Today is the birthday of Anita Stewart (1895-1961). A native of Brooklyn, she started out in 1911 playing bit roles at Vitagraph Studios, which was based locally. (She was in the all-star A Tale of Two Cities that first year, which starred Mabel Normand, John Bunny and others). By 1917 she was a big star for the studio. In 1918, she used that position to leverage a sweet deal with Louis B. Mayer, who was then launching his own studio (which would eventually merge to become MGM). She would not only star in but also produce her own pictures for the studio between 1918 and 1922. Several of these became smash hits, ensuring Mayer’s success.
In 1923, she undertook a big time vaudeville tour with a sketch called “Modes of the Moment” but it closed after 10 days. The fact that she made virtually no pictures after 1928, the era of talkies, may give some indication why she washed out on the stage. Very few of her movies have survived, making it difficult to assess her acting in the silent medium either.
Someone has put together this nice photo tribute of her, however:
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.
For more on silent film history see 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