Mabel Taliaferro: Sweetheart of American Movies

Born today: stage and screen star Mabel Taliaferro (1887-1979).

From one of America’s oldest Italian-American families, Taliaferro was raised in Richmond and started out in the theatre by working with Chauncey Olcott. Her first Broadway production, of a career that would embrace two dozen, was Children of the Ghetto (1899). Other notable plays from her early period include the original production of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1904-1905); the American premiere of Shaw’s You Never Can Tell (1905, with Arnold Daly), and the original production of Henry Miller’s Pippa Passes  (1906). Around this time, she also toured in vaudeville, and went to Australia with William Collier’s company for a tour of that country.

In 1906 she married Frederick Thompson, mastermind of Coney Island’s Luna Park, and producer at New York’s most magnificent theatre the Hippodrome, where Taliaferro starred in Polly of the Circus (1907-08). A couple of other Broadway shows followed.

In 1911, she divorced Thompson. The following year she began appearing in films, interspersed with her regular Broadway productions. Her first film was a Selig production of Cinderella (1912). Another couple of dozen films followed through the early 1920, at which point she retired from both stage and screen to raise her son Bill Taliaferro (born 1924). Her silent screen work includes The Three of Us (1914) with Creighton Hale; The Snowbird (1916) with James Cruze; A Magdalene of the Hills (1917); Peggy, A Will O’the Wisp and The Jury of Fate, both directed by Tod Browning in 1917; and Peggy Leads the Way (1917) with Mary Miles Minter.

In the 1930s, she began to dip her toe back in, and by the ’40s, she was fully immersed in work again for another decade and a half. She’s in the film My Love Came Back (1940) with Olivia de Havilland and Eddie Albert. In 1941, she was in the original Broadway production of Kaufman and Hart’s George Washington Slept Here. This was followed by Victory Belles (1943-44), and the original production of Bloomer Girl (1946-47). In between she was in an early television production of You Can’t Take it With You (1945). Mabel Taliaferro’s last Broadway show was Springtime Folly (1951); her last screen work was an episode on The Joseph Cotten Show (1956).

Her younger sister Edith Taliaferro followed Mabel into the acting trade. Read about her here. Their cousin Bessie Barriscale was also a successful actress.