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Lottie Briscoe, Octavia Handworth, Ormi Hawley, Helen Marten: Lubin's Lovely Ladies

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 4:49 pm

The Lubin Studios of Philadelphia, founded by Sigmund "Pop" Lubin in 1897, was one of the most prominent companies in the early motion picture industry.  Although the studio never made any particularly noteworthy films—even their productions of The Great Train Robbery and Uncle Tom's Cabin (both 1904) were obvious rip-offs of Edison's versions—the Lubin players topped popularity polls during the star system's infancy.  A number of them, including Ethel Clayton, Arthur V. Johnson, and Florence Lawrence are still remembered today while the rest of their stock company has faded into oblivion.  Hardly any Lubin films exist today and the few that do are rarely screened.  A massive 1914 fire in the Lubin vaults wiped out a whole warehouse of nitrate prints and when the studio closed three years later the remaining reels in their possession were destroyed.  Since Lubin never had the benefit of a genius like D.W. Griffith, no one at the time thought their films were worth saving.  Johnson and Lawrence first found fame at Biograph with D.W. Griffith whose films were widely preserved, and Clayton moved on to even greater prominence with Paramount and other studios.  Those whose careers were confined strictly to Lubin have not been so fortunate.  Four of their popular, but unsung, players are the lovely Lottie Briscoe, Octavia Handworth, Ormi Hawley, and Helen Marten.  They all enjoyed considerable fame in their heyday, but in the absence of their films, have been overlooked by modern film scholars.  What they did leave behind is one heck of a story just begging to be told.  Contemporary critics of yesteryear, who sang their praises, will no doubt be vindicated should their lost films ever turn up.

 

Lottie Briscoe

    Raven haired Lottie Briscoe was one of the jewels in the crown of early cinema.  Always a tireless workhorse who poured herself into every role, she was rewarded with a loyal fan following complete with a fan club.  For three solid years Lottie and matinee idol Arthur V. