Today is the birthday of silent screen star Dustin Farnum (1874-1929). A second generation stage performer, he got his theatrical start in childhood, and by age 15 had formed a vaudeville act with his brother William (also destined for film stardom), which consisted primarily of tumbling and wrestling. He then began acting with stock companies, barnstorming the country and gaining experience. By the turn of the century he’d made it to Broadway with A Romance of Athlone (1899). When still a stage star he began to be associated with western parts, in vehicles such as The Virginian (1904) and The Squaw Man (1911), the film versions of which he was also to play the lead in. One of the top stars of the silent screen, his other notable films included The Scarlet Pimpernel (1917) and The Corsican Brothers (1920), but primarily he was and is known as one of the first stars of the western genre. His last picture was The Flaming Frontier (1926), in which he played General Custer.
Farnum died of kidney failure in 1929. The youngest of the three Farnum Brothers, Marshall, a movie director born in 1879, bested him by dying of TB in 1917 when the three were at their prime. William was the only one to make it to a ripe old age.
Dustin Farnum’s most notable film remains 1914’s landmark feature The Squaw Man, by Cecil B. Demille:
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early screen history check out Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.