Sunday, October 8, 2017

Born Today October 8: Nance O'Neil


Famed and some what infamous silent film actress Nance (Nancy) O'Neil was born Gertrude Lamson on this day in Oakland, CA.  Her father, who was a bit of religious zealot, strongly disapproved of her wishes to become an actress, hence she changed her name completely.  She got her start on the stage very much before she is first mentioned as an actress.  She started acting at least by the late 1890's, when she had a very savvy manager that got her parts abroad--as far away as Australia--and helped her make a successful debut on the London stage. She even had her own production company in the early 1900's that had dealings with Lionel Barrymore.  By the time she was the talk of town in New York, she was already a big star on Broadway and had even struck up a controversial friendship with the infamous Lizzie Borden (salacious rumors about the two swirled for a while that they were lovers--they were close friends between 1904 and 1906).  By 1908 she was a bonafide Broadway star.  She was often written up not just in terms of her beauty and height (she was close to 6 foot tall--unheard of for an actress of the age), but also for her voice, ironic in a way, as she would not be able to use it in a film career of the day. She would make her film career debut in 1913 in the Famous Players production of The Count of Monte Cristo, which was co-directed by Edwin S. Porter (of Edison fame).  It would be two years before she appeared in another film; Kreutzer Sonata from 1915; this is the earliest film that she is remembered for.  It was the beginning of her contractual work for Fox.  She acted steadily in motion pictures during the later half of the 1910's, but became disenchanted with the experience by 1920.  She appeared in only one film--a short-- in 1919, The Mad Woman; which turned out to be her last silent film.  She spent the 1920's on the stage, mostly on Broadway, but also in other large northeastern locations.  She returned to film acting in 1929 in the all sound production His Glorious Night, a film directed by her old acquaintance Lionel Barrymore for MGM.  Of course, there was little doubt that she would do well in talkies, she had been noted for, after all, her voice in her stage work.  But her career did not last long into the 1930's.  Though through the years 1930 and 1931, she made numerous films, she only made two films in 1932 and then quit the profession completely.  Her last film was False Faces.  She lived a long life in retirement.  By the 1960's, she was a resident of the Lillian Booth Actors Home located in Englewood, New Jersey.  She passed away there at the ago of 90 on the 7th of February.  She was interred back in California at the Glendale location of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, along with her husband actor Alfred Hickman who had passed away in 1931 (this event may have played a role in her retirement).

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