Thursday, August 10, 2017

Born Today August 10: Elsie Ferguson


1883-1961

Giant of the stage and silent screen Elsie Louise Ferguson was born on this day in Manhattan.  Ferguson was the daughter of a very prominent lawyer and grew up in a very privileged household.  This did not stop her from developing an interest in the stage early on in her life.  She finally made her stage debut as a chorus girl at the age of seventeen.  Her beauty made her an instant favorite, and she quickly stepped into larger and larger roles.  By 1909, she had become an accomplished player after much tutelage and was a full blown star.  She was popular enough to take part of in a War Bonds effort during World War I with wild success.  So, it was hardly surprising that film studios began to take an active interest.  After repeatedly declining contracts from several companies, it was finally accomplished French born director Maurice Tourneur who convinced her to take the starring role in his Barbary Sheep in 1917.  The experience was not a good one for her; she is later quoted as saying "I shall never forget my state of mind during the making of Barbary Sheep.  My experience before the camera was the most painful thing I have ever known in my life.  It seemed to me that the little black box became a monster that was leering and scoffing at my feeble efforts to register emotion before it.  I went home in tears.  But the next morning I returned."  Nonetheless, she stuck with screen acting, especially during the late 1910's.  During this time, her beauty, along with her specialty of playing aristocratic roles earned her the nickname "The Aristocrat Of The Screen."  Though in the 1920 she signed a multi-film contract deal with Paramount, it was only for four films in two year period.  As any successful stage actor of the time, silent film acting was more of grind than an art for them.  In 1925, she chose to retire from the film business and return to Broadway.  The last film that she made before the retirement was The Unknown Lover.  With the coming of the talking film, she decided to try to revive her film career in the 1930's, but at the age of 47, the studio system deemed her too old to bill in the roles that she wanted.  Her last film appearance came in Scarlet Pages in 1930, where she convincingly portrays a hard nose female lawyer who chooses work over a home life (the film does descend into hopeless melodrama).  She then returned to the stage, but even her performances there began to slow.  Her last appearance on Broadway came in 1943 at the age of 60, a performance met with very warm critical praise.  She then retired from acting altogether and lived on an estate purchased in the area of New London, Conn.  She died there on the 15 of November at the age of 78.  She is buried there in the Old Lyme cemetery of Duck River.



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