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Florence Lawrence


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Florence Lawrence (January 2, 1886 – December 28, 1938) was a Canadian inventor and silent film actress. She is often referred to as "The First Movie Star." When she was popular, she was known as "The Biograph Girl," "The Imp Girl," and "The Girl of a Thousand Faces." Lawrence appeared in more than 270 films for various motion picture companies.

Early life

Born Florence Annie Bridgwood in Hamilton, Ontario, she was the child of Charlotte A. Bridgwood, a vaudeville actress known professionally as Lotta Lawrence, who was the leading lady and director of the Lawrence Dramatic Company. Her father was George Bridgwood (born Stafforshire, England; died 1898, Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario, Canada). Florence's surname was changed at age four to her mother's stage name. After her father's death, Florence, her mother and two older brothers moved from Hamilton, Ontario to Buffalo, New York. Florence attended local schools and developed athletic skills, in particular horseback riding and ice-skating.

After graduating from school, Lawrence joined her mother's dramatic company. However, the company disbanded after a series of disputes made it impossible for the members to continue working together. Lawrence and her mother moved to New York City around 1906

Early Career: Film and Broadway

She was one of several Canadian pioneers in the film industry who were attracted by the rapid growth of the fledgling motion picture business. In 1906, at age 20, she appeared in her first motion picture. The next year, she appeared in 38 movies for the Vitagraph film company.

During the spring and summer of 1906, Lawrence auditioned for a number of Broadway productions, with no success. However, on 27 December 1906, she was hired by the Edison Manufacturing Company to play Daniel Boone's daughter in Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer days in America. She got the part because she knew how to ride a horse. Both she and her mother received parts, and were paid five dollars a day for two weeks of outdoor filming in freezing weather.

In 1907 she went to work for the Vitagraph Company in Brooklyn, New York acting as Moya, an Irish peasant girl in a one-reel version of Dion Boucicault's The Shaughraun.

She returned briefly to stage acting, playing the leading role in a road show production of Melville B. Raymond's Seminary Girls. Her mother played her last role in this production. After touring with the road show for a year, Lawrence resolved that she would 'never again lead that gypsy life.'

In the spring of 1908 she returned to Vitagraph where she played the lead role in The Dispatch Beare. Largely as a result of her equestrian skills, she received parts in eleven films in the next five months.

Film career

Biograph Studios

Also at Vitagraph was a young actor, Harry Solter, who was looking for 'a young, beautiful equestrian girl' to star in a film to be produced by the Biograph Studios under the direction of D.W. Griffith. Griffith, the head of Biograph Studios, had noticed the beautiful blonde-haired woman in one of Vitagraph's films. Because the film's actors received no mention, Griffith had to make discreet enquiries to learn she was Florence Lawrence and to arrange a meeting.

Griffith had intended to give the part to Biograph's leading lady, Florence Turner, but Lawrence managed to convince Solter and Griffith that she was the best suited for the starring role in The Girl and the Outlaw. With the Vitagraph Company, she had been earning $20 a week, working also as a costume seamstress over and above acting. Griffith offered her a job, acting only, for $25 a week. Lawrence jumped at it.

After her success in this role, she appeared as a society belle in Betrayed by a Handprint and as an Indian in The Red Girl. In total, she had parts in most of the 60 films directed by Griffith in 1908. Toward the end of 1908 Lawrence married Harry Solter.

Lawrence quickly gained much popularity, but because her name was never publicized, fans began writing the studio asking for it. Even when her face had gained wide recognition, particularly after starring in the highly successful Resurrection, Biograph Studios simply labeled her as "The Biograph Girl". During cinema's formative years, silent screen actors were not named, because studio owners feared that fame might lead to demands for higher wages.

She continued to work for Biograph in 1909. Her demand to be paid by the week rather than daily was met, and she received double the normal rate. She achieved great popularity in the Jones series, film's first comedy series. She played Mrs. Jones in about twelve films. Even more popular than the Jones series were the dramatic love stories in which she co-starred with Arthur Johnson. The two played husband and wife in The Ingrate, and the adulterous lovers in Resurrection.

Lawrence and Solter began to look elsewhere for work, writing to the Essanay Company to offer their services as leading lady and director. Rather than accepting this offer, however, Essanay reported the offer to Biograph's head office, and they were promptly fired.

