Today is the birthday of Viola Dana (Virginia Flugrath, 1897-1987). A child actress since the age of 3 she played in melodramas on the legit stage and in vaudeville, including a vaud tour with Dustin Farnum of a one act called The Little Rebel.
Her first film was the 1910 Edison version of A Christmas Carol. For nearly two decades she was to be a major star of the silent screen in over a hundred films, including Molly the Drummer Boy (1914), Gladiola (1915), Merton of the Movies (1924) and one of Frank Capra’s first films That Certain Thing (1928).
Though she had plenty of stage experience, when sound came in she returned to vaudeville starting in 1929 appearing in playlets like “There Goes the Bride”, and Anita Loos’s “The Inkwell” with Edward Arnold. After this she retired and married professional golfer Jimmy Thomson, to whom she was married until 1945. In 1987, shortly before she died she appeared in the documentary Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (she’d been a friend of Keaton’s and the Talmadge sisters during the silent era).
Her sisters Shirley Mason and Edna Flugrath were stage and screen actresses as well.
Here is Viola Dana in a clip from her 1920 film Cinderella’s Twin:
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out 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