These Are the Female Silent Comedians

This is sort of a follow-up to my earlier post in which I ranked the silent comedians.  I thought up this post because dames necessarily got short shrift on the earlier list, which was focused on slapstick comedy stars. If we did such a list today, bang, zoom, no problem. Melissa McCarthy not only heads that list, but at the present moment she is my favorite contemporary slapstick star, male or female. I’m here to tell ya she has changed the entire playing field.

But a century ago, or 80 or 90 years ago? There were plenty of female comedy stars but it was rare for them to have violence done to them for all sorts of cultural reasons you already know. I’m not saying no lady ever took a pie in the face. It’s a question of ratio and proportion and what the primary associations are. The biggest female movie stars associated with comedies might best be called comic actresses (as opposed to slapstick clowns) and they may also have acted in many non-comic roles. That’s one type. Another type are the leading ladies to the major comedians. They definitely had an important role to play in the comedy, but their parts were generally more passive and reactive. They were beauties to be adored — not slobs to throw down the stairs. A third type would be the lady slapstick clown in an ensemble — important, but not a marquee name that would be above the title to sell a picture. And a fourth type would be a lady slapstick star for real….but not a major ticket-selling star (as were the artists who made that list I previously posted) But they deserve notice and celebration, so they get THIS list. There’s a lot of ’em. Probably more than you knew existed, and I didn’t even list them all.

I flirted with ranking them, but I can’t, really. So this is a just a list in no particular order (with some of the bigger ones toward the top). Click on her name and get info about the artist! (Oh yeah, I’m gonna make you work for it).


Mabel Normand


Constance Talmadge


Gloria Swanson 


Marion Davies


Colleen Moore


Edna Purviance


Alice Howell


Gale Henry


Louise Fazenda


Bebe Daniels


Mildred Davis


Jobyna Ralston


Sybil Seeley


Kathryn McGuire


Marie Prevost


Phyllis Haver


Minta Durfee


Flora Finch


Alberta Vaughn


Alice Lake


Dorothy Devore


Virginia Fox 


Marion “Peanuts” Byron 

ca. 1920's --- Anita Garvin models pearl beaded outfit in front of large feather fan. Undated photograph. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Anita Garvin


Dot Farley


Madeline Hurlock


Phyllis Allen 


Dorothy Dwan

And many, many others, no doubt — but please don’t write to tell me “You forgot such and such!” or “Don’t forget X, Y and Z!”. Or (in spite of all my qualifiers and caveats) “So-and-so isn’t really a comedian.” You may have noticed by now I seldom publish or acknowledge such “contributions”. Feel free to start your own blog if you have an opinion you’d like to express!

For more on silent comedy please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc



  1. I recently discovered Olive Thomas through what I guess is her best known film, The Flapper (1920). Which, as you probably know, she filmed a few months before her untimely death at the age of 25. I have no doubts that she’d be foremost in people’s minds for a list like this if she’d lived longer.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.