Eugenie Besserer: The Original Aunt Em

A quick nod today to the career of stage and screen actress Eugenie Besserer (1868-1934).

Born in upstate Watertown, New York, Besserer was largely raised in Canada, and orphaned at a young age. She took to the stage as a young woman, acting with the likes of McKee Rankin, Nance O’Neil, Maurice Barrymore, Frank Keenan, and Wilton Lackaye.

Today Besserer is best known for appearing as a supporting player in over 200 films of the silent and early era. 42 at the time of her first film, she was ordinally cast as mothers, grandmothers, landladies and the like over the course of her 23 years screen career. Her first role role was the part of Aunt Em in the 1910 version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (making her the first actress to play the role on film). Other notable stuff included Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase (1915), The Crisis (1916), Molly O’ (1921), Penrod (1922), Anna Christie (1923), Flesh and the Devil (1926) and The Jazz Singer (1927), in which she played Jolson’s mother. Her last film was the 1933 Randolph Scott western To the Last Man, whose incredible cast also included Esther Ralston, Jack La Rue, Noah Beery Sr, Buster Crabbe, Fuzzy Knight, John Carradine, and a pre-stardom Shirley Temple.

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