Phyllis Gordon: Pictures and Pet Cheetahs

Phyllis Gordon (1889-1964) was mostly a supporting player during her brief heyday — in our visiually focused age, she is primarily known for a couple of flashy publicity stunts.

Gordon was from a well-heeled family in Suffolk, Virginia. She attended a convent school as a girl. When she was 13, her family ran into financial trouble so she was made to go to work as a housemaid. She also claimed to have worked as a ranchhand in Oklahoma for a time. If true, the experience may have provided her with useful skills for the westerns she later appeared in. Gordon also performed as a singing comedienne in vaudeville, which led to her getting cast in two Broadway shows A Knight for a Day (1907) starring Sallie Fisher, for whom Gordon understudied; and Up and Down Broadway (1910), a Lew Fields revue also featuring Adelaide and Hughes, Irving Berlin, Emma Carus, Eddie Foy, Nat Nazarro, et al.

In 1911, Gordon appeared in An Evil Power, a film for the Selig Polyscope Company, the first of over 50 silent movies to her credit, in which she normally played supporting parts between fourth and sixth in the billing. In 1912, she married the actor Eugene Pallette, then much slimmer and not yet the great character comedian he would come once folks could hear his voice. They appeared in at least one film together When Jim Returned (1913). The pair separated by 1914 and were formally divorced by 1920, by which point Gordon had also retired from the screen.

There follows a gap of some decades after which she re-emerged with a supporting role in Another Thin Man (1939), and bit parts in Ride Tenderfoot Ride (1940) and Bachelor Daddy (1941). In the interlude she had returned to vaudeville, and gained her greatest notoriety for being seen in public with exotic pets. In 1924, it was reported that she brought a monkey into a restaurant in Davenport, Iowa. In 1939, she received a lot of attention for walking the streets of London with a cheetah:

Phyllis Gordon died just one day shy of her 75th birthday in Sonoma, California.

For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.