The Magnetic Wilfrid North

British born William Northcroft (1863-1935) went by Wilfred North as a man of the stage, and Wilfrid North as an actor and director in films. Of his early years little is known but between 1899 and 1912 he appeared in ten Broadway productions, including Becky Sharpe with Mrs. Fiske, Maurice Barrymore, and Tyrone Power (Sr), and When Knighthood was in Flower with Julia Marlowe (later adapted into a film starring Marion Davies).

In 1912, North began directing films for Vitagraph, notably comedies with John Bunny and Flora Finch through 1915. He also directed films with Hughie Mack, Lillian Walker, Wally “Cutey” Van, et al in these early years. Co-directing the early feature The Battle Cry of Peace (1915) with Vitagraph founder Stuart Blackton, a controversial statement advocating for U.S. entry into World War One, changed the dynamic. From 1916 through early 1917, most of his films were features starring Walker. From mid 1917, he became supervising director for the studio, helming feature length vehicles for stars like Anita Stewart, Conway Tearle, Martha Mansfield, and Arthur Guy Empey through the end of 1921. He also returned briefly to Broadway in 1917 to co-direct Jane Cowl’s Daybreak.

In 1921, North returned rather abruptly to acting to star in the Vitagraph film Son of Wallingford. As he was 58 at the time, his hour as a lead actor was short indeed. His next role was a second billed part in the Universal western The Love Brand (1923) starring Roy Stewart. For the balance of the silent era, he was a reliable supporting player, usually somewhere between fourth and eighth in the billing, appearing in such things as the 1924 version of Captain Blood, and The Belle of Broadway (1926) with Betty Compson. The role of the Judge in Port of Dreams (1928) was a plum one, and after this the mature North was frequently cast in smaller roles as judges in courtroom scenes in such films as the 1929 talkie version of The Trial of Mary Dugan, No More Children (1929), Red Headed Woman (1932), Unashamed (1932), Washington Masquerade (1932), Penguin Pool Murder (1932) and The Defense Rests (1934). His last role was a walk-on in Diamond Jim (1935).

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