 4 inches and of slender build, she was a natural beauty. She began with short films in the Western genre, but it wasn’t long before she was getting leading roles. After a year in California, Vitagraph decided to move her to New York – quite a shock to someone accustomed to warmer climes. With many films being made on location in those days (before the studios beefed 1928 Corinne Griffith Wills "Film Favourites" Tobacco Cardup their in-house sets), she was forced to work in such non-glamorous locales as the Hudson River and Ashokan Dam – at least a good film came out of it, 1918’s The Girl of Today. Apparently the cold was a little too much for her; we’re not sure how sick she became, but there were rumors of her freezing and taking some time off before her next project.

It’s hard to say when she did take this time off, because she made an impressive 35 films between 1916 and 1922; this was by far her most productive period. Films from this era, some of which have survived, include: A Fool and His Friend and The Last Man (both 1916); The Stolen Treaty (1917); Miss Ambition (1918); The Girl Problem (1919); Human Collateral (1920); Moral Fibre (1921); and Island Wives and A Virgin’s Sacrifice (both 1922). Westerns, melodramas, morality fables; the movies were up for all kinds of entertainment, and Corinne wore many of these heroine hats perfectly.

After 1922, she had caught the attention of the bigwigs, and in 1923, she made a film with Goldwyn and then another with the infamous David O. Selznick. She then signed with First National, a big studio at the time. While she wasn’t nearly as prolific as many of her peers, she did make approximately 19 films with First National – with one detour: The Garden of Eden, which she made with United Artists (Fairbanks and Pickford’s company) in 1928. Her relationship with First National was so strong, though, that she even executive produced on a number of them. Among her films from these years, that is, before the coming of sound: The Common Law (1923); Love’s Wilderness (1924); Infatuation (1925); In Her Kingdom (1926); The Lady in Ermine (1927); Outcast (1928); Prisoners (1929); and Back Pay (1930), her third last film.

So who was the woman behind these divas, goddesses and girls-next-door? Well, Corinne was said to be a workaholic and very diligent in her craft. She loved watching daily rushes of her films and being involved in the creative process. Much of the information we have about Corinne is gleaned from the press of the day, and we all know how spin doctors (aka publicists) like to work their magic. So little is known for certain; apparently, Corinne was a virtuous woman who would not smoke or wear make-up in person; nor did she want to be exposed to things like dirty jokes. This contributed to her reputation as a lady of dignity and grace.

We already know she had business savvy, having exec-produced some of her films; she accumulated a lot of money this way, though she didn’t live big. She had been in New York for four years, and bought a nice home when she moved back to California; it wasn’t extravagant, though, and she wasn’t a partier – Corinne Griffith on cover of Colonial Theater Program Mar. 30, 1924perhaps this is why she didn’t make quite as many films as some of her more legendary peers. Or maybe it was Corinne Griffith ad in an Irving Theatre Flyer playing Sep. 17, 1930because of her work ethic. We can only guess all these decades later.

Was Corinne a star of epic proportions? She was petite, beautiful and as the press had it, endowed with the softest hands. Her looks were admired more than her acting abilities when her films were reviewed. Her films did well, though none necessarily stand out. She got press coverage, but wasn’t a media darling. She was married and divorced twice – first to filmmaker Webster Campbell of Vitagraph and then to producer Walter Morosco – while she was at the height of her popularity, but wasn’t embroiled in juicy gossip and scandal. She was, in 1924, voted sixth top box-office attraction, tying with Rudolph Valentino. It is noted that more people were naming their children Corinne after her than other names of famous stars. But her films didn’t do as well as, say, her peer Colleen Moore’s – they both worked at First National and there was some semi-fierce competition between the two.

After her final silent film – The Divine Lady – Corinne made two talkies with First National, and they didn’t go over too well with the critics, both because the storylines lacked the sophistication no required of the new sound films and because her performances were weak. Corinne did what many of her peers did and went to Europe to try again. She made a film in England for Paramount, 1932’s Lily Christine, and threw in the towel. She married again, to George Marshall, then-owner of the Boston Braves – the marriage lasted from 1936 to 1958. During that time, she started writing, first for newspapers and then a book about her new relationship with sports. She then wrote several more books, including "Hollywood Stories" (1962) and "Papa’s Delicate Condition", which was made into a Jackie Gleason film.

Corinne never quite left the industry, as we’ve seen. She also chaired The Committee for Honoring Motion Picture Stars for a time, and then married one final time, at the age of 71 in 1965. Dan Scholl was 33 years younger than her, and the marriage lasted six weeks. This seems impulsive for a woman known throughout her career to be such a stable and untainted (by scandal) star. But she was certainly thrifty, because when she died, on July 13, 1979 in Beverly Hills, she was extremely wealthy, leaving behind an estate worth around $150 million. A few of her films remain, including The Garden of Eden, and these bear witness to the beauty and tenacity of this ever-mysterious starlet-turned-mogul.
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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 tammystone444@yahoo.ca with any questions or comments on her column.

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