Today is the birthday of matinee idol Francis X. Bushman (1883-1966). He started his career acting with Baltimore stock companies. Inspired by Sandow the Strong man, as a young man he built up his muscles, winning a contest in 1903 and allowing him to work for many years as a male model. His physique also brought him to the attention of Broncho Billy Anderson, who hired him to work at Essanay studios, the beginning of his film career.
In 1918, in a major scandal Bushman had an affair with actress and co-star Beverly Bayne, divorcing his wife of 16 years in order to marry her.
In 1921, the notorious pair played the Palace in the sketch “Poor Rich Man”
Bushman was to remain a star through the end of the silent era. The stock market crash and the coming of sound combined to take the wind out of his sails thereafter. His movie parts grew smaller after that, although he enjoyed fame on radio for the next several decades, and later played roles on television, including one of his last parts, as a silent film collector on Batman shortly before he died in 1966. Nowadays he is remembered usually as a punchline or a trivia question as the star with the worst stage name in history.
For more on silent film history don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.