Norma Talmadge (1893-1957)

Norma Talmadge, Silent Film Star

“The Queen Of Versatility”

Silent movie star drama queen Norma Talmadge was born on May 26th, 1893 in Niagara Falls, New York and raised in Brooklyn. Her baby sister Constance Talmadge was a major silent movie star in the 1910’s and 1920’s as well, while another sister Natalie acted a little too, and became the first wife of Buster Keaton. The daughter of an unemployed alcoholic named Fred Talmadge and his domineering wife Peg, Norma grew up as the oldest daughter in a stressful home life marked by poverty. Her father deserted the family one Christmas morning when the children were little, and left his wife to raise the three girls alone.

Peg took in laundry, sold cosmetics, and taught art classes to help the family survive. By the time she was fourteen Norma was prodded by Peg to take up modeling for the illustrations in the title cards of the earliest films shown in the nickelodeons. This experience was used by her mother Peg to get Norma’s foot in the door at Vitagraph Studios, located a short distance from their home. Every day they rode the trolley, with Norma often missing school, to try to get the young, beautiful girl into films. Norma was eventually successful enough to attract the attention of studio executives at Vitagraph, and she won her first contract. In 1911 she was the girl who was marched to the guillotine in “A Tale Of Two Cities”, the first film version made of this classic story (which, incredibly, still survives today in good condition). Norma went on to play small roles in early Vitagraph shorts such as “The Household Pest” (1910), “His Official Appointment” (1912 – which survives), “An Old Man’s Love Story” (1913 – surviving), “A Helpful Sisterhood” (1914 – surviving), and “John Rance, Gentleman” (1914 – also surviving), appearing opposite a very young Antonio Moreno. By 1914 Norma was one of Vitagraph’s leading young actresses, and the family’s poverty seemed a thing of the past. Seeking even better opportunities for her girls, in August of 1915 mama Peg took Norma and her sisters to California. Norma’s first film made in Hollywood was “Captivating Mary Carstairs” (1915), a failure. Its studio, National, shut down and Norma was out of work temporarily; she returned to the East Coast. During this time her sister Connie had begun acting for the legendary director D.W. Griffith. Constance managed to get Norma some work with Griffith’s film company. During this eight month period Norma made seven feature films and a few shorts, including a chilling departure from her usual dramatic ingenue roles, in a bizarre part as a beautiful young girl who connivingly turns an artist into a cocaine addict in “The Devil’s Needle” (1916 – surviving in part). She also made an adorable film for Fine Arts which still survives, with a charming script by Anita Loos, called “The Social Secretary” (1916).

Norma and Connie Talmadge

Sisters Norma and Connie Talmadge

1916 was a pivotal year for Norma. She met and married successful film producer Joseph Schenck, who became enormously devoted to Norma. He was determined that she succeed in the picture business. With his backing they formed their own production company, the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation, which turned out a number of films, the first of which was “Panthea” (1917), a huge hit for Norma, plus the sadly tender “The Forbidden City” (1918 – surviving), in which she played dual roles as a murdered Chinese woman and her daughter, as well as “The Heart of Wetona” (1919 – surviving), in which Norma played a mixed raced white girl and American Indian. In 1920 Norma’s production company moved to Hollywood, and produced the successful pictures “The Wonderful Thing” (1921), “Smilin’ Through” (1922), “The Eternal Flame” (1922), “The Song of Love” (1923), “Graustark” (1925) and “Camille” (1926). Norma’s last silent film was a cameo appearance as herself in the well loved silent comedy “Show People” (1928), in which Marion Davies was the featured star.

Norma made a handful of early talkie films, including the surviving “Du Barry, Woman of Passion” in 1930, but then she decided she had had enough, that she was rich enough to retire and enjoy life. A romantic relationship which she had developed with actor Gilbert Roland threatened her marriage to faithful Joe Schenck, and Norma was divorced from Joe in 1934. The bloom fell off the rose with her relationship with Gilbert however, and Norma went on to marry actor George Jessel instead. She appeared on his radio show during the 1930’s, but then divorced George in 1939. She married Dr. Carvel James in 1946, a marriage that lasted until she died of a stroke at age 62, on Christmas Eve, 1957 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Norma had been reclusive in her later years, as were both her sisters Constance and Natalie. All of them ending up having alcohol problems reminiscent of their father Fred’s drinking problem so many years before. Despite these personal problems all three sisters, Norma, Constance, and Natalie Talmadge will forever have their names enshrined in early American film history as pioneer actresses, and thanks to the ongoing efforts of film restorers, perhaps more of their early work will once again be made available to the film viewing public. Several of their films have been archived at the U.S. Library of Congress, and other film libraries, but have never been put on video or DVD. Hopefully the day will soon arrive when this sad situation can be rectified. These great old films should not be hidden away from the public any longer. They are part of our American heritage. They should be preserved and promoted for future generations to enjoy. ~ Copyright © 2004

