Pauline Frederick: “The Girl with the Topaz Eyes”

Wonderfully, the origin of this post was the photo above, which I came across on the internet while searching for something else. One doesn’t just stumble across the films of Pauline Frederick (Pauline Libbey, 1883-1938). Of her 60 or so silent starring vehicles most are lost. Most of her 8 talkies, in which she is usually 3rd billed are not well-known classics.

Boston born Frederick was trained in singing and elocution as a child. Her first major show was The Rogers Brothers at Harvard in 1902. Illustrator Harrison Fisher became entranced with her and she came to fame as a model for much of his work. Dubbed “The Girl with the Topaz Eyes”, she possessed a beauty not unlike Nazimova’s.

Her nine Broadway shows between 1903 and 1909 included the Lew Fields vehicle It Happened in Nordland (1904-1905), directed by Julian Mitchell, music by Victor Herbert, starring Fields and Marie Cahill. In 1909 she married architect Frank Mills Andrews, retiring from the stage for a time. She returned to star in The Paper Chase (1912). She and Andrews were divorced the following year. Frederick was to star in and/or direct seven more Broadway productions up ’til the time of her death. The photo above is from Joseph and His Brethren (1913).

Famous Players’ The Eternal City (1915) was her first film. As she was an established stage star and already a marquee name, she immediately starred in over five dozen silent films. Among these, she played the title characters in Zaza (1915), Bella Donna (1915), Lydia Gilmore (1915), The Spider (1916), Audrey (1916), The Woman in the Case (1916), The Woman in the Case  (1916), Sapho (1917), Madame Jealousy (1918), La Tosca (1918), Fedora (1918), A Daughter of the Old South  (1918), The Woman on the Index (1919), The Fear Woman (1919), The Loves of Letty (1919), The Woman in Room 13 (1920), Madame X (1920), A Slave of Vanity (1920), The Mistress of Shenstone (1921), The Glory of Clementina (1922), Her Honor, the Governor (1926), Josselyn’s Wife (1926), and Mumsie (1927).

While continuing to be involved with live theatre, she was also in eight talkies, including This Modern Age (1931) with Joan Crawford, The Phantom of Crestwood (1932) with Ricardo Cortez and Anita Louise, Self Defense (1932, in which she starred), Social Register with Colleen Moore and Charles Winninger, the 1936 remake of Ramona with Loretta Young and Thank You Mr. Moto (1937), her last.

After Andrews, Frederick was married four additional times. The second marriage was to playwright/screenwriter/actor/director Willard Mack, perhaps best known for The Noose. The last two years of her life were ones of steady decline. In 1936 she underwent abdomen surgery, which further depleted her health. The following year, her mother, who had been her lifelong friend and companion, passed away, sapping her spirit. Frederick herself died of an asthma attack in 1938.

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