Basquette, Lina (1907–1995)

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Basquette, Lina (1907–1995)

American actress. Born Lena Baskette on April 19, 1907, in San Mateo, California; died at her home in Wheeling, West Virginia, of lymphoma on September 30, 1995; daughter of Gladys Basquette Belcher and stepdaughter of Ernest Belcher (a dance instructor); half-sister of actress-dancer Marge Champion; married Sam Warner (the movie producer), in 1925 (died 1927); married J. Peverell Marley (a cinematographer); also married to Jack Dempsey's trainer and Nelson Eddy (the actor), and three others; children: (first marriage) Lita; one son from another marriage.


"Lena Baskette Featurettes"; Shoes (1916); The Gates of Doom (1917); The Weaker Vessel (1919); Penrod (1922); Ranger of the North (1927); Serenade (1927); The Noose (1928); Wheel of Chance (1928); Celebrity (1928); Show Folks (1928); Frank Capra's The Younger Generation (1929); Cecil B. De Mille's last silent, The Godless Girl (1929); Come Across (1929); The Dude Wrangler (1930); Hard Hombre (1931); The Arizona Terror (1931); Goldie (1931); Morals for Women (1931); Hello Trouble (1932); The Midnight Lady (1932); Phantom Express (1932); The Final Hour (1936); Ebb Tide (1937); The Buccaneer (1938); Four Men and a Prayer (1938); A Night for Crime (1943); and Paradise Park (1991).

Once dubbed the "Screen Tragedy Girl," Lina Basquette led a personal life that was as traumatic as the lives of her silent-movie personas. A raven-haired child ballerina when she began her career, Basquette endured the demands of a legendary stage mother, six marriages, a vicious custody battle, two suicide attempts, and a rape before settling into a second career as the owner of one of the finest Great Dane kennels in the country.

Basquette began performing at the 1915 San Francisco World Fair, where she was featured as "Baby Ballerina" for the Victor Talking Machine Company exhibition. At nine, she signed a contract with Universal to star in a series of shorts, "Lina Baskette Featurettes," and other silents at $50 a week. Following her father's death in 1916, her mother Gladys married dance director Ernest Belcher (their daughter, dancer Marge Champion , is Lina's half-sister). The Belchers wangled a part for 16-year-old Lina in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, with billing as "America's Prima Ballerina," and changed her name from Baskette to Basquette. Turning down an offer from Anna Pavlova to make Lina her protégé, Gladys Belcher preferred work that made money.

Though she retired in 1925 to marry Sam Warner, of Warner Bros. fame, Basquette would return to film after his death. Together, they had a daughter Lita, and when Warner died in 1927 Basquette became entangled in a legal battle with the Warners over custody; she also unwittingly signed away most of her inheritance. During this difficult period, she made what was her last silent and perhaps her most acclaimed film, The Godless Girl (1929), for Cecil B. de Mille, in which she played a teenager who becomes an atheist. In 1930, Lita was awarded to the Warners, and Basquette made her first suicide attempt.

Another marriage to Jack Dempsey's trainer and a messy affair with Dempsey resulted in a second suicide attempt. At this time, Basquette was working in westerns and "B" movies like Morals for Women (1931), Midnight Lady (1932), The Final Hour (1936) and Four Men and a Prayer (1938). From 1937 to 1939, she toured the world in several plays, includingBlack Limelight and Idiot's Delight. In 1943, after five more marriages, she filed a rape and assault charge against a 22-year-old Army private, who was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Basquette finally settled into a more peaceful existence as owner of Honey Hollow Kennels in Pennsylvania, where she raised prize-winning Great Danes.


Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of…? (4th Series). NY: Crown, 1973.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts