Which Silent Star is Criminally Underrepresented on Home Video?

As 1917 is the 100th anniversary of the release of Theda Bara’s blockbuster, Cleopatra, and since her films have the worst availability of just about any major star, I thought the subject of ease of access would be an interesting topic.

Some major silent stars have few films on home video because, like Bara, their pictures were lost to fires and decay. Some stars have one major hit available and their back catalog is spotty. Some, like Laurel and Hardy, had quite a few of their silents released on DVD but they have since fallen out of print. Some, like Norma Talmadge, have quite a few films on DVD but it’s only a fraction of their output.

Which silent star do you think needs some more home video love? Like, if this were a perfect world and you had the budget and the access to their pictures, whose movies would you release as a box set?

A quick caveat before getting started: This is in no way meant as a jab at archivists and silent movie producers. Archival budgets are tight and the market is tiny. I am very grateful for the wonderful silent films on home video but I wanted to discuss the stars that are more neglected.

Obviously, availability varies depending on where you live and what you consider to be a fair number of titles on home video. It’s all a matter of perspective and opinion.


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  1. Chad Russell

    Even though a number of features have seen releases here and there, and shorts which survived pop up on various compilations (often her work with Chaplin or Arbuckle), a proper restored Mabel Normand collection of some sort is sorely needed. And by “some sort”, I mean “gigantic” and “senses shattering” – just as her talent was.

  2. Scott Lueck

    This is probably gonna sound odd, since they’re all available one way or another on home video, but I’d love to see a complete restored set of the Our Gang silent films. A restored box set in release order, with appropriate music and title cards (something like what Cabin Fever did with the sound films), would be my idea of heaven.

    Also, a release of the Vitagraph shorts, kinda like what Ned Thanhouser did with the existing Thanhouser films, would be very welcome indeed.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, I think an Our Gang Bluray (similar to the Mack Sennett Collection) would amazing! And Vitagraph, Selig, Lubin and non-Chaplin Essanay are so poorly represented on home video, which is a darn shame.

      1. Scott Lueck

        A friend of mine put it best: “They can’t restore Jackie Condon and Mary Kornan’s films, but they have a complete set with the works of Mickey Gubitosi and Froggy Laughlin? That’s sad.”

  3. peytonsclassics

    I’d love to complete my Laurel and Hardy collection with the silents! I’d love to see some proper care given to their silent films.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Agreed! My understanding is that it’s budget concerns that are holding back re-release of their silents but L&H have such a passionate following. I would happily contribute to a Kickstarter for such a project.

    2. Dwight Davis

      The silents they did separately or together? The 21 disc Laurel and Hardy UK set has the silent they did together. But you must have a region-free player for that set, which I do have. It is a great set.

      1. Fritzi Kramer

        Yes, I have that box (I got sick of waiting for the films to become available in the USA) but the Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy series is out of print, alas. Their solo stuff is actually pretty well represented on DVD in the US thanks to Kino.

  4. waverboy

    Colleen Moore (Only LITTLE ORPHANT ANNIE, THE BUSHER and WHY BE GOOD? are currently available in non-grey-market video editions with good A/V quality)

    Clara Bow (only WINGS, CHILDREN OF DIVORCE and PARISIAN LOVE/DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS are currently available in non-grey-market video editions with good A/V quality)

    1. Dwight Davis

      Colleen Moore’s The Busher is available on Kino’s Reel Baseball 1899-1926 Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 2 disc set. It is good quality set.

  5. thekeystonegirlblogs

    I call Theda Bara the film star’s film star. So many silent stars considered her the best. Agree with those saying Mabel N should have her own box-set. There’s plenty of DVD’s collections of Chaplin ‘s and Arbuckle’s Keystone work, but the girl who made them great (and was responsible for their their mega-pay) does not have her name on any set. Many of Mabel’s films have Chaplin’s name on them! It’s a travesty for sure.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yeah, too many people believe Chaplin’s unsubstantiated tales of Normand being a second-rate director in over her head. Puh-leez! She did everything the boys did and she did them in high heels and a corset!

  6. George Larkin

    Richard Barthelmess. Considering the number of feature-length films he was in, availability in any format of home video is slim pickins and mostly confined to his D. W. Griffith-directed features. Out of the 25 silent features Richard starred in post-Griffith from 1921-1928, only 6 are in circulation, and those do not include his Academy Award winning THE PATENT LEATHER KID, which can only barely be found on bootleg copies of bad prints, nor his Academy Award Best Actor-nominated performance in THE NOOSE (although the film exists). ‘Nuff said?