Independent Moving Pictures Company

Finding themselves "at liberty," Lawrence and Solter in 1909 were able to join the Independent Moving Pictures Company of America (IMP). The company, founded by Carl Laemmle, the owner of a film exchange (who later absorbed IMP into Universal Pictures, which he also founded and was president of), was looking for experienced filmmakers and actors. Needing a star, he lured Lawrence away from Biograph by promising to give her a marquee. First though, Carl Laemmle organized a publicity stunt by starting a rumor that Lawrence had been killed by a street car in New York City.

Then, after gaining much media attention, he placed ads in the newspapers that announced, "We nail a lie", and included a photo of Lawrence. The ad declared she is alive and well and making The Broken Oath, a new movie for his IMP Film Company to be directed by Solter.

Laemmle then had Lawrence make a personal appearance in St. Louis, Missouri in March 1910 with her leading man to show her fans that she was very much alive, making her one of the first performers not already famous in another medium to be identified by name by her studio. Partially as a result of Laemmle's ingenuity, the "star system" was born and before long, Florence Lawrence became a household name. However, her fame was such that the studio executives who had concerns over wage demands soon had their fears proved correct.

Laemmle managed to lure William Ranous (William H. Ranous), one of Vitagraph's best directors, over to IMP. Ranous introduced Laemmle to Lawrence and Solter, and they began to work together. Lawrence and Solter worked for IMP for eleven months, making fifty films. After this, they went on vacation in Europe. When they returned to the United States, they joined a film company headed by Siegmund Lubin (Siegmund "Pop" Lubin), described as the 'wisest and most democratic film producer in history.' Lawrence was once again teamed with Arthur Johnson, and the pair made 48 films together under Lubin's direction.

At the time, the film industry was controlled by the powerful Motion Picture Patents Company, a trust formed by the major film companies. IMP was not a member of the MPPC, and hence operated outside its distribution system. Theaters found showing IMP films lost the right to screen MPPC films. IMP, therefore, had powerful enemies in the film industry. It managed to survive, however, largely because of the popularity of Lawrence.

Lubin Studios

By late 1910, Lawrence left IMP to work for Lubin Studios, advising her fellow young Canadian, the 18-year-old Mary Pickford, to take her place as IMP's star.

Victor Film Company

In 1912, Lawrence and Solter made a deal with Carl Laemmle, forming their own company. Laemmle gave them complete artistic freedom in the company, called Victor Film Company, and paid Lawrence five hundred dollars a week as the leading lady, and Solter two hundred dollars a week as director. They established a film studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey and made a number of films starring Lawrence and Owen Moore before selling out to the new Universal Pictures in 1913. With this new prosperity, Florence was able to realize a 'lifelong dream,' buying a 50-acre (200,000 m2) estate in River Vale, New Jersey. There she was able to garden and grow roses, 'her greatest joy.' In August 1912, she had a fight with her husband, in which he 'made cruel remarks about his mother-in-law.' He left and went to Europe. However, he wrote 'sad' letters to her every day, telling her of his plans to commit suicide. His letters 'softened her feelings' and they were re-united in November 1912. Lawrence announced her intention to retire.

Injury, crash of '29, and suicide

Despite her mooted retirement, Lawrence was induced to return to work in 1914 for her company (Victor Film Company), which was later acquired by Universal Studios. During one of the films, Pawns of Destiny, a staged fire got out of control. Lawrence was burned, her hair singed, and she suffered a serious fall. She went into shock for months. She returned to work, but collapsed after its completion. Blaming Solter for making her do the stunt in which she was injured, the two were divorced. To add to her problems, Universal refused to pay her medical expenses. Lawrence felt betrayed.

Although only 29 years old, she never regained her stature as a leading film star after taking time off to recover from her injuries. In 1920, her husband died. The following year she married automobile salesman Charles Byrne Woodring, but they were divorced in 1931. In 1933 she married for the third time to Henry Bolton. Bolton turned out to be abusive and beat Lawrence severely. The union lasted only five months

In the spring of 1916, she returned to work for Universal and completed another feature film, Elusive Isabel. However, the strain of working took its toll on her and she suffered a serious relapse. She was completely paralyzed for four months. By the time she returned to the screen in 1921, few people remembered her.

