Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Florence Lawrence
1890 - 1938

Hollywood Forever

Though most film fans today have probably never heard of her, Florence Lawrence appeared in nearly 300 films and is credited with being the first movie star. In fact, that's how she's identified on her grave marker.

Lawrence began her performing career at age 3, working in her parents' traveling tent show. In 1906, Lawrence began appearing in films, first for the Edison Company, then for the Biograph Company in New York City. From 1908 to 1910, she appeared in more than 100 short films directed by D. W. Griffith. She also appeared as Juliet in the first filmed version of "Romeo and Juliet" (1909).

Like other studios, Biograph did not identify its actors by name, for fear that they would become too popular as individuals and start to ask for more money. But Biograph promoted Lawrence as the first "Biograph Girl." In 1910, Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, lured Lawrence to come to work for his Independent Motion Picture Co. and promoted her as "The IMP Girl." (After Lawrence left Biograph, the title of "The Biograph Girl" went to Mary Pickford.) To gain publicity for his new star, Laemmle first circulated a story that Lawrence had been killed in a traffic accident. He then said the story was a hoax, and that she would be appearing in the next IMP production, "The Broken Oath" (1910). Laemmle was also the first filmmaker to identify his star by name. And so, Florence Lawrence became the first movie star.

Lawrence appeared in more than 100 films over the next five years. In 1915, she was severely burned in a fire at the studio, reportedly while trying to rescue another performer. She disappeared from the screen for several years, returning to play supporting roles in the late 1920s and early 1930s, including a small part in "Secrets" (1933), ironically starring Mary Pickford, her successor as "The Biograph Girl," and small parts in "The Old-Fashioned Way" (1934) and "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1935) both starring W. C. Fields. Her last screen appearance was a bit part in "One Rainy Afternoon" (1936). Lawrence committed suicide by taking poison in her Beverly Hills home in 1938.

For many years, Lawrence's grave was unmarked. Recently, a memorial marker was added, paid for by actor Roddy McDowall, who had a large collection of film memorabilia and served on the National Film Preservation Board. Lawrence's grave marker identifies her as "The Biograph Girl" and "The First Movie Star." Lawrence's mother, Charlotte Bridgwood (1861 - 1929), who was known professionally as Lotta Lawrence, is buried in the Columbarium behind the chapel at Hollywood Forever.

Lawrence was born Florence Bridgwood on Jan. 2, 1890 (some sources say 1880 or 1886) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She died on Dec. 28, 1938, in Beverly Hills, CA.

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