Mary Maurice: The Grand Old Lady of Vitagraph

Mary Maurice (1844-1918) had originally been a schoolteacher, before beginning an actress with a Pittsburgh stock company in 1868 at the age of 24. She barnstormed throughout the country for over 40 years, supporting such well remembered stage giants as Joseph Jefferson, Edwin Booth, Helena Modjeska, and Robert B. Mantell.

Maurice was 65 years old when she signed with Vitagraph in 1909, proceeding to make nearly 150 movies with the studio until her death in 1918. She typically played mothers, grandmothers, aunts and landladies, earning her nicknames like The Perfect Mother of the Screen, The Grand Old Lady of the Films, and The Sweet Mother of Moving Pictures. Her cohorts included many folks we’ve written about, such as John Bunny, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, Maurice Costello, Norma Talmadge, Clara Kimball Young, Alice Joyce, and Hughie Mack. She passed just as Larry Semon was beginning to step in front of the cameras, else we might have seen her in some of his pictures as well.

Many of her last pictures had themes connected to the World War that was then raging, such as Womanhood: the Glory of the Nation (1917), For France (1917), and Over the Top (1918). She also appeared on the sheet music cover for the wartime Tin Pan Alley tune: “The Grey Little Mother Who Waits All Alone”:

Eleanor Rigby, eat your heart out!

Several of the films Mary Maurice appeared in are currently up on Youtube. Check them out!

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