Real and Fake Silent Movie Kids (and their sudden, violent outbursts)

I am on record as enormously disliking the performances of most child stars of the talkie era. With notable exceptions (Our Gang for one), they are simpering, over-rehearsed and just generally tedious. Talkie kids? Blech! Silent movie kids? Best. Kids. Ever.

The Sunbeam is a delightful little 1912 rom-com from D.W. Griffith’s Biograph period. Two grumps (veteran silent movie parents Claire McDowell and Dell Henderson) are thrown together thanks to a cute orphan and an accidental quarantine. Little Ynez Seabury (I know!) is just as darling as can be and while the plot is a bit simpering, she (and the two grown up performers) sell the heck out of it.

Read my review here.

Baby Peggy discovers that the dictionary can be a little too useful in Captain January. After an obscene parrot expands her vocabulary, our little captain tries to look of the definitions. Oh my!

Read my review here.

Jackie Coogan plays a serial killer in the making in Peck’s Bad Boy, one of the most repulsive silent films I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. Oh, and those pickles he’s shoplifting? $4.02 a pop in modern money! (My mother remembers paying $0.99 in 1965 for a large pickle, which would be $7.54 today. What the heck was up with pickle prices? As a devoted pickle eater, I would have been broke! And, yes, I do love inflation calculators.)

Read my review here.

Sometimes, movie kids will do something EXACTLY the way you used to. Take this little moppet in Alias Jimmy Valentine. I loved to sew but hated threading needles so I would use lengths of thread longer than my arm. (Oh, and the kid grew up to be 1930s good girl Madge Evans. Cool, huh?)

Read my review here.

In Naughty Boy, Lupino Lane (Ida Lupino’s first cousin once removed) is forced to pose as a kid because his father doesn’t want his new date to know he is old enough to have an adult son. It goes as well as you can imagine.

Read my review here.

Daddy Long Legs contains one of Mary Pickford’s best child performances. She’s the scrappy orphan while Fay Lemport plays the spoiled rich kid. Both doing a splendid job, don’t you think?

Read my review here.


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3 Replies to “Real and Fake Silent Movie Kids (and their sudden, violent outbursts)”

  1. Besides an obvious example like The Kid, any there any exceptional examples of serious child performances in silent films? (The final extant reel of The Darling of New York with Baby Peggy is one that also comes to mind) Generally all the silent era child roles I’ve seen are either comedic or cute roles.

  2. Only now did I think of the baby in the rolling carriage in the Odessa Steps sequence of Battleship Potemkin, but that example is probably stretching it. And I forgot about Jacque Feyder’s Faces of Children, one of my all time favorite silents. I’m going off memory on those two.

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