Talmadge, Norma

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Nationality: American. Born: Jersey City, New Jersey, 26 May 1897; sister of the actress Constance Talmadge. Family: Married 1) the producer Joseph M. Schenck, 1916 (divorced 1934); 2) the entertainer George Jessel, 1934 (divorced 1939); 3) Carvel James, 1946. Career: Model; actress for Vitagraph in New York at age 13; 1911—contract with Vitagraph: made many short films in the period 1910–15; 1913—first billing as Norma Talmadge; 1915—contract with National Pictures, then with D. W. Griffith; 1916—Norma Talmadge Film Company set up by Joseph Schenck: first film for the company, Panthea, 1917; 1930—retired from films. Died: 24 December 1957.

Films as Actress:

(between 1910–15, Talmadge appeared in numerous Vitagraph shorts including:)


The Household Pest; The Dixie Mother; Love of Chrysanthemum; A Broken Spell; Uncle Tom's Cabin


Paola and Francesca; In Neighboring Kingdoms; Mrs. 'Enery 'Awkins; A Tale of Two Cities (Blackton) (as a midinette); The Sky Pilot; The General's Daughter; The Thumb Print; Her Hero; The Child Crusoes


The First Violin (Brooke); The Troublesome Stepdaughters; Mr. Butler Buttles; Fortunes of a Composer; Omens and Oracles; The Midget's Revenge; The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton; Captain Barnacle's Messmate; O'Hara— Squatter and Philosopher; Casey at the Bat


Just Show People; Extremities; His Official Appointment; Under the Daisies (Brooke); The Doctor's Secret (Brooke); Father's Husband (Brooke); Fanny's Conspiracy (Brooke); His Silver Bachelorhood (Brooke); 'Arriet's Baby; An Old Man's Love Story; Solitaires; The Other Woman; The Blue Rose; An Elopement at Home (Brooke); The Honorable Algernon (Brooke); His Little Page (Brooke); Officer John Donovan (Brooke); The Sacrifice of Kathleen (Brooke); Counsel for the Defense; The Silver Cigarette Case


Sawdust and Salome (Brooke); The Vavasour Ball; The Helpful Sisterhood (Brooke); Cupid versus Money; The Right of Way (Brooke); John Rance—Gentleman (Brooke); Under False Colors (Brooke); Goodbye Summer (Brooke); The Curing of Myra May; Sunshine and Shadow (Brooke); A Daughter of Israel (Brooke); Miser Murphy's Wedding Present (Brooke); Old Reliable (Brooke); The Hex on Fogg's Millions (Thomson); The Hidden Letters (Brooke); Memories and Men's Souls (Brooke); Politics and the Press (Brooke); The Mill of Life; A Loan Shark King (Brooke); The Peacemaker (Brooke)


A Daughter's Strange Inheritance; Janet of the Chorus; The Pillar of Flame; The Barrier of Faith; The Criminal; The Battle Cry of Peace (North); The Crown Prince's Double (Brooke); The Captivating Mary Carstairs (Mitchell)


The Missing Links (Ingraham); Martha's Vindication (S. and C. Franklin); The Children in the House (S. and C. Franklin); Going Straight (Corruption) (S. and C. Franklin); The Devil's Needle (Withey); The Social Secretary (Emerson); Fifty-Fifty (Dwan)


Panthea (Dwan); The Law of Compensation (Styger and Goulden); Poppy (Jose); The Moth (Jose); The Secret of the Storm Country (Miller)


Ghosts of Yesterday (Miller); By Right of Purchase (Miller); Deluxe Annie (West); The Safety Curtain (Franklin); Her Only Way (Franklin); The Forbidden City (Franklin); The Heart of Wetona (Franklin)


Prohibition Wife (Franklin); The New Moon (Withey); The Way of a Woman (Leonard); Isle of Conquest (Jose)


She Loves and Lies (Withey); A Daughter of Two Worlds (Young); The Woman Gives (Neill); Yes or No? (Neill); The Branded Woman (Parker); Passion Flower (Love or Hate) (Brenon); The Sign on the Door (Brenon); The Wonderful Thing (Brenon); Love's Redemption (Parker)


Smilin' Through (Franklin); The Eternal Flame (Lloyd)


The Voice from the Minaret (Lloyd); Within the Law (Lloyd); Ashes of Vengeance (Lloyd); Song of Love (Dust of Desire) (Marion and Franklin)


Secrets (Borzage); The Only Woman (Olcott)


The Lady (Borzage); Graustark (Buchowetzki)


Kiki (Brown)


Camille (Niblo) (title role)


The Dove (West); The Woman Disputed (King and Taylor)


New York Nights (Milestone)


DuBarry: Woman of Passion (Taylor) (title role)


By TALMADGE: articles—

"How Men Strike Me," in Photo-Play Journal, March 1919.

