Silent era actor and star Milton George Gustavus Sills was born on this day in Chicago into a very prosperous and prominent mid-western family (his father was a "mineral baron" and his mother was an heiress). Before being lured onto the stage in 1905, he was a researcher and professor at the University of Chicago, his Alma mater. By 1908 he had left the university and was performing in New York; he made his Broadway debut later that year. In the next four years he continued to act on Broadway successfully, when in 1914 he was cast in his first film: Maurice Tournuer's The Pit. This was, at the time, no small production. Based on Frank Norris' novel of the same name, the film was produced by William B. Brady and distributed by World Film. After his introduction to film acting, he did not return to the stage. Sills had steady work straight away as a leading man--not surprising given his good looks and his natural acting ability--so, it is not surprising, that he also became a matinee idol as well. From the beginning, he was a free floating actor (what we call today a "free agent," though the term is not a great analogy for the times), even though his first few films were distributed by World. He made films with a variety of studios,. For example, he made a film with Victor in 1915: The Taming of Mary, a comedy short that also featured the great Charles Ogle. The following year he appeared in the shot on location Under Southern Skies (1915), also with Charles Ogle, which was made for Universal and filmed in Savannah, GA. The Honor System (1917) was a Fox film. And so on... He even made a film for Clara Kimbell Young's independent company in 1918: The Claw (he had first worked with Young in 1915 in The Deep Purple). By the 1920's, he was a draw for audiences from coast to coast. He started the decade off with appearances in 7 films in 1920, most of them romantic dramas or comedies in which he played the male lead. In 1921, he took top billing in Metro Pictures The Little Fool, a film based on a Jack London novel (the two men share today as a birthday). He was also the star of Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 melodrama Adam's Rib. In 1924, he appeared the one film that he is known for in the modern era: Frank Lloyd's The Sea Hawk, the top grossing film of the year (it should be noted that, even though this film was indeed an international success, no doubt many of the other films Sills appeared in would be much better remembered today if it were not for their being presumed lost). In 1925, he both wrote a manuscripted adaptation (originally from the work of the genius Persian mathematician/poet Omar Khayyam) and edited A Lover's Oath, a film that starred Ramon Navarro. He also wrote the screenplay for Men of Steel (1926), a film directed by George Archainbaud, and starred himself and his new wife, star Doris Kenyon (he had appeared with her two years previous in I Want My Man, he would continue to appear with her in later productions). In 1928, he appeared in the partial talkie The Barker, his first sound film. His last two films of the twenties--both in 1929--were also partial talkies (His Captive Woman and Love and the Devil). He would appear in just two more films during his lifetime, both in 1930. Man Trouble, a Fox film, was his first all talking picture. The Sea Wolf (again based on a Jack London novel) was his last film and was released 6 days after his sudden death. Sills died of a massive heart attack at the age of 48 while playing tennis with Kenyon at their home. He was buried in Chicago's Rosehill cemetery. Sills was one of the 36 Hollywood movers and shakers that founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sills had long been involved with "actors activism," having been a founding member of the Actor's Equity in 1913.
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