Colleen Moore - Silent Star of August, 1997

"I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, and Colleen Moore was the torch."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

The torch that introduced the word flapper into the lexicon and defined a generation was born Kathleen Morrison in Port Huron, Michigan, on August 19, most likely in 1900.

For as long as she could remember, all Colleen ever wanted was to be a movie star. Her dream came true through a "payoff," when she was given a contract by D.W. Griffith in appreciation to her uncle Walter Howey, who got Intolerance past the board of censors.

After a brief screen test to ensure that her one blue eye, one brown eye would photograph, Colleen arrived in Hollywood in 1916 with her Grandmother Mary Kelly, and along with Bessie Love, Mildred Harris, Carmel Myers, Winifred Westover, and Pauline Starke became a stock player in the Griffith Studios. Her first film was with Bobby Harron and Mildred Harris in The Bad Boy. She made her second film, An Old Fashioned Young Man, again with Harron, then Hands Up!, directed by Tod Browning. According to Colleen's autobiography, the train robber in Hands Up! was none other than Al Jennings, a notorious train robber turned minister.

When Fine Arts studios was shut down she was given a small part in The Savage for Carl Laemmle's Bluebird Photoplays. Accompanied by her big scene in Hands Up!, Colleen made the rounds of the studios and got a contract with Selig Studios, where in 1918 she made A Hoosier Romance and Little Orphan Annie. In 1919 went to Ince Studios and made The Busher and The Egg Crate Wallop, then to Universal for The Man in the Moonlight and Common Property.

One of Colleen's first big breaks was leading lady to Fox's popular cowboy Tom Mix in The Wilderness Trail and The Cyclone. In 1920 she signed with Al Christie, appearing in several of his slapstick shorts, including A Roman Scandal, Her Bridal Nightmare, and So Long Letty, and in 1920 while on loan-out made The Devil´s Claim along with Sussue Hayakawa and When Dawn Came.

Director Marshall Neilan chose Colleen to play the role of the courageous young Irish mother in Dinty. Impressed with her work, he secured Colleen's release from her Christie contract and signed her to a yearlong contract at $750 per week.

In 1921 she was loaned to King Vidor for the lead in Sky Pilot, then back to Neilan to star opposite John Barrymore in The Lotus Eater. According to Colleen, Barrymore was the "soul of kindness," coaching the young actress, and even going so far as to turn her to her best angle for the camera.

Neilan abandoned his independent unit and went to work for the Goldwyn Company, persuading Samuel Goldwyn to sign Colleen. Before she went, she did one more film for Christie, the feature-length comedy His Nibs, and took a part in an independent production of Broken Hearts of Broadway.

Her first film for Goldwyn was 1922's Come on Over, then The Wall Flower, both written by Rupert Hughes, uncle of Howard. Other producers clamored for her services, and Colleen was loaned out to do Affinities and Forsaking All Others. In 1922, Colleen starred in Broken Chains and Look Your Best for Goldwyn, and The Ninety and Nine for Vitagraph. In 1922 Colleen was named a WAMPAS Baby Star, along with Patsy Ruth Miller, Mary Philbin, Jacqueline Logan, Lois Wilson, Bessie Love, Claire Windsor, and Pauline Starke.

In 1923, after two quickies, Slippy McGee and April Showers, Colleen got the lead in two films for William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan studio, The Nth Commandment and Through The Dark. Signed to First National, she met future husband John McCormick in 1923, marrying him in 1924. McCormick, a PR man for First National, on the strength of his wife's success rose to become production head for the studio. Colleen starred in 1923's The Huntress, but exploded as a star with Flaming Youth, 1923.

While Flaming Youth made Colleen a star, it also typecast her for nearly the rest of her career. She spent the most of the 1920's in flapper roles, in films such as 1924's The Perfect Flapper and Flirting With Love. Looking to stretch her talents, Colleen persuaded the studio to give her the role of Selina Peake in Edna Ferber's So Big. While giving one of the finest roles of her career, the film did poorly, and she was soon back in flapper style for 1925's Sally and We Moderns, and a comedy role in The Desert Flower.

In 1926 and 1927 Colleen was voted number one box office attraction, and continued her success in Irene and Ella Cinders, both 1926, and Twinkletoes, Orchids and Ermine and Naughty but Nice, 1927.

Colleen's last great starring role was in 1928's Lilac Time as Jeannine, the young French peasant girl who falls in love with aviator Gary Cooper. Later that year she completed Synthetic Sin and Why Be Good?, but in early 1929 made her talkie debut in Smiling Irish Eyes. Her voice recorded well, and Colleen continued with her second talkie Footlight and Fools.

But times had begun to change, and the carefree flapper passed from vogue. She divorced the alcoholic McCormick, and tried to launch a stage career, with roles in On the Loose and A Church Mouse, both of which never made it to Broadway. However, on the strength of her performance in A Church Mouse, Colleen signed a contract with MGM in 1933, and made what she considers to be the finest performance of her career as the wife in The Power and The Glory with Spencer Tracy. Despite good notices, MGM was unable to find a suitable role for her, and at her request Louis B. Mayor tore up her contract.

She made two final films, 1932's Social Register and 1934's The Scarlet Letter, before retiring from the screen. After a brief marriage to Albert Parker Scott, she met and married Chicago financier Homer Hargrave while touring with her fabulous dollhouse. After his death, she moved to California where she married Paul Maginot.

Colleen Moore died at her home in Paso Robles, California, January 25, 1988.

Colleen Moore Pages:

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Copyright © 1997,1999 by Glen Pringle and Kally Mavromatis
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