Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Born Today November 8: Ethel Clayton


Silent film actress Ethel Clayton was born on this day in Champagne, IL into a catholic family.  She had a private religious education and became interested in acting on the stage at an early age.  After finding work in small roles, she eventually was able to join a professional touring company.  She managed to work her way up through the acting ranks and eventually to star in some productions.  Unlike many a stage actor, Clayton was fascinated by motion pictures and the increasing number of people who were being hired to act in them.  She made her film debut in 1909.  There are squabbles over whether Justified or Gratitude (Essanay studio) should be counted as her film debut; they were both made at the same time with the same director, Tom Ricketts. However, Justified, was released first.  Liking the the finished product, she agreed to appear in more films.  She juggled he stage career with movie appearances in the first few years that she was gaining popularity as a film actress (as has been mentioned before, this was around the time that actors were just beginning to have credits in films the same as they had for the stage).  Her stage specialty was musicals and she became a "girl" for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1911; her stage work also included work in staged choruses or choirs.  Obviously, only the dancing was going to be any kind of help to her in film work of the time.  By 1912 she was working at Lubin Manufacturing,  and her first film for them was For The Love Of A Girl.  She stayed with Lubin through 1915 and made the bulk of her films dating from the 1910's with them.  By 1916, she wound up at Peerless, which of course was a World Film company.   This was around the time that many of these studios were making serious inroads into opening operations on the west coast and many film careers in the original New York area were in flux.  Her feature length film The Web Of Desire (World Film release in 1917), directed by Émile Chautard, is one her most lamented lost films (it is in the top 20 of many a wish list for people hoping for a surprise film recovery).  She gets top billing in the film, over her male counterpart Rockliffe Fellowes (what a name!).  After working under the World Film studio umbrella, she also worked for Famous Players Lasky and Paramount.  By the mid 1920's, she made films for Fox as well.  At some point along the way, she made the move from New York to the Los Angeles area as movie work moved there exclusively by the late 1920's.  In 1926 she made a couple of films for DeMille Productions, certainly filmed in California.  Despite that she is often pointed to as an example of an actress who lost a career due to the coming of sound and some silent players were not equipped for that change, this was not completely the case with Clayton.  The first sound film that she is listed as having a small role in came in a very early talkie--Mother Machree--in 1928.  To be fair, this was a partial silent and there was a silent version released.  Her next film was a full talkie and she had a full named credit; Hit The Deck was a Jack Oakie picture shot in 1929 and released in early 1930.  Sometimes, it was simply that a person's association with stardom in silent films, especially women/actresses, was enough to cause studios and/or audiences to sour on them.  The was only heightened by the Great Depression.  With the stage talent that Clayton possessed when she was a young actress, it unlikely she would have had trouble with the sound transition.  Nonetheless, he career flagged significantly with the coming of talking films.  After taking a few named roles in the very early 1930's, she was down to taking bit parts or uncredited roles by 1933.  She did not, however, quit acting altogether.  She continued on in roles that mostly went uncredited right up until she decided to retire.  It was an irony, since, she had never had uncredited roles early on in her film career--most young actresses did--that the last 1/2 of her career was spent in such roles.  Her last role was a small, and at the time of premiere, uncredited role as Lady Montague in Show in the 1947 The Perils Of Pauline; another irony, given that this was no remake of the famous silent serial of 1914, but rather the film was a biopic of it's star, silent actress Pearl White.  She retired and stayed in California.  She passed away in 1966 on the 11th June in Oxnard at the age of 83.  She is buried in Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura County.  

Wikipedia (date of death is incorrect here)

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