"The Amazing Interview," with Faith Service in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), January 1920.

"What 'Fashion' Really Means," in Photoplay (New York), June 1920.

"My Lucky Break," in Pictures and Picturegoer, July 1928.

On TALMADGE: books—

Talmadge, Mrs. Margaret L., The Talmadge Sisters, Philadelphia, 1924.

Loos, Anita, The Talmadge Girls: A Memoir, New York, 1978.

On TALMADGE: articles—

Vance, Elsie, "Norma Talmadge—The Adorable," in Photoplay (New York), February 1915.

Hornblow, Arthur, "Norma Talmadge," in Photoplay (New York), August 1915.

Livingstone, Beulah, "Norma Talmadge—Queen of Versatility," in Photo-Play Journal, March 1919.

O'Brien, Eugene, "Norma Talmadge," in Photoplay (New York), July 1924.

St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "Our One and Only Great Actress," in Photoplay (New York), February 1926.

Spears, J., "Norma Talmadge," in Films in Review (New York), January 1967.

Tobin, Yann, and others, "Frank Borzage," in Positif (Paris), April 1993.

Golden, Eve, "The Life of Brooklyn Tragedienne Norma Talmadge," in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1993.

Flamini, Roland, "Norma Talmadge," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1996.

Smith, Greg M., "Silencing the New Woman: Ethnic and Social Mobility in the Melodramas of Norma Talmadge," in Journal of Film and Video, Fall 1996.

* * *

Theatrical families were nothing new in Hollywood, but the offspring of Peg Talmadge secured a permanent place in film history. They may not have received the accolades of revival accorded to other players, but their contribution to the cinema was nevertheless considerable.

The eldest of the three Talmadge girls, Norma began her film career with Vitagraph in New York. She made several short films before attracting attention with her small role as the little midinette who accompanied Maurice Costello (Sidney Carton) on his way to the guillotine in the 1911 Tale of Two Cities. She eventually blossomed under the direction of Van Dyke Brooks and played frequently with Antonio Moreno as her leading man. In 1915 she made her last appearance with Vitagraph in the propaganda-laden Battle Cry of Peace.

A move to the National Picture Corporation with a more gratifying contract did not meet with success. She then joined D. W. Griffith's Fine Arts Company, for which she made seven films—none, however, directed by Griffith. Having made no less than 250 films for Vitagraph, Talmadge had by now developed a gallery of threatened and misunderstood heroines which appealed to her fans. Her great beauty was to remain a permanent asset. The Social Secretary, a comedy written by Anita Loos and directed by John Emerson, gave her an opportunity to disguise that beauty as a girl trying to avoid the unwelcome attentions of her male employers.

Her marriage to Joseph M. Schenck in 1916 was all-important. Under his aegis, and the banner of The Norma Talmadge Film Company, she seriously challenged the popularity of Mary Pickford. Her first film for the company was Panthea, directed by Allan Dwan. She made many films opposite Eugene O'Brien, a sophisticated and polished actor who provided a perfect foil to her beauty. Her roles included Chinese maidens, Indian half-breeds, and Russian noblewomen. A series of films for First National included those directed by Herbert Brenon, whose version of Benevente's Passion Flower allowed her to play a proud Spanish girl caught up in the toils of love and murder. Sidney Franklin's Smilin' Through was one of her most popular films—a sentimental story that has earned several remakes. The Eternal Flame, based on Balzac's La Duchesse de Langeais, was a costume picture, as was Ashes of Vengeance, set in the time of the Medicis in France. Bayard Veiller's Within the Law presented her as a wrongly imprisoned girl driven to seek revenge through blackmail, but eventually redeemed by love and cleared of her supposed crime. In contrast, the sentimental Secrets, directed by Frank Borzage, shows her as an old lady at her sick husband's bedside, dreaming of the past episodes of her life. Inevitably she attempted the role of the Lady of the Camellias in Camille, directed by Frank Niblo. Her leading man was the attractive Gilbert Roland, with whom she was to have an affair for some years. The film was elaborately staged, and Talmadge's performance was good, but Niblo never brought the story to life. It is interesting to note that Armand's father was played by her old Vitagraph colleague Maurice Costello.

By now Talmadge was installed in Hollywood and part of the film establishment. She and Schenck remained married until 1927, but he continued to advise her on business matters after the divorce. She acted with Roland in a Mexican story, The Dove, and her last silent film was the unhappy The Woman Disputed, directed by Henry King, and mangled by front office politics. It was loosely based on de Maupassant's Boule de Suif.

Her entry into talking pictures was not auspicious. New York Nights and DuBarry: Woman of Passion failed (in spite of the elaborate sets by William Cameron Menzies), and her retirement was immediate.

—Liam O'Leary