May McAvoy (1899-1984)

May McAvoy - Silent Movie Star

Petite at only four feet, eleven inches tall, weighing in at only eighty-nine pounds, the silent movie star May McAvoy never let her small stature interfere with her professional ambitions. She was born in New York City on September 8th, 1899. Her family owned a livery stable where the Waldcorf-Astoria hotel now stands. She graduated from Wadleigh High School, with the original intention of becoming a school teacher, but a friend suggested she try modeling and acting instead, since it was more lucrative. Through letters of introduction, she made the acquaintance of a director in New York, who gave her a small part in an advertising film commercial for Domino Sugar. With a pretty, pert face, eyes as blue as a cloudless sky, and long thick brown hair, May soon began to impress other film directors, and she landed her first real film role in 1917. May went on to make an impression in several films, in support of popular stars of the silent era, such as in “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch” (1919), playing opposite Marguerite Clark, “The Devil’s Garden” (1920), performing opposite Lionel Barrymore, the film version of “Sentimental Tommy” (1921), based on the novel by James Matthew Barrie, “Clarence” (1920), performing opposite Wallace Reid and Agnes Ayres, “The Enchanted Cottage” (1924), playing opposite Richard Barthelmess, and “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1925), playing opposite Ronald Colman. May’s most well known silent film role today is as “Esther” in the 1925 Ramon Novarro version of “Ben-Hur”, the most expensive silent film ever made. May married Maurice Cleary in 1929, and had a son named Patrick. She remained married to Maurice until his death in 1973.

May McAvoy - silent movie star

May had the distinction of playing opposite Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” (1928), although she did not have any speaking lines in that ground-breaking film. She did make a few early talkies in 1929, and then retired from the screen during the entire 1930’s. She reappeared, but only in small, uncredited roles during the 1940’s and 1950’s, indicative of how poorly the changing film industry continued to treat its former silent screen stars who had helped them make so much money years before. May’s last film was made in 1957. She died from a heart attack on the 26th of April, 1984 in Los Angeles, California. ~ Copyright © 2004

May McAvoy’s Silent Films

Caught in the Fog (1928) …. The Girl
Lion and the Mouse, The (1928) …. Shirley Ross
Little Snob, The (1928) …. May Banks
If I Were Single (1927) …. May Howard
Reno Divorce, A (1927) …. Carla

Jazz Singer, The (1927) …. Mary Dale
Slightly Used (1927) …. Cynthia Martin
Irish Hearts (1927) …. Sheila
Matinee Ladies (1927) …. Sallie Smith
Calf-Love (1926)
Fire Brigade, The (1926) …. Helen Corwin
Savage, The (1926) …. Ysabel Atwater
Passionate Quest, The (1926) …. Rosina Vonet
My Old Dutch (1926) …. Sal Gratton
Road to Glory, The (1926) …. Judith Allen

May McAvoy, in Ben Hur (1925) as Esther (Golden Silents Colorized)

May McAvoy as Esther in 1925’s “Ben-Hur”

Ben-Hur (1925) …. Esther
… aka Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925) …. Lady Windermere
Tessie (1925) …. Tessie
Mad Whirl, The (1925) …. Cathleen Gillis
Three Women (1924) …. Jeanne Wilton
Married Flirts (1924) …. Guest at party
Tarnish (1924) …. Letitia Tevis
Bedroom Window, The (1924) …. Ruth Martin
Enchanted Cottage, The (1924) …. Laura Penningtow
West of the Water Tower (1924) …. Bee Chew
Her Reputation (1923) …. Jacqueline Lanier
Hollywood (1923) …. Cameo appearance
… aka Joligud (1923)
Only 38 (1923) …. Lucy Stanley
Grumpy (1923) …. Virginia Bullivant
Kick In (1922) …. Myrtle
Clarence (1922) …. Cora Wheeler
Top of New York, The (1922) …. Hilda O’Shaunnessey
Through a Glass Window (1922) …. Jenny Martin
Homespun Vamp, A (1922) …. Meg Mackenzie
Virginia Courtship, A (1921) …. Prudence Fairfax
Morals (1921) …. Carlotta
Everything for Sale (1921) …. Helen Wainwright
Private Scandal, A (1921) …. Jeanne Millett
Sentimental Tommy (1921) …. Grizel
Love Wins (1920)
Truth About Husbands, The (1920)
Devil’s Garden, The (1920) …. Norah
Forbidden Valley, The (1920) …. Morning Glory
House of the Tolling Bell, The (1920) …. Lucy Atheron
Man and His Woman (1920) …. Eve Cartier
Sporting Duchess, The (1920) …. Mary Aylmer
My Husband’s Other Wife (1920) …. Nettie Bryson
Woman Under Oath, The (1919) …. Edith Norton
Way of a Woman, The (1919) …. Grace Lee
… aka Nancy Lee (1919)
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1919) …. Australy Wiggs
I’ll Say So (1918) (uncredited) …. Undetermined Role
Perfect Lady, A (1918) …. Claire Higgins
To Hell with the Kaiser! (1918) …. Wounded Girl
Hate (1917) …. May Garvan

To learn more about May McAvoy visit her profile on The Internet Movie Datase


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