Lottie Briscoe: Star of Stage, Screen and Vaudeville

Lottie Briscoe (1893-1950), an interesting figure of stage, screen and vaudeville, was born on this day. She joins our Lotta Lotties: Lottie Gilson and Lottie Collins, not to mention Lotta Crabtree and Lotta Faust. Lotta people liked that name back then. And, counterintuitively (all you Law and Order fans) the name Briscoe (as in Lenny Briscoe) is totally WASPY, it turns out. Its roots go back to Old Norse. Ya figure with that vowel at the end its gonna be Italian, and Jerry Orbach was of course Jewish. Nope! At any rate, its a tangent, its just something I learned when researching this lady.

Originally from St. Louis, she was performing onstage by age four as “Little Lottie Briscoe”, initially touring with melodramas with stock companies throughout the middle west. By the late ’90s she had made it to New York, appearing in the first American production of Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, presented by Richard Mansfield at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. She continued touring regionally throughout the first decade of the 20th century. In 1903 she married actor, playwright and director Harry McRae Webster, whose play Lieutenant Dick, U.S.A. she co-starred in, in 1905.

By 1910, the pair were in Chicago, where they were hired by Essanay Studios, she to act, he to direct. The pair divorced in 1911. One of the films Briscoe made at Essanay, His Friend’s Wife (1911) contained the film debut of Francis X. Bushman. In 1912, she moved to Lubin Studios, where she starred in scores of films through 1915, often popularly paired with Arthur V. Johnson. When Johnson died of T.B. in early 1916, Briscoe retired from cinema rather than risk it without him. She returned to the screen but once, in a supporting tole in 1918’s The House of Mirth.

In 1919 she began touring vaudeville in a George Kelly playlet Mrs. Wellington’s Surprise, which sustained her professionally for some time. She married her second husband, Harry Mountford, head of the vaudeville performers trade union, the White Rats, in 1921. The following year, she appeared as the titular squaw in a revival of The Squaw Man with William Faversham. The production made it to Majestic Theatre in Brooklyn, but not to Broadway. This is her last apparent professional credit.

After this, murk. She appears to have retired from acting entirely due to an undisclosed but debilitating illness. She died around the same time as Mountford in 1950.

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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