Vintage Bio from “Who’s Who On The Screen” (1920): “Norma Talmadge was born in Niagara Falls and educated in the Brooklyn elementary schools and Erasmus High School. She entered pictures at the age of fourteen, with no previous stage experience, going first for the Vitagraph Studio as a member of its old stock company. Miss Talmadge now has her own Company, with her new special feature attractions, released through Associated First National Pictures, Inc. She is considered one of the foremost emotional actresses of the day, and is equally capable in light comedy and character roles. Because of her ability to excel in every branch of screen art, she has been universally nick-named “The Queen of Versatility.”

Norma Talmadge Photo Gallery

Photo One  Photo Two  Photo Three Photo Four

Norma Talmadge Silent Films

Show People (1928) (uncredited) …. Cameo appearance
Dove, The (1927) …. Dolores
Camille (1926) …. Marguerite Gautier (Camille)
Kiki (1926) …. Kiki
Graustark (1925) …. Princess Yetive
Lady, The (1925) …. Polly Pearl

Norma Talmadge on silent movie film songs sheet music

One indication of how popular a silent star was: the number of sheet music song covers her face adorned.
Like popular comedienne Mabel Normand, Norma Talmadge certainly had her share.

Only Woman, The (1924) …. Helen Brinsley
Secrets (1924) …. Mary Carlton
Song of Love, The (1923) …. Noorma-hal
Ashes of Vengeance (1923) …. Yolande de Breux
Within the Law (1923) …. Mary Turner
Voice from the Minaret, The (1923) …. Lady Adrienne Carlyle
Eternal Flame, The (1922) …. Duchesse de Langeais
Smilin’ Through (1922) …. Kathleen/Moonyeen
… aka Smiling Through (1922) (USA: copyright title)
Love’s Redemption (1921/I) …. Jennie Dobson (aka Ginger)
Wonderful Thing, The (1921) …. Jacqueline Laurentine Boggs
Sign on the Door, The (1921) …. Ann Hunniwell/Mrs. ‘Lafe’ Regan
Passion Flower (1921) …. Acacia, The Passion Flower
… aka Love or Hate (1921) (USA)
Branded Woman, The (1920) …. Ruth Sawyer
Yes or No (1920) …. Margaret Vane/Minnie Berry
Woman Gives, The (1920) …. Inga Sonderson
She Loves and Lies (1920) …. Marie Callender, aka Marie Max and June Dayne
Daughter of Two Worlds, A (1920) …. Jennie Malone
Isle of Conquest, The (1919) …. Ethel Harmon
Way of a Woman, The (1919) …. Nancy Lee
… aka Nancy Lee (1919)
Dust of Desire (1919)
Probation Wife, The (1919) …. Josephine Mowbray
New Moon, The (1919) …. Princess Marie Pavlovna
Heart of Wetona, The (1919) …. Wetona
Forbidden City, The (1918) …. San San/Toy
… aka Tale of the Forbidden City, A (1918)
Her Only Way (1918) …. Lucille Westbrook
Safety Curtain, The (1918) …. Puck
De Luxe Annie (1918) …. Julie Kendal (De Luxe Annie II)
By Right of Purchase (1918) …. Margot Hughes
Ghosts of Yesterday, The (1918) …. Ruth Graham/Jeanne La Fleur
Secret of the Storm Country, The (1917) …. Tess Skinner
Moth, The (1917) …. Lucy Gillam
Poppy (1917) …. Poppy Destinn
Law of Compensation, The (1917) …. Flora Graham/Ruth Graham
Panthea (1917) …. Panthea Romoff
Fifty-Fifty (1916/I) …. Naomi
Social Secretary, The (1916) …. Mayme
Devil’s Needle, The (1916) …. Rene
Going Straight (1916) …. Grace Remington
… aka Corruption (1916)
Children in the House, The (1916) …. Cora
Martha’s Vindication (1916) …. Martha
Missing Links, The (1916) …. Myra Holburn
Captivating Mary Carstairs (1915) …. Mary Carstairs
Daughter’s Strange Inheritance, A (1915)
Pillar of Flame, A (1915)
Crown Prince’s Double, The (1915) …. Shirley Rives
Battle Cry of Peace, The (1915) …. Virginia Vandergriff
… aka American Home, An (1915) (UK)
… aka Battle Cry of War, The (1917/I) (reissue title)
… aka Call to Arms Against War, A (1915)
Criminal, The (1915)
Elsa’s Brother (1915)
Janet of the Chorus (1915)
Barrier of Faith, The (1915) …. Rose, Their Daughter
Daughter of Israel, A (1915) …. Mother Who Abandons Child/Olga, The Child Grown Up
Goodbye Summer (1914)
Hero, The (1914)
Hidden Letters, The (1914)
His Little Page (1914)

