Kathryn Stanley: Salome and Seaside Siren

Kathryn Stanley as Salome

I first became aware of Kathryn Stanley (1897-1978), whose birthday it is today, when I wrote my piece on famous stage and screen Salomes. There is a wide online dissemination of her in the photo above, taken by Edwin Bower Hesser in 1926. I also came across this related one:

The latter image leads me to suspect that there wasn’t any original arty intention to do a Salome layout at all — they were just fooling around with mannequin heads as props in the photo session. But be that as it may, there is much that intrigues me about her, for all her obscurity (or perhaps because of it.). All that we know is that she was born in Illinois, and from 1925 through 1935 she worked as a bit player in Hollywood, almost the entirety of that spent in the employ of Mack Sennett in the background of his comedy shorts. Furthermore, especially in the early years, she was normally one of his Bathing Girls, or sometimes a chorus girl. She’s ID’d by the folks at SilentHollywood.com as the girl on the left in this 1928 photo, along with (L-R), Leotia Winters, regional manager L.M. Cobbs, Madeline Hurlock, Carole Lombard, Marie Pergain and Nancy Cornelius:

I’m mildly curious about her life before and after this ten year period. One can make educated guesses based on the few available fragments. She is approaching 30 when she begins to work for Sennett — rather long in the tooth in a time when girls routinely started such jobs as teenagers. And she is unselfconsciously nude in the Hesser photo, taken just as she was beginning her career in films. Given what I know of the typical career track of similar professionals, I’d speculate that she had been a chorus girl on the stage, as well as a professional model prior to this. She’s got no Broadway credits, at least not under that name, but given that she was born in Illinois perhaps she started out in Chicago.

I’m also interested in the fact that she never graduated out of supernumerary parts to play actual roles (since it seems like it was pretty easy to do that in the early days, if you really wanted to) and that she pretty much worked only for Sennett. When he goes bankrupt and stops producing, that’s when her career stops. After Sennett closes shop, she’s an extra and a stand-in in a James Whale picture called One More River (1934), and a stand-in in the crime drama Chinatown Squad (1935), and then she falls silent for 43 years. By the time of her last picture, she was nearing 40, definitely aging out of earning her living as eye candy. But what, if anything, did she move on to? Did she perform onstage? Become a store clerk? Get married? These questions don’t exactly keep me up at night, but the Salome photo might if I really thought about it!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy including the films of Mack Sennett, please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,