The First Disappearance of Bessie Eyton

Silent screen actress Bessie Eyton (Bessie Harrison, 1890-1965) is best remembered, to the extent that she is, for playing the female lead in the 1914 version of The Spoilers, and in the 1916 12-reel adaptation of Winston Churchill’s The Crisis. Her father was musician Edgar Harrison. Her second husband, from the years 1908 to 1915, was then-actor Charles Eyton (1871-1941), who later became general manager of Famous Players-Lasky (the company that became Paramount).

Eyton’s 15-odd year career in films appears to have been a bit of a fluke. She was attending a party or studio tour at Selig Polyscope Studios when she was spotted by a director and cast in a film. Her first picture was The Sheriff of Tuolomne (1911), opposite Tom Mix. She was a star at Selig until the studio closed in 1918, at which point her career became more of a struggle. While she’d starred in 180 movies up until that point, she was in only 9 between 1919 and 1925, mostly for obscure, independent studios. Her last was The Girl of Gold (1925), starring Florence Vidor, in which she was fourth in the billing. After this, it is said that she worked as an extra and bit player, although she is not credited in IMDB for any additional roles.

Several online sources, as well as Denise Lowe’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films 1895-1930, say that, following a heated argument with her mother, Eyton vanished for a period of many years, not just from the public, but from her friends and family, as well. Her whereabouts were unknown until her death by cardiac arrest in 1965, at which time the family was found and notified. Why do I use the phrase “first disappearance” in the title of this post? Come, come, don’t let’s be coy. Has the Man on the Street heard of this actress?

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