Nora Lane: Briefly a Comedienne

A little window onto my modus operandi. Normally I keep to a tight daily blogging schedule. If an idea for a subject for a post occurs to me, I schedule it. If it is biographical, I normally post on the artist’s birthday, which sometimes can be months away. And normally when I encounter my tickler with the day’s assignment, it’s quickly apparent why I thought the person was a suitable subject: either they are famous, or I’ll remember the connection. Today, when I came upon the name Nora Lane (Nora Bennett Schilling, 1905-1948), I drew a blank. I didn’t recognize the name and when I looked at existing online bios, while there were numerous minor factors which came close to tipping the scales for meriting a post here, the totality didn’t add up to someone I would be tempted to write about. But then when I scanned Lane’s IMDB credits, I found the answer, and so we put it right in our lead paragraph: Nora Lane had starred in a half dozen comedy shorts for Mack Sennett in 1933. These were Don’t Play Bridge With Your Wife, with Marjorie Beebe, Bud Jamison, and Grady Sutton; Easy on the Eyes, with Franklin Pangborn and Dorothy Granger; Sweet Cookie, with Pangborn and Beebe; Roadhouse Queen, with Walter Catlett; See You Tonight with Tom Moore; and Husbands Reunion, with Catlett and Sutton. These shorts were directed by the likes of George Marshall and William Beaudine. Unfortunately, Sennett went bankrupt not long after this, otherwise who knows where her career would have gone if he hadn’t? At any rate, this brief interlude didn’t even rate a mention for other biographers, for us it is the main story!

Lane grew up in St. Louis and in her early years she was a swim champ and a model. Spotted by scouts she began playing supporting parts in westerns, most of them starring Fred Thomson or Tom Tyler. In the talking era, her roles were briefly more diverse, and you can see her in The Cohens and the Kellys in Atlantic City (1929), Marilyn Miller’s Sally (1929), Rain or Shine (1930) with Joe Cook, Jimmy the Gent (1934), George White’s Scandals (1934) and Stand Up and Cheer (1934). She enjoyed much bigger roles in B movie westerns in the mid-30s, starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy and Tim McCoy. But as the ’40s rolled on she was relegated mostly to walk-ons as secretaries, nurses and salesgirls in B pictures. When she retired in 1944 she had been in over 80 movies.

But there is more drama to her story. In 1931 Lane (along with Warner Baxter and Edmund Lowe) was in a well-publicized train crash 20 miles east of Yuma. Fortunately, she escaped unscathed. Then, in 1948, one month after the fatal heart attack of her husband Burdette Henney, Lane took her own life with a gunshot to the head. Her note gave her despondency over the death of her husband as the reason. She was only 43.

The more you drill down into Nora Lane’s life story, the more interesting it gets. For more detail on her, check out her entry on Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. 

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