Elmer Booth: Killed by Tod Browning

Los Angeles local Elmer Booth (1882-1915) was 28 when he was cast in his first Biograph role, in The Oath and the Man (1910) starring Henry B. Walthall. Whether he was related to the famous Booth family of actors is unknown, but he certainly had an excellent surname for his chosen profession. Booth rapidly became a key member of D.W. Griffith’s stock company, appearing in nearly 40 films in the next six years, and even penning five scenarios for the studio. Posterity remembers him best for playing The Snapper Kid in The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), which has often been called the first gangster film.

By June of 1915, his most recent film, the comedy A Chase by Moonlight, with Fay Tincher, Max Davidson, and Edward Dillon was in the can, and he was slated for a good part in Griffith’s Intolerance. Unfortunately on June 16, he’d gone out drinking with Tod Browning and actor George Siegmann. They were racing home from the roadhouse when Browning’s speeding car encountered a flatbed train car loaded with steel rails. Browning and Siegmann were badly hurt; Booth was killed instantly. The story is often told from the perspective of Browning’s life, he being the most famous of the three. In that context the tragedy seems a mere anecdote. In the context of Booth’s life, however, it was the devastating end of everything.

For the Booth family, the cloud did have one silver lining however. Elmer’s sister Margaret Booth (1898-2002) went on to become an Oscar nominated film editor and producer. (Yes, you read that right — she lived to be 104. It’s almost like she had Elmer’s remaining years tacked on to her own!)

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