December 28, 2007

December 28 | Florence Lawrence

January 2, 1886 - December 28, 1938: Age 52

Florence Lawrence, born in Hamilton, Canada in 1888, was one of the most prolific film actors in history, but for most of her career was known simply as "The Biograph Girl". In the early days of movies, studios kept the identities of their stars secret, afraid that fame might lead to higher wages. In 1910 she was lured to the Independent Motion Company with the promise of a marquee, making her the first performer to be identified by name on screen and in film advertising.

Lawrence also loved cars. She was the first to invent a working turn signal for a car. It was a signalling arm attached to the rear fender of the car, that used electricity to raise and lower a sign indicating the turn direction. There was another signal for stop. Unfortunately she didn't patent it properly, so never received credit.

She retired in 1912, but was persuaded to return to work in 1915. During a shoot a staged fire got out of control and she was injured. The studio refused to pay for her medical expenses. It took her months to recover, and she never regained her position as a leading film star. She tried manufacturing a line of cosmetics, but it didn't pan out. In 1929 she lost a lot of money in the stock market crash. By this time she was in chronic pain from a bone marrow disease, myelofibrosis. In December 1938 she was found unconscious in her apartment after trying to commit suicide by eating ant poison. She died in hospital a few hours later. She was buried in an unmarked grave.

In 1991, actor Roddy McDowall paid for a memorial marker for her grave. It now reads:

"The Biograph Girl"
The First Movie Star

Source: Wikipedia, Northern Stars

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