In 1921 she traveled to Hollywood to attempt a comeback. However, she had little success, and received a leading role in a minor melodrama (The Unfoldment), and then two supporting roles. All of her screen work after 1924 would be in uncredited bit parts. During the 1920s she and her husband Charles began to manufacture a line of cosmetics, which they continued in partnership after their divorce.

When Lawrence's mother died in 1929, she had an expensive bust sculpted for her mother's tomb. By then, in her mid-forties, demand for her in films had long since disappeared and the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression saw Lawrence's fortune decline.

Lawrence returned to the screen in 1936, when MGM began giving small parts to old stars for seventy-five dollars a week.

Alone, discouraged, and suffering with chronic pain from myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow disease, she was found unconscious in bed in her West Hollywood apartment on 27 December 1938 after she had ingested ant paste. She was rushed to a hospital but died a few hours later.

Just nine years after she had paid for an expensive memorial for her mother, Lawrence was interred in an unmarked grave not far from her mother in the Hollywood Cemetery, which is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Hollywood, California.

She remained forgotten until 1991, when actor Roddy McDowall, serving on the National Film Preservation Board, paid for a memorial marker that reads: "The Biograph Girl/The First Movie Star."

In William J. Mann's novel The Biograph Girl (2000), Mann asks the question, "What if Lawrence didn't die in 1938 from eating ant poison, but is 106 and living in a nursing home in Buffalo, New York?" The novel faithfully covers Lawrence's life up to 1938 and takes it beyond, after her "supposed" suicide.

A biography by Kelly R. Brown, Florence Lawrence, the Biograph Girl: America's First Movie Star, was published in 1999.


Lawrence invented the first turn signal, a device attached to a motor vehicle's rear fender. Dubbed as the "auto signaling arm", when a driver pressed a button, an arm raised or lowered, with a sign attached indicating the direction of the intended turn. Following this, she developed a brake signal based on the same concept where an arm with a sign reading "STOP" was raised whenever the driver stepped on the brake pedal. However, Lawrence's inventions were not patented, and others in the rapidly expanding auto industry developed their own versions.

Personal life

She was married three times. First to Harry Solter (1908–1913), then to Charles Woodring (May 12, 1921–1931), and lastly to Henry Bolton, whom she married in 1932 and divorced five months later.


The Automobile Thieves (1906)

Athletic American Girls (1907)

Bargain Fiend; or, Shopping à la Mode (1907)

Daniel Boone (1907)

The Boy, the Bust and the Bath (1907)

The Despatch Bearer; or, Through the Enemy's Lines (1907)

The Dispatch Bearer (1907)

The Mill Girl (1907)

The Shaughraun (1907)

A Calamitous Elopement (1908)

A Smoked Husband (1908)

A Woman's Way (1908)

After Many Years (1908)

An Awful Moment (1908)

Antony and Cleopatra (1908)

Behind the Scenes (1908)

Betrayed by a Handprint (1908)

Concealing a Burglar (1908)

Cupid's Realm; or, A Game of Hearts (1908)

Father Gets in the Game (1908)

Ingomar, the Barbarian (1908)

Julius Caesar (1908)

Lady Jane's Flight (1908)

Love Laughs at Locksmiths; an 18th Century Romance (1908)

Macbeth (1908)

Money Mad (1908)

Mr. Jones at the Ball (1908)

Mrs. Jones Entertains (1908)

Richard III (1908)

Romance of a Jewess (1908)

Romeo and Juliet (1908)

Salome (1908)

The Bandit's Waterloo (1908)

The Call of the Wild (1908)

The Christmas Burglars (1908)

The Clubman and the Tramp (1908)

The Dancer and the King: A Romantic Story of Spain (1908)

The Devil (1908)

The Feud and the Turkey (1908)

The Girl and the Outlaw (1908)

The Heart of O'Yama (1908)

The Helping Hand (1908)

The Ingrate (1908)

The Pirate's Gold (1908)

The Planter's Wife (1908)

The Reckoning (1908)

The Red Girl (1908)

The Reg Girl (1908)

The Song of the Shirt (1908)

The Stolen Jewels (1908)

