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.
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.)
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?)
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.
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?
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