Friday, March 12, 2021

Born Today March 12: House Peters Sr.


Lon Chaney Sr. was not the only actor to be known by a nickname that included "a thousand;" British born Robert House Peters (Sr.) was known to movie audiences in the 1920's as "The Star of a Thousand Emotions." Peters was born on this day in Bristol, England and made his way to the States via the live stage (after a stint in the military and mining in South Africa).  He made his film debut in the Famous Players 1913 production In the Bishop's Carriage, co-directed by former Edison men J. Searle Dawly and Edwin S. Porter; it was also an early Mary Pickford feature. His next major role came in The Port of Doom later in 1913; directed by Dawley, Peters appeared opposite Laura Sawyer whom he had previously acted in two small Dawley shorts. He remained under Dawley's direction until mid-1914, finally making a feature not directed by him in late 1914. Salomy Jane (November 1914) was Peters' first western and was co-directed by Lucius Henderson and William Nigh. It also marked his move to the California Motion Picture Company (which was distributed by World Film).  In the next year and a half, he appeared in Jesse L. Lasky Feature Plays productions. While there, he had lead roles in several films starring Blanche Sweet; several directed by Cecil B. DeMille. And, it was a DeMille directed film that made a star of Peters in 1915, and it too was a western. The Girl of the Golden West starred Mabel van Buren and Theodore Roberts, with Peters in the top supporting role; based on a popular David Belasco play, Peters garnered the most glowing reviews.   By 1916, he was a headliner; his face was famous enough to feature on film posters nationwide. Such was the case with The Hand of Peril (March 1916), a Maurice Tourneur directed crime drama. It also was in Tourneur films in which he headlined for his three film roles for Paragon studios in Fort Lee. He alternated between dramas/melodramas and the ever popular western for the rest of the 1910's. He started the new decade out with a turn in a criminal rehabilitation drama that was made under Maurice Tourneur's new production company; The Great Redeemer (October 1920) had a sparse cast and featured religious fantasy elements, but Peters was still the headliner. In the 1920's his roles were almost exclusively in dramas of various sorts, and he was nearly always that the very top of the bill. In 1926, he briefly returned to the western genre in The Combat, but retirement was right around the corner for him and it turned out to be his final silent western. Peter's made just two more silent films; one in 1926, and the final film of his regular career in 1928. Peters finished his career in the supporting role of Rose-Marie a drama of romantic competition starring the young up-and-coming, and ultimately tragic, James Murray and a an even younger ingenue by the name of Joan Crawford. His career had a sharp peak in the early 1920's and a sharp decline to supporting roles, this prompted his retiring after after Rose-Marie. Peters may have retired in 1928, but was persuaded, in part by his actor son House Peters Jr. (who was, by the way, the original "Mr. Clean") to make an appearance in the Gene Autry western The Old West in 1952; the film was ironically directed by George Archainbaud, who was a director who himself started his career in the teens. His last acting gig came in his only television appearance in the religious based series This is the Life in a 1961 episode 'Song in the Night' aired on the 23rd of April on ABC.  He lived in Los Angeles for the remainder of his life, passing away there on the 7th of December 1967 at the age of 87. His cremated remains are reportedly interred at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

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