Silent Film Stars

William Farnum – photos and quotes

William Farnum

Of course, I was on the stage for twenty-four years and have been in pictures only a year, so perhaps I’m not in position to state a preference. But I will say that Moving Pictures acting is one of the most interesting things that I ever attempted, and I like it immensely.”William Farnum 

Source: Pearl Gaddis (1915)

 

William Farnum

“I was born in Boston, of American parents, on the Fourth of July, 1876. So you can readily see what a good American I am – dyed-in-the-wool, and all that sort of thing.”William Farnum

Source: Pearl Gaddis (1915)

 

William Farnum“We came to the stage naturally and legitimately. My father and mother were both connected with the theater. Father managed Robert Downing for years, while my mother, known professionally as Adele La Gros, was quite well known as an actress. I’ve Irish and French blood, a baffling combination, isn’t it?”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

 

“I don’t believe it has ever been related before but my stage debut was made at the age of fice at Bucksport, Maine. I did a cornet solo for the folks in our home town. Our real debut came when I was 13 and ‘Dud’ was 15. We appeared briefly with Thomas E. Shea, who toured then and still tours in repertoire. We presented a song and dance specialty between the acts. A year later, I left home, determined upon a stage career. Dustin, although older, did not start until a little later. For five years, I played in the classic drama. Believe me, the young actors of today sadly need this sort of training. Playing in a classic toga, one had to acquire repose. We had no pockets in which to thrust our hands, no cuffs to adjust, no handkerchief to toy with. We had to learn repose. Usually it was pounded into us. The older players wouldn’t tolerate much from the cub of the troupe. For three years, I was with Robert Downing and two with Edwina Ferry, then a widely popular touring star. Ferry played all the classic tragedies, from Shakespeare to ‘Damon and Pythias’ and ‘Virginius.’ My first big advancement came with Ferry when I was 16. We were playing an Ohio town and the house was sold out. We sadly needed the money, too. But one of the principal players was suddenly taken ill and the manager was in a quandary. I volunteered to fill the vacancy, although the role was one of the principal ones in ‘Damon and Pythius.’ I got through the part safely and continued in the missing actor’s roles for a week. I was pretty disconsolate when he returned, you can imagine. Then a curious thing occurred. That very night our leading man disappeared and again I volunteered. So went on as Marc Antony and kept on for the next few days as Pythius, Iago and through the list. In those days, a young actor was supposed to memorize every role. So being ambitious, I had studied the complete text of each play. Naturally, it was comparatively easy for me to jump into new roles. Besides I had all of the confidence of 16. I wish, indeed, that I had that confidence now. I was just as big physically at 16 as I am now. That, of course, helped a lot. After my weed in the leading man’s role, Ferry came to me. ‘Well, Willie,’ he said, ‘I guess you’ll be the leading man for the rest of the season.’ I was – and I’ve been a leading man ever since.”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

The Sign of the Cross (1914)

 

William Farnum“After my five years in the classics, I joined the Lothrop stock company in Boston. There I had my first taste of the modern drama. My first role was the lead in ‘The Streets of New York.’ I remember how I cam striding onto the stage at rehearsal. You could see the classic toga all over me. The stage director looked at me amazed. ‘What’s the idea of that walk?’ he demanded. Then he showed me how to walk in modern drama, an alert and chipper sort of stride. I was terribly cut up but I saw that here was really an entirely new school of acting. And I started out to master it.”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

William Farnum Ben-Hur“After the Lothrop stock, I played with Margaret Mather. There my ability to handle a foil came in good stead. I played Tibalt in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and won, if I do say so, a good many notices purely through fencing skill. Mother and father had known the value of the various player’s essentials – and swordplay was one of them. Indeed my grandfather had been an instructor of fencing in Civil War days. At one time, when I was 13 or 14, I had half contemplated becoming an instructor myself. The rest of my stage career is pretty familiar. I was leading man for Olga Nethersole in ‘Carmen,’ playing Don Jose. I was with the Frohmans three years. I appeared for five years as ‘Ben Hur,’ two years in ‘The Prince of India’ and two in ‘The Littlest Rebel.’ Then came my screen debut in ‘The Spoilers.'”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

Photo: Farnum in the stage version of Ben-Hur.

 

William Farnum“I firmly believe that spectacle is coming to be relegated to the background. The sweeping scenes showing multitudes and warfare, are frequently necessary but they must be subordinated to the big thought of the photoplay. That is, the spectator must have an intimate personal feeling for one or two, perhaps three or four, characters. The big scenes must be flashes, while the story is kept close to the audience. In life, you know, we’re not interested in the sweep of things. Take the world war, for instance. We are not concerned so much with the thousands of miles of trenches, as we are with what happens to Brother John or Neighbor Jones’ son on one tiny fraction of the battlefield.”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

 

William Farnum Les MIserables

Les Misérables (1917)

 

William Farnum“I can see the time coming when the workings of a human soul will be flashed across the screen. We have moments of it now. The great drawback of the industry as been the steady effort to turn out drama by the yard. It can’t be done. I am glad to see open productions coming and the weekly programs disappearing. When a producer turns out one or two photoplays regularly each week, the result can only mean one thing: a lot of inferior screen plays are going to be made in order to keep up with the pace.”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

William Farnum at the piano“The lack of voice and audience is a serious drawback which I can never dismiss. Applause draws the best out of a player. In screen work you lack all that. I find that music helps. Indeed, I believe I started the use of music during the making of a photoplay.”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

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William Farnum A Tale of Two Cities“The photoplay is advancing more and more in its ability to put a thought over. Today a scene conveys its thought without subtitle or explanation. That will steadily grow. Certain captions will always be necessary. For instance, it was vital in ‘The Tale of Two Cities’ that we give Sydney Carton’s last speech.”William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

 

 

William Farnum mugging“I have been 28 years an actor, and I’m 41 now. Great Scott, do you know I’m what you call an old timer? It seems impossible, for I’m really a boy at heart.” William Farnum

Source: John Ten Eyck (1917)

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