Sweet, Blanche (1895–1986)

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Sweet, Blanche (1895–1986)

American silent-film actress. Born on June 18, 1895, in Chicago, Illinois; died in 1986; married Marshall "Mickey" Neilan (a director), in 1922 (divorced 1929); married Raymond Hackett (an actor), in 1936 (died 1958).

Selected filmography:

The Lonedale Operator (1911); The Painted Lady (1912); Judith of Bethulia (1913); Home, Sweet Home (1914); The Avenging Conscience (1914); The Warrens of Virginia (1915); The Unpardonable Sin (1919); Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922); Anna Christie (1923); Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1924); The Sporting Venus (1925); Showgirl in Hollywood (1930).

Blanche Sweet was born in Chicago in 1895, the daughter of theatrical parents. She began her stage career as a small child and was a seasoned veteran by the time she began her film career in 1909. Sweet was to become one of the earliest and greatest silent actresses. She worked for Biograph on 14th Street in Manhattan and, along with Mary Pickford , became D.W. Griffith's first major dramatic star. Sweet, who did not have the delicate image of many of her contemporaries, played feisty, determined heroines rather than fragile girls. Her most memorable roles for Griffith were in two of his landmark films, The Lonedale Operator (1911) and—with Lillian and Dorothy Gish in supporting roles—1913's Judith of Bethulia, Griffith's most ambitious production before The Birth of a Nation.

Around 1915, Sweet left Griffith for Famous Players-Lasky, to star for Cecil B. De Mille and work for her first husband, director Marshall Neilan, whom she married in 1922 and divorced in 1929. Neilan, known as Mickey, directed many famous films of the silent era, including the Mary Pickford version of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917). Sweet made over 70 films, but her best performances were in the title role of the first screen adaptation of Anna Christie (1923) and in 1924's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, directed by Neilan.

Sweet's career declined with the end of the silent-picture era. She made only three "talkies" (all in 1930, singing as well as speaking in two of the films) before retiring to a successful vaudeville career, often reprising scenes from her films. She toured the United States in the early 1930s with an act called "Sweet and Lovely." Sweet married again in 1936, to her stage co-star, screen veteran Raymond Hackett. They met on the MGM lot and first performed together in the 1935 play The Party's Over, going on to tour hit plays from Broadway around the country. After Hackett died in 1958, Sweet left Los Angeles and returned to New York, where her career had begun, and made a brief comeback in some small movie roles in the late 1950s. She died in 1986.


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of …? NY: Crown, 1967.

Slide, Anthony. Silent Portraits: Stars of the Silent Screen in Historic Photographs. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, 1989.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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