Charles Ogle: The First Frankenstein

Actor Charles Ogle (1865-1940) is one of the few major stars I can think of whose career stretches the early Edison days (1908) to the time of the modern studio system (mid ’20s). His body of work was created entirely within the silent era, yet there were so many changes within the industry during that time. In the two decade period, American cinema went from a WASP owned monopoly run by the motion picture’s founding entrepreneurs to a modern corporate industry run by immigrant business geniuses. The films themselves went from ten minute blips screened in arcades and on vaudeville bills to feature length spectacles screened in specially built cinemas in a cultural ritual recognizable as the same one we partake of today. The art of the actor had changed as well over the period. Audiences of the ’20s demanded more subtlety and realism in the ‘1920s than the ones of the Edison and Biograph days. Only the very best and biggest of them (Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish) weathered that transformation. Ogle was among them.

Ogle as Frankenstein’s monster, a demonstration of his range and willingness to disappear in a role

Originally from Steubenville, Ohio (Dean Martin’s hometown), Ogle started out as a stage actor in the final years of the 19th century. By 1905 he was on Broadway, appearing in Edmund Burke, followed by Eileen Asthore (1906) and Father and Son (1908). In 1908 he made his screen debut in The Boston Tea Party, directed by Edwin S. Porter. No less than 326 films would follow, some of them which are still watched and cherished by movie fans to this day. His best remembered early ones were both made in 1910: Frankenstein (he was the first person to ever play the monster), and A Christmas Carol (it was the third version ever made; Ogle played Bob Cratchit). Others included The Prince and the Pauper (1909), Bluebeard (1909), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), M’Liss (1918), The Squaw Man (1918), Hawthorne of the U.S.A. (1919), Treasure Island (1920), he was Long John Silver), Brewster’s Millions (1921), The Covered Wagon (1923), Ruggles of Red Gap (1923), The Ten Commandments (1923), Merton of the Movies (1924), The Alaskan (1924), and The Thundering Herd (1925). The Flaming Forest (1926) was his last movie.

He was 61 when he retired, a fairly typical age for withdrawing from the daily grind. But of course 1926 was also the eve of the sound era. Perhaps that was one change too many.

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