The Taming of the Shrew (1908)

The Test of Friendship (1908)

The Valet's Wife (1908)

The Vaquero's Vow (1908)

The Viking's Daughter: The Story of the Ancient Norsemen (1908)

The Zulu's Heart (1908)

Where the Breakers Roar (1908)

A Baby's Shoe (1909)

A Drunkard's Reformation (1909)

A Fool's Revenge (1909)

A Sound Sleeper (1909)

A Troublesome Satchel (1909)

A Wreath in Time (1909)

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them (1909)

At the Altar (1909)

Confidence (1909)

Eloping with Auntie (1909)

Eradicating Auntie (1909)

Eradicating Aunty (1909)

Her First Biscuits (1909)

Her Generous Way (1909)

His Ward's Love (1909)

His Wife's Mother (1909)

I Did It (1909)

Jealousy and the Man (1909)

Jones and His New Neighbors (1909)

Jones and the Lady Book Agent (1909)

Lady Helen's Escapade (1909)

Lest We Forget (1909)

Lines of White on a Sullen Sea (1909)

Love's Stratagem (1909)

Lucky Jim (1909)

Mr. Jones' Burglar (1909)

Mr. Jones Has a Card Party (1909)

Mrs. Jones Entertains (1909)

Mrs. Jones' Lover (1909)

Nursing a Viper (1909)

One Busy Hour (1909)

One Touch of Nature (1909)

Resurrection (1909)

Saul and David (1909)

Schneider's Anti-Noise Crusade (1909)

Sweet and Twenty (1909)

Tender Hearts (1909)

The Awakening (1909)

The Awakening of Bess (1909)

The Brahma Diamond (1909)

The Cardinal's Conspiracy (1909)

The Cord of Life (1909)

The Country Doctor (1909)

The Criminal Hypnotist (1909)

The Curtain Pole (1909)

The Deception (1909)

The Drive for a Life (1909)

The Drive for Life (1909)

The Eavesdropper (1909)

The Fascinating Mrs. Francis (1909)

The Forest Ranger's Daughter (1909)

The French Duel (1909)

The Girls and Daddy (1909)

The Golden Louis (1909)

The Hessian Renegades (1909)

The Honor of Thieves (1909)

The Jilt (1909)

The Joneses Have Amateur Theatricals (1909)

The Judgment of Solomon (1909)

The Lonely Villa (1909)

The Lure of the Gown (1909)

The Medicine Bottle (1909)

The Mended Lute (1909)

The Necklace (1909)

The Note in the Shoe (1909)

The Peachbasket Hat (1909)

The Politician's Love Story (1909)

The Prussian Spy (1909)

The Road to the Heart (1909)

The Roue's Heart (1909)

The Sacrifice (1909)

The Salvation Army Lass (1909)

The Slave (1909)

The Way of Man (1909)

The Winning Coat (1909)

The Wooden Leg (1909)

Those Awful Hats (1909)

Those Boys! (1909)

Tis an Ill Wind that Blows No Good (1909)

Tragic Love (1909)

Trying to Get Arrested (1909)

Two Memories (1909)

What Drink Did (1909)

A Discontented Woman (1910)

A Game for Two (1910)

A Reno Romance (1910)

A Self-Made Hero (1910)

All the World's a Stage (1910)

Among the Roses (1910)

Bear Ye One Another's Burdens (1910)

Debt (1910)

His Second Wife (1910)

His Sick Friend (1910)

Jane and the Stranger (1910)

Justice in the Far North (1910)

Mother Love (1910)

Never Again (1910)

Old Heads and Young Hearts (1910)

Once Upon a Time (1910)

Pressed Roses (1910)

The Angel of the Studio (1910)

The Blind Man's Tact (1910)

The Broken Oath (1910)

The Call (1910)

The Call of the Circus (1910)

The Coquette's Suitors (1910)

The Count of Montebello (1910)

The Doctor's Perfidy (1910)

The Eternal Triangle (1910)

The Forest Ranger's Daughter (1910)

The Governor's Pardon (1910)

The Irony of Fate (1910)

The Maelstrom (1910)

The Miser's Daughter (1910)

The Mistake (1910)

The New Minister (1910)

The New Shawl (1910)

The Nichols on Vacation (1910)

