Dorothy Mackaill: From Hull to Honolulu

Born on March 4, the silent and Pre-Code Hollywood screen star Dorothy Mackaill (1903-90).

Born and raised in Hull, Yorkshire, Mackaill hopped to London, Paris, and then New York in pursuit of stage success, eventually getting traction in the choruses of two Broadway shows, the ShubertsCentury Revue and Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic in 1920. The British film The Face at the Window (1920) starring C. Aubrey Smith, was her first screen credit, followed by three “Torchy” comedies opposite Johnny Hines. Her roles as a night club singer in The Man Who Came Back (1924) put her on the map. She was voted on of the WAMPAS Baby Stars the same year, and remained a leading lady in pictures for about a decade. Most of her starring silent features are now lost. From 1926 through 1928 she was married to director Lothar Mendes, best remembered for The Four Feathers (1929). He was the first of three husbands.

The carnival story The Barker (1928), with Betty Compson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr was her first semi-talkie. The 1930 musical Bright Lights with Frank Fay might be her best known film today. Others include Love Affair (1932) opposite Humphrey Bogart and No Man of Her Own (1932) with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937) was the last of her over 60 films.

In 1955 Mackaill moved to Hawaii, where she had shot His Captive Woman a quarter century earlier. Thanks to her residence there, she came out of retirement on two occasions, to appear in episodes of Hawaii Five-O in 1976 and 1980.

To learn more about the variety arts, such as revue entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.