Florence Lawrence
(01/02/1886 - 12/28/1938)

Florence Lawrence was a Canadian inventor and silent film actress, who is often referred to as "The First Movie Star". She was also known as "The Biograph Girl", "The Imp Girl" and "The Girl of a Thousand Faces". During her lifetime, Lawrence appeared in more than 270 films for various motion picture companies.

Born Florence Annie Bridgwood in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario, she was the child of Charlotte A. Bridgwood, a vaudeville actress who went by the name Lotta Lawrence, was the leading lady and director of the Lawrence Dramatic Company. Nothing is known of her father. Florence's surname was changed at age four to her mother's stage name. While she was still a small child, Florence, her mother and two older brothers moved from Hamilton, Ontario to Buffalo, New York. She attended local schools and developed her athletic skills, in particular horseback riding and ice-skating.

She was one of several Canadian pioneers in the film industry who were attracted by the rapid growth of the fledgling motion picture business. In 1906, at twenty years of age, she made her first motion picture. The next year, she appeared in 38 movies for the Vitagraph film company.

After touring with the road show for a year, Lawrence resolved that she would 'never again lead that gypsy life.' In the spring of 1908 she returned to Vitagraph where she played the lead role in The Dispatch Beare. Largely as a result of her equestrian skills, she received parts in eleven films in the next five months. Also at Vitagraph was a young actor, Harry Solter, who was looking for 'a young, beautiful equestrian girl' to star in a film to be produced by the Biograph Studios under the direction of D.W. Griffith. Griffith, the head of Biograph Studios, saw one of Vitagraph's films with a beautiful blonde-haired woman whose screen presence captured his interest but he wanted to give the part to Biograph's leading lady, Florence Turner, but Lawrence managed to convince Solter and Griffith that she was the best suited for the starring role in The Girl and the Outlaw. Because the film's actors received no mention, Griffith had to make discreet enquiries to learn she was Florence Lawrence and to arranged a meeting. With the Vitagraph Company, she had been earning $20 a week but over and above acting, she was required to work as a costume seamstress. Griffith offered her a job acting only and with a raise to $25 a week that Florence jumped at.

After her success in this role, she appeared as a society belle in Betrayed by a Handprint and as an Indian in The Red Girl. In total, she had parts in most of the sixty films directed by Griffith in 1908.

Lawrence quickly gained much popularity but because her name was never publicized, fans began writing the studio asking for it. But, even when her "anonymous" face had gained wide recognition, particularly after starring in the highly successful Resurrection, Biograph Studios only labeled her as "The Biograph Girl."

She continued to work for Biograph in 1909, and demanded to be paid by the week, rather than on a daily basis. Her demands were met, and she received double the normal rate of pay. She achieved great popularity in the Jones series, film's first comedy series. She played Mrs Jones in about twelve films, and became known as "The Biograph girl" because, at the time, the names of film actresses were not revealed. Even more popular than the Jones series were the dramatic love stories in which she co-starred with Arthur Johnson. The two played husband and wife in The Ingrate, and the adulterous lovers in Resurrection.

Lawrence and Solter in 1910 were able to join the Independent Motion Picture Company of America (IMP). The company, founded by Carl Laemmle, the owner of a film exchange (who later founded Universal Pictures, started his own motion picture company), was looking for experienced filmmakers and actors. Needing a star, he lured Lawrence away from Biograph by promising to give her a marquee, making her the first performer to be identified by name on screen and in film advertising.

Available Films

D. W. Griffith Director (1908-1909) Vol. #1

D. W. Griffith Director (1909) Vol. #2

D. W. Griffith Director (1909) Vol. #3