The Right Girl (1910)

The Right of Love (1910)

The Rosary (1910)

The Senator's Double (1910)

The Stage Note (1910)

The Taming of Jane (1910)

The Tide of Fortune (1910)

The Time-Lock Safe (1910)

The Widow (1910)

The Winning Punch (1910)

Transfusion (1910)

Two Men (1910)

A Blind Deception (1911)

A Fascinating Bachelor (1911)

A Game of Deception (1911)

A Girlish Impulse (1911)

A Good Turn (1911)

A Head for Business (1911)

A Rebellious Blossom (1911)

A Rural Conqueror (1911)

A Show Girl's Stratagem (1911)

Age Versus Youth (1911)

Always a Way (1911)

Art Versus Music (1911)

Aunt Jane's Legacy (1911)

Duke De Ribbon Counter (1911)

During Cherry Time (1911)

Flo's Discipline (1911)

Her Artistic Temperament (1911)

Her Child's Honor (1911)

Her Humble Ministry (1911)

Her Two Sons (1911)

Higgenses Versus Judsons (1911)

His Bogus Uncle (1911)

His Chorus Girl Wife (1911)

His Friend, the Burglar (1911)

Nan's Diplomacy (1911)

One on Reno (1911)

Opportunity and the Man (1911)

Romance of Pond Cove (1911)

That Awful Brother (1911)

The Actress and the Singer (1911)

The American Girl (1911)

The Gypsy (1911)

The Hoyden (1911)

The Life Saver (1911)

The Little Rebel (1911)

The Maniac (1911)

The Matchmaker (1911)

The Professor's Ward (1911)

The Secret (1911)

The Sheriff and the Man (1911)

The Slavey's Affinity (1911)

The Snare of Society (1911)

The State Line (1911)

The Story of Rosie's Rose (1911)

The Test (1911)

The Two Fathers (1911)

The Wife's Awakening (1911)

Through Jealous Eyes (1911)

Vanity and Its Cure (1911)

A Surgeon's Heroism (1912)

A Village Romance (1912)

After All (1912)

All for Love (1912)

Betty's Nightmare (1912)

Flo's Discipline (1912)

Her Cousin Fred (1912)

In Swift Waters (1912)

Not Like Other Girls (1912)

Sisters (1912)

Taking a Chance (1912)

Tangled Relations (1912)

The Advent of Jane (1912)

The Angel of the Studio (1912)

The Chance Shot (1912)

The Cross-Roads (1912)

The Lady Leone (1912)

The Mill Buyers (1912)

The Players (1912)

The Redemption of Riverton (1912)

The Winning Punch (1912)

A Girl and Her Money (1913)

His Wife's Child (1913)

Suffragette's Parade in Washington (1913)

The Closed Door (1913)

The Counterfeiter (1913)

The Girl o'the Woods (1913)

The Influence of Sympathy (1913)

The Spender (1913)

Unto the Third Generation (1913)

A Disenchantment (1914)

A Mysterious Mystery (1914)

A Singular Cynic (1914)

A Singular Sinner (1914)

Counterfeiters (1914)

Diplomatic Flo (1914)

Her Ragged Knight (1914)

The Bribe (1914)

The Coryphee (1914)

The Doctor's Testimony (1914)

The False Bride (1914)

The Great Universal Mystery (1914)

The Honeymooners (1914)

The Honor of the Humble (1914)

The Law's Decree (1914)

The Little Mail Carrier (1914)

The Mad Man's Ward (1914)

The Pawns of Destiny (1914)

The Romance of a Photograph (1914)

The Stepmother (1914)

The Woman Who Won (1914)

Elusive Isabel (1916)

Face on the Screen (1917)

The Love Craze (1918)

The Unfoldment (1922)

Lucretia Lombard (1923)

The Satin Girl (1923)

Gambling Wives (1924)

The Greater Glory (1926)

The Johnstown Flood (1926)

Sweeping Against the Winds (1930)

Homicide Squad (1931)

The Hard Hombre (1931)

Sinners in the Sun (1932)

Secrets (1933)

The Old Fashioned Way (1934) (unverified)

Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) (unverified)

Hollywood Boulevard (1936) (role deleted)

One Rainy Afternoon (1936)





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