Norma Talmadge
(05/26/1893 - 12/24/1957)

Norma Talmadge was one of the greatest film stars of the silent era.

A major box office draw for more than a decade, her career reached a peak in the early 20s, when she ranked among the most popular idols of the American screen.

Norma was the eldest and the most beautiful among the three daughters and the first pushed by the mother to look for a career as a film actress. Mother and daughter traveled to the Vitagraph Studios in Flatbush, New York, just a streetcar ride from her home. They managed to get past the studio gates and in to see the casting director, who promptly threw them out. Fate intervened, however, when scenario editor Breta Breuill, attracted by Norma's beauty, arranged a small part for her as a young girl who is kissed under a photographer's cloth in The Household Pest (1909).

Thanks to Breuill's continued patronage, between 1911-12 Norma played bit parts in over 100 films. Norma eventually earned a spot in the stock company at $25 per week and got a steady stream of work. Her first role as a contract actress was 1911's In Neighboring Kingdom, with comedian John Bunny. Her first real success came with the first original screen version of A Tale of Two Cities (1911), released in weekly one-reel segments in which she played the small role of Mimi, a seamstress who accompanies Sidney Carton to the guillotine. With help from the studio's major star, Maurice Costello, the star of A Tale of Two Cities, Norma’s acting improved and she continued to play everything from leads to extras, gaining valuable experience and public exposure in a variety of characters -- from a colored mammy to a clumsy waitress to a reckless young modern, she began attracting both public and critical notice. By 1913 she was Vitagraph's most promising young actress. That same year she was assigned to Van Dyke Brooke's acting unit, and throughout 1913-14 appeared in more films playing frequently with Antonio Moreno as her leading man.

In 1915 Norma got her big break, starring in Vitagraph’s prestigious feature film The Battle Cry of Peace, an anti-German propagandistic drama. But ambitious Peg saw that Norma's potential could carry them further, and got a two-year contract with National Pictures Company for 8 features and $400 per week. Norma's last film for Vitagraph was The Crown Prince's Double and in the summer of 1915 she left Vitagraph. In the five years she had been with Vitagraph she made over 250 films.

In August the Talmadges left for California where Norma first role was in Captivating Mary Carstairs. The whole enterprise was a fiasco; the sets and costumes were cheap and the studio itself lacked adequate backing. The film was a flop, and the small new studio shut down after the release of Mary Carstairs. The demise of National Pictures Company left the family stranded in California after only one picture. Deciding it was smarter to aim high, they went to Triangle Corporation, where D.W. Griffith was supervising productions. On the strength of The Battle Cry, Norma got a contract with Griffith's Fine Arts Company. For eight months, Norma starred in seven features for Triangle, including the comedy The Social Secretary (1916), a comedy written by Anita Loos and directed by John Emerson, that gave her an opportunity to disguise her beauty as a girl trying to avoid the unwelcome attentions of her male employers.

Her most famous film was Smilin’ Through (1922), but she also scored artistic triumphs teamed with director Frank Borzage in Secrets (1924) and The Lady (1925).

Available Films

A Tale of Two Cities (1911)

Norma Talmadge at Vitagraph (1911-14)

Social Secretary (1916) / Forbidden City (1918)

Children in the  House (1916) / Going Straight (1916)