  7. Raymond Valinoti, Jr.

    A lot of Marion Davies’s silents have survived but more of them need to be available on home video.

  8. Siri

    Barbara La Marr.
    As far as I know none of her starring role films are available on home video.
    She should be remembered not only for her early death but also for her work in pictures.

  9. Javier

    Without a doubt, a decent release of Jack Pickford features/shorts, and my favourite silent film Actor Robert Harron. Someone had a blog with information on a future book about Robert Harron, but that was a few years back. I am afraid is not going to make it to press.
    I agree with the choices of the previous posters, especially Rudolf Klein-Rogge & Milton Sills inclusion.

  10. David Welling

    Priscilla Dean and Virginia Lee Corbin. Slim pickings for both of them but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of them.

  11. Gene Zonarich

    I immediately thought about your series of articles on the popularity polls conducted by the fan magazines of the 1910s. You could take the top ten most popular stars in any of those polls that you have covered from 1913-1917, and at least half of them could meet the criteria of “criminally under-represented,” whether from lack of surviving films (in probably most of the cases) or simply by neglect.

    Of course Theda Bara is the most notable example, but other huge stars of that period are virtually unknown today, even to those viewers who have had considerable exposure to silent film. Harold Lockwood, Anita Stewart, Clara Kimball Young, J. Warren Kerrigan, Earle Williams, Mary Fuller and many others made the “top ten” multiple times.

    Also, for every one of major stars who came from Biograph and whose films both before and after “Griffith” are more readily available — Pickford, Gish, Sweet — there are those who “graduated” from Biograph and who were major stars for a few years afterward, then disappeared — Florence Lawrence, Marion Leonard, Arthur Johnson — whose post-Biograph films are mostly lost or languishing somewhere.

    And those last three are also good examples of actors who became stars in the era of short films (dramas in particular) who did not have careers that lasted long (or at all) in the era of the feature film. (And isn’t that an interesting parallel to the familar, unfortunate trope of the silent star whose career ended with sound?) Some, like Mary Fuller and Florence LaBadie, starred in serials that have long since disappeared or worked for studios that made primarily shorts — companies that did not thrive for long after the move to features.

    And let’s not forget the “other Florence,” Florence Turner, often mentioned when someone makes a case for “who was the first Movie Star.” I know you hate these “first” arguments even more than I do, so I had to include this one. But she is another good example from that period as well.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I remember in “The Movies in the Age of Innocence” Edward Wagenknecht wrote that while he loved Mary Pickford and was glad to see her succeed, if he had been a betting man, he would have guessed one of the three Florences, La Badie, Lawrence or Turner, would have remained a major movie star the longest. The American pre-feature era really is a lost world.

      You’re right about the biggest stars being completely underrepresented; 1913’s #1 star was Romaine Fielding and I have NEVER seen anything of his. I actually argue that the transition to features was more chaotic than the transition to sound as many stars and studios were juggling moves west and the loss of European markets due to the war. So many big studios went down or lost their places at the top during the late-1910s and early 1920s.

      Such a shame that these talented men and women are essentially forgotten.

  12. MIB

    Over here in the UK there are ton of huge names whose work is scarce on our DVD/Blu-ray shelves (Louise Brooks, the Gish sisters, Mary Pickford, etc) but I’m going to go a title left field and say Max Linder, whose influence on silent comedy has gone largely unnoticed.

  13. Antony Gould

    A Charley Chase Blu ray collection would be nice.
    There are so many others to chose but it’s great that new restorations are being released all the time.

  14. quinterocastrov

    Estelle Taylor (excellent and captivating as Miriam in DeMille’s first “The Ten Commandments,” 1923). One of my favorite silent film stars and one of the most underrated actresses of her time. The Library of Congress and other archives have complete prints of “While New York Sleeps” (1920), “Thorns and Orange Blossoms” (1922), “Playthings of Desire” (1924), “Manhattan Madness” (1925) “Wandering Footsteps” (1925), “Honor Bound” (1928), and “Lady Raffles” (1928). A DVD box set with these films would be a great tribute to her.

    I’m also hoping for the release of an official DVD box set with the surviving DeMille-Farrar films: “Carmen” (1915), “Maria Rosa” (1916), “Joan the Woman” (1916), and “The Woman God Forgot” (1917).

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