William Collier, Jr. aka Buster Collier (1902-1878) was a major star of the silent and Pre-Code eras. The most interesting fact about him coming out of the gate is that he was actually Charles F. Gall, Jr. His father was a theatre manager; his mother was actress Paula Marr. When his parents divorced and his mother married well-known star William Collier, the latter renamed his newly adopted son after himself.
Junior’s first role was in the Broadway play The Patriot (1908-09), co-written by and starring Collier Sr. According to the Sobels’ Illustrated History of Vaudeville, the Colliers, father and son, traveled the vaudeville circuits for a few years with an act when Buster was still a kid.
At age 14, Collier, Jr. starred in his first The Bugle Call, thus launching his his movie career. Buster appeared in some four dozen silent films. Some interesting ones included Back Stage (1919) with Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and Al St. John; The Heart of Maryland (1921) with Crane Wilbur, Ben Lyon and Catherine Calvert; The Sea Hawk (1924) and The Rainmaker (1926) with Georgia Hale, fresh off The Gold Rush.
More of Collier’s talking films are better remembered. They include The Show of Shows (1929), The Melody Man (1930), Rain or Shine (1930) with Joe Cook, Little Caesar (1931), Cimarron (1931), Reducing (1931, with Marie Dressler and Polly Moran), Elmer Rice’s Street Scene (1931), Broadminded (1931) with Joe E. Brown, and The Story of Temple Drake (1933). His last was The People’s Enemy (1935), in which he was sixth-billed. After this he briefly tried his hand as a writer. He turned out two stories that were filmed by Warner Brothers’ shorts department in 1936: Echo Mountain and The Sunday Round-Up.
After William Collier, Sr died, Buster tried his hand at producing. In that capacity he worked on two British films, London Town (1946) and Paper Orchid (1949), and then on three American TV series: Mr. and Mrs. North (1953), Crossroads (1955), and Adventures of the Falcon (1954-56).
For more on silent film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube; to find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous
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