A Moment with Mona Darkfeather

Brief but prolific was the screen career of Princess Mona Darkfeather (Josephine Workman, 1882-1977). As the discrepancy between her given and professional names suggests, “Mona Darkfeather” was a made-up persona. The Workmans were one of the founding families of Los Angeles, large ranch-owning landholders in the area. Mona was however part Spanish and Native American in addition to her Anglo ancestry, so she has a better claim than some in presenting herself as a Native American actress. Her dark hair and complexion allowed her to play those kinds of roles, in addition to lots of Spanish ones. Just about all of her films, naturally, were westerns.

A 1900 census, when Mona was 18, lists her profession as “whistler”. This was a specialty in vaudeville, performers who whistled tunes (it was one of Al Jolson’s gimmicks, for example) so it is possible, maybe even likely, that that what is that referred to. Around 1909 she was hired by Thomas Ince and Bison pictures, initially as an extra. She rapidly progressed to starring roles. Between 1911 and 1917 (eight years) she appeared in over 100 movies, many of which have Darkfeather right in the title (i.e., Darkfeather the Squaw, Darkfeather’s Strategy). In addition to Bison, she also worked with such studios as Kalem, Nestor, Universal et al. In 1912 she married director and actor Frank Montgomery, who helmed many or most of her pictures thereafter. 1914 was the year of her biggest screen success The Vanishing Tribe. Cecil B. DeMille also sought her that year for his groundbreaking feature The Squaw Man, but she was otherwise engaged so he hired Red Wing (Lillian St Cyr, whom we’ll be writing about in a few days) instead.

In 1917, Darkfeather and Montgomery left Hollywood and moved to Seattle where Mona made live appearances at local theatres and nickelodeons. By the early ’20s they returned to Los Angeles, and Frank worked in films as an actor until the end of the silent era. The pair were divorced in 1928 but they remarried nearly a decade later.

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