Clarine Seymour: A Charmed Career But a Short Life

The ascent of Clarine Seymour (1898-1920) in the film business was nothing short of meteoric, like a ladder with several, clear rungs leading only upward. It must have seemed to good to be true to many — and then it was.

Still a teenager, she started out in supporting roles in the Pathe serial The Mystery of the Double Cross and two Thanhouser pictures, Pots-and-Pans Peggy, and It Happened to Adele, all in 1917. These were east coast productions, made while she was still living in New Rochelle under the roof of her father, a retired ribbon manufacturer. These appearances got her hired by Hal Roach to be the leading lady in around a dozen Toto the Clown comedy shorts in 1918. While there she also had a memorable turn as the “Pretty Lady” in the early Stan Laurel short Just Rambling Along.

This work brought Seymour to the attention of Victor Heerman, who screen tested her to become part of D.W. Griffith’s company in 1919. For Griffith, Seymour appeared in The Girl Who Stayed Home, True Heart Susie, and Scarlet Days (all 1919) and The Idol Dancer (1920), her first starring role. In just three jumps in two years she had become a movie star.

Seymour had begun shooting her part in Griffith’s Way Down East when, from out of the blue, she was struck down with an intestinal ailment, finally succumbing to pneumonia while in the hospital. Her scenes in Way Down East were re-shot with Mary Hay in her role. A few months later she was eulogized by William Desmond Taylor, who would be dead himself within months. There must have been moments in the early 1920s when it seemed like the movie industry was cursed.

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