Norma Talmadge with Gilbert Roland, her leading man on screen
in several film roles, and off-screen for awhile as well

John Rance, Gentleman (1914)
Mill of Life, The (1914)
Officer John Donovan (1914)
Old Reliable (1914)
Peacemaker, The (1914)
Politics and the Press (1914)
Right of Way, The (1914)
Salvation of Kathleen, The (1914) …. Kathleen
Sawdust and Salome (1914)
Sunshine and Shadows (1914)
Under False Colors (1914)
Question of Clothes, A (1914)
Curing of Myra May, The (1914)
Loan Shark King, The (1914)
Memories in Men’s Souls (1914)
Fogg’s Millions (1914)
Wayward Daughter, A (1914)
Miser Murray’s Wedding Present (1914)
Cupid Versus Money (1914)
Helpful Sisterhood, A (1914)
Sacrifice of Kathleen, The (1914)
Vavasour Ball, The (1914)
‘Arriet’s Baby (1913)
Extremities (1913)
Fanny’s Conspiracy (1913)
Lady and Her Maid, The (1913)
Midget’s Revenge, The (1913)
O’Hara as a Guardian Angel (1913)
Omens and Oracles (1913)
Solitaires, The (1913)
Stenographer Troubles (1913)
Under the Daisies (1913)
Wanted, a Stronghand (1913)
Honorable Algernon, The (1913)
Blue Rose, The (1913)
Elopement at Home, An (1913)
His Silver Bachelorhood (1913)
Father’s Hatband (1913)
Doctor’s Secret, The (1913)
Other Woman, The (1913/I)
Old Man’s Love Story, An (1913) …. Ethel Marsham
Silver Cigarette Case, The (1913)
O’Hara’s Goldchild (1913)
Just Show People (1913)
O’Hara Helps Cupid (1913) …. Aileen
Casey at the Bat (1913) …. Kitty
Mr. Butler Buttles (1912)
O’Hara, Squatter and Philosopher (1912)
Model for St. John, The (1912)
Captain Barnacle, Reformer (1912) …. Captain Bunce’s Daughter, Ruth
His Official Appointment (1912) …. His Daughter
Faithful Unto Death (1912)
Father’s Hot Toddy (1912)
Captain Barnacle’s Waif (1912) …. Captain Barnacle’s Daughter
Fortune in a Teacup, A (1912)
Higher Mercy, The (1912) …. Alice
Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton, The (1912) …. One of the Lovesick Maidens
Wanted… a Grandmother (1912)
Troublesome Step-Daughters, The (1912) …. A Step-Daughter
Extension Table, The (1912)
Stumbling Block, The (1912)
Fortunes of a Composer (1912) …. The Musician’s Daughter
Counsel for the Defense (1912)
Mrs. ‘Enry ‘Awkins (1912) …. Liza
Mrs. Carter’s Necklace (1912)
… aka Sphinx, The (1912) (USA)
First Violin, The (1912)
Captain Barnacle’s Messmates (1912)
Romance of Wall Street, A (1912)
Four Poster Pest, The (1911)
Paola and Francesca (1911)
His Last Cent (1911)
Her Hero (1911)
Forgotten; or, An Answered Prayer (1911)
Child Crusoes, The (1911)
Thumb Print, The (1911)
General’s Daughter, The (1911)
Sky Pilot, The (1911)
Tale of Two Cities, A (1911) …. Woman on the way to guillotine
Broken Spell, A (1910)
Household Pest, The (1910)
In Neighboring Kingdoms (1910)
Dixie Mother, A (1910)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1910/I)
Love of Chrysanthemum (1910)

To learn more about Norma Talmadge visit her profile on The Internet Movie Database


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