There have been countless pages written about the giants of the silent era. One needs look no further than their local bookstore to learn about Pickford, Valentino, or Fairbanks. But Florence Lawrence, the woman largely responsible for turning moving pictures into a legitimate source of entertainment, has suffered a cruel indifference. The passing years have hidden her significance behind more recognizable screen personalities. Author Kelly R. Brown puts an end to that with her book, Florence Lawrence: The Biograph Girl. Brown’s careful examination of Lawrence is one of the most prominent advantages of this first-ever biography. With no previous biographical reference, aside from Lawrence’s own writings, Brown manages to weave together a comprehensive life story. Lawrence was born Florence Annie Bridgwood on January 2, 1886. She was the daughter of Charlotte A. Bridgwood, a Vaudeville actress who went by the name Lotta Lawrence. As a young girl, Florence’s surname was changed to her mother’s stage name and she launched her own career on Broadway. Beginning her film career with the Vitagraph Company, Lawrence soon joined D.W. Griffith’s Biograph Studios. From the time she became known as “The Biograph Girl” (due largely to the fact that actors’ and actresses’ names were not listed in film credits and audiences knew them only in appearance) to the rumor of her death by streetcar for publicity reasons, Lawrence was easily one of the most revered stars of the era. But a rapidly changing industry began pushing the Canadian innovator into anonymity. As her roles became more irrelevant and a new wave of stars overshadowed her career, Florence’s depression worsened. She eventually committed suicide at age 52 by taking a mixture of cough medicine and ant paste (a strong pesticide). Not surprisingly, there was no public outpouring of grief over her passing. It was as if the world, specifically the entertainment world, had forgotten her in death the same as it had in life.
Brown is to be commended for a tireless research effort that was no doubt teetering on the brink of impossibility. Lawrence’s adolescent years are documented in the book as if they happened last week. For a thorough understanding of Lawrence’s rise and fall, those early years are essential. Though Lawrence’s “Biograph Girl” moniker is the most recognized, she was also known as “The IMP Girl” for her association with Carl Laemmle’s Independent Motion Picture Company, and “The Girl of a Thousand Faces”, a label given to her in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch spread. Despite her many categorizations, she was a lonely woman whose acting ability was enhanced by her need to live someone else’s life, even an imaginary one. We’re walked through three marriages, comeback attempts, and an incredibly vast filmography of nearly 300 films. Brown begins with the lavish description of Lawrence aboard a train and continues with the same momentum. In addition to Lawrence’s story, the reader is presented with a vibrant picture of Hollywood’s earliest days. The murder of famed director William Desmond Taylor and the Fatty Arbuckle scandal are only two of the many blows that rocked the industry. In a way, Brown has taken a stand for a million ignored stars. Lawrence is only one of many film personalities to leave a mark that has since been erased over time. But with continued efforts by historians and authors who wish to shed light on the darkened stage, those entertainers who once thrilled the masses can live again. You can order Florence Lawrence: The Biograph Girl from McFarland Publishing by visiting their website at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling their order line toll-free at 1-800-253-2187. You can also purchase the book through Amazon.com using the link below.