Marguerite Clark: The Original Snow White

Though I write quite a lot about silent film and early Broadway history, I learned about Marguerite Clark (1883-1940) in a totally round-about way. I read that a teenage Walt Disney had seen her 1916 film of Snow White and it inspired him to do his own version twenty years later (it seems to have driven him in much the same way as Fred Stone’s performance as the Scarecrow in the 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz later drove Ray Bolger to create his own interpretation). Clark was a major star, running some years second only to Mary Pickford in box office popularity, but she was only in movies for seven years, retiring at the comparatively early film year of 1921. Furthermore, almost all of her films have been lost, thus opportunities to stumble across her are rare. But Marguerite Clark was significant in her day.

The Cincinnati native was only 17 when she was cast in her first Broadway show The Belle of Bohemia (1900). Another 15 Broadway productions followed including Mr. Pickwick (1903) and The Pied Piper (1908) both with DeWolf Hopper, The Affairs of Anatol (1912) with John  Barrymore, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1912) the basis of the aforementioned movie. Her last Broadway play was Prunella, or Love in a Garden (1913).

In 1914, she signed with newly-formed Famous Players-Lasky, the studio which was to release all but one of her 40 films. In addition to Snow White she is best remembered for the 1918 version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which she played both Topsy and Eva. Other notable stuff includes a 1915 version of The Prince and the Pauper, three comedies released in 1917 in which she played a character named “Bab” created by Mary Roberts Rinehart, a 1918 screen version of her stage hit Prunella, and a 1919 version of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. Her final film was the self-produced Scrambled Wives (1921).

In 1918 Clark married millionaire aviation entrepreneur Harry Palmerston Williams. After her last film she retired with Williams to his large Louisiana plantation. At this writing, but five of her films are known to survive: Silks and Satins (1916), Snow White (1916), Little Miss Hoover (1918), Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1919), and Luck in Pawn (1919). Additionally, some fragments of Prunella (1918) are extant. Snow White is available on Youtube. You should check it out!

For more on silent film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,