Beatrice deMille: Mother of Movies

Having had occasion to write about her illustrious family today I add Beatrice deMille (Matilda Beatrice Samuel, 1853-1923) to our roster of worthis. And frankly I’m done caring about the spelling of their last name. Some are supposed to spell it one way, some another, but I find all variations used for all of them: deMille, de Mille, De Mille, DeMille, let’s call the whole thing off! If you write to me with the correct spelling, I will mail a shoe box full of nitroglycerin to your house marked “Shake Well Before Opening.” I am past all caring.

Beatrice was from Liverpool, the daughter of English Jews. When she was 18 she immigrated with her parents to the U.S., settling in New York. In 1876 she married teacher and aspiring man of the theatre Henry Churchill de Mille (1853-1893).  In short order she gave birth to sons William C. de Mille (1878-1955) and Cecil B. Demille (1881-1959). There was also a daughter Agnes born in 1891 (for whom William’s daughter the choreographer was named) but she died at age four.

Henry was beginning to accrue success as an actor and a playwright when he died of pneumonia in 1893. It thus fell to Beatrice to earn a living, educate the children and set them up in life. She founded a girls’ school in her New Jersey home, and began to act as agent for her late husband’s plays. In 1900 her own play, The Greatest Thing in the World, co-written by Harriet Ford, was produced on Broadway. In 1906 one of her former pupils, Evelyn Nesbit was embroiled in her famous sex-and-murder scandal. The notoriety hurt the school; Beatrice closed it the following year. She then took an office on Broadway and began representing many other playwrights, including her sons. She mentored both boys in theatrical arts and nurtured their careers. It was she who introduced Cecil to Jesse Lasky, making her instrumental in the founding of what became Paramount Pictures. Beatrice moved to Hollywood with her sons in 1914. For a couple of years, she cranked out stories, scenarios and screenplays for silent films, then retired around 1920.