Where are the Vamps of Yesteryear? Five Wicked Movie Women of 100+ Years Ago

What may come as a surprise to modern readers is just how early “Where are they now?” articles cropped up in film history. Here’s a particularly interesting specimen from exactly 100 years ago when the first vampire film craze was winding down.

Ask a silent film fan to name some movie vamps and they will probably list Theda Bara, Valeska Suratt, Louise Glaum, etc. But this article makes it clear that there were other vamps to contend with, women who had already given up the “Kiss me, my Fool!” game in 1918. (Top Vamp Bara would take a hiatus starting in late 1919.)

Vamps were basically called upon to be metaphorical bloodsuckers, taking everything from their twitterpated victims and then casting them aside. This was all done whilst wearing huge plumes, beaded gowns, heavy makeup and bold patterns, the vixens! Thanks to her association with William S. Hart, whose films are unusually plentiful for a silent star, Louise Glaum probably has the most plentiful surviving footage. Poor Theda Bara only has one proper vamp film surviving and Valeska Suratt has no films at all in existence. (Let me know if you find one!)

The tools of the vamping trade.

Vamps were quite the rage in the 1910s but diminished in popularity by the end of the decade and were pretty much a punchline. Here are some forgotten vamps who left their bloodsucking ways ahead of the vampire crash. This article was published in Photoplay in 1918:

Two or three years ago, Vamps were Vamps. When you saw one, it was the proper thing to gasp, “Isn’t she awful?” and say, “My dear, I simply cannot understand how that woman ever — ” and then you would stay to see it through another time. They were real Vamps then — you hated them; or you loved ’em. Now, it’s different. You just can’t hate the poor creatures. Everywhere you go, a Vamp is thrust upon you — mostly near-Russian Vamps. And we are beginning to feel that maybe Vampires always were imposed upon, anyway. Yesterday, the entrance on the screen of a luxuriantly-appointed Vampire was the occasion of much awed comment ; now, it causes not even a flutter. Of all these ladies pictured here, not one is a-Vamping today.

Alice Hollister — pictorially inactive at present — says she was the Screen’s
First Vampire. That’s nothing: we’d like to know who’ll be the last.

Note: Hollister did indeed star in The Vampire in 1913, two years before Bara’s debut as The Woman Who Didn’t Care.

Helen Gardner was once hated by every wife and mother in the Middle West. She was “A Sister to Carmen” and a whole lot of other awful things. She’s not Vamping or anything now.

Marguerite Snow, the Movies’ First Russian Countess. Since “The Million Dollar Mystery,” we have had eight thousand nine hundred and fifty six.

Lila Leslie, artistic exponent of the gentle art above pictured, was Lubin’s chiefest Vamp. Her mouth was wicked, her gowns bizarre; she wore a cruel black patch just below her left eve. It was terrible.

Cleo Ridgely (left) making Blanche Sweet cry. Miss Ridgely — not playing now — cherished a babyhood ambition to become a famous Vampire: so she named herself Cleo.


You can read more swell vintage content at the Media History Digital Library.

***

Like what you’re reading? Please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. All patrons will get early previews of upcoming features, exclusive polls and other goodies.

8 Replies to “Where are the Vamps of Yesteryear? Five Wicked Movie Women of 100+ Years Ago”

  1. Cleo Ridgely is one of my favorites. It’s true, she took a break from the screen from 1916 til 1920, then came back and worked steadily through 1922. She had intermittent roles through the late 1940’s, presumably when a friend called and asked her to do it as she doesn’t seem to have needed the money or she would have kept on acting. (My interpretation of her screen credits, not based on any facts!) I know she remarried after her divorce from Ridgely, so I am assuming she settled into house and home. Anyone know more about her? I really like her and would love to know more.

  2. A fascinating subject. The early film stars created a new, intense kind of personal identification with the public. I suppose that the “where are they now” articles grew out of a feature that all early film fan magazines had even before the names of the actors were made public: letters from readers inquiring about their favorite players. When their favorite was not seen on local screens for, heaven forbid, a month or two, it prompted fans to ask “is it true that the girl who played ‘so-and-so’ is dead (usually from a traffic accident of some sort)?” Mary Pickford and Florence Lawrence died more times off-screen than on. Poor Florence LaBadie was rumored dead or maimed in several serious accidents — it is a wonder that anyone believed it when it actually did happen to her.

    Of course, some actors benefited from it. Lawrence being the earliest known example of a fake news movie publicity stunt (again, the rumored traffic accident). And also when she attempted her first “comeback” that came with a series of autobiographical articles for Photoplay in 1914 in which she told audiences in essence, “where she was now.”

  3. Re: “The tools of the vamping trade” drawing- so glad to see they included a rattlesnake. Vamps are soooo dangerous -enticing, but deadly- be warned, fellas!

    Maybe it’s just the whole film for me, but absolutely love vampy Geraldine Farrar in Carmen. Makes for a great evening of home viewing to watch a Farrar double bill of Carmen and The Woman God Forgot 😉

  4. ranker.com has a list of old-time movie stars (largely from the silent period) who “were hot then but absolutely not now” or something to that effect. because people who lived 90 years ago were stupid and had no taste. unlike us living in the 21st century with the kardashians. ranker is fun to read but that particular list pissed me off.

Comments open for 90 days. Comment policy is found in the sidebar menu.