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Silent Movie Icons: Norma Talmadge

Norma Talmadge

One of three sisters, Norma Talmadge was one of the most popular actresses of silent movies in the 1920s.

She had a difficult childhood; her father was an unemployed alcoholic who abandoned his family when they children were still young, leaving Norma’s mother to try and make ends meet.  At 14 Norma began modelling, and was noticed by execs at the Vitagraph movie studio. She landed her first small movie role in The Household Pest in 1910, and gradually landed herself increasingly better parts as she gained more experience as an actress.

Norma got her first starring role in 1915 in The Battle Cry of Peace, and after that left to join D.W. Griffith’s company: Griffith’s Fine Arts Company.

She really made a name for herself when she met film producer Joseph M. Shenck at a party.  He was so taken with her that he proposed not only marriage, but setting up a movie studio together.  All three sisters were involved in the enterprise: The Norma Talmadge Film Corporation made dramas, the Constance Talmadge Film Corporation made comedies (with Fatty Arbuckle end Buster Keaton), and Natalie Talmadge worked there helping to run the studio and taking occasional bit parts. She later married Buster Keaton.

Her most famous movies were Smilin’ Through (1922), Secrets (1924) and The Lady (1925). In 1923 she was named the number one box office star, and was earning a whopping $10.000 dollars a week.

Her decline came with the advent of talkies though. Even though she worked hard with a voice coach, and had a perfectly acceptable on-screen voice, =her first few talking movies weren’t successful.  After 2 decades in the movie business she decided she’d had enough and retired, a very wealthy woman, in 1930.

Lobby card from the 1926 film Kiki with Norma Talmadge.

Lobby card from the 1926 film Kiki with Norma Talmadge.

Norma Talmadge c. 1919

Norma Talmadge c. 1919

publicity shot of actress Norma Talmadge seated in a large wicker chair.

publicity shot of actress Norma Talmadge seated in a large wicker chair. C. 1922

Norma Talmadge and Wyndham Standing in The Isle of Conquest (1919)

Norma Talmadge and Wyndham Standing in The Isle of Conquest (1919)

Norma Talmadge

Norma Talmadge with very scruffy hair from October 27, 1917 Exhibitors Herald.

 

Norma Talmadge and Wallace MacDonald in The Lady (Frank Borzage 1925).

Norma Talmadge and Wallace MacDonald in The Lady (Frank Borzage 1925).

 

1919 magazine illustration of actress Norma Talmadge and some of her film costumes in paper doll form

1919 magazine illustration of actress Norma Talmadge and some of her film costumes in paper doll form

 

Norma Talmadge in The Forbidden City 1918

Norma Talmadge in The Forbidden City 1918

 

Constance, Natalie and Norma Talmadge

The Three Talmadges” – Constance, Natalie, and Norma Talmadge, June 1920 Motion Picture Magazine.

Poster for the 1922 film, Smilin' Through

Poster for the 1922 film, Smilin’ Through

 

Movie Poster for the 1916 movie Fifty-Fifty starring Norma Talmadge

Movie Poster for the 1916 movie Fifty-Fifty starring Norma Talmadge

 

Norma Talmadge The Woman Disputed

Poster for The Woman Disputed, 1928

 

English: Norma Talmadge in The Woman Disputed (1928), directed by Henry King.

English: Norma Talmadge in The Woman Disputed (1928), directed by Henry King.

Film poster for New York Nights, a 1929 crime film

Film poster for New York Nights, a 1929 crime film

Advertisement in Moving Picture World, Sept 1918

Advertisement in Moving Picture World, Sept 1918

 

Image source and copyright: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 910, 11, 12, 131415, 16This work is in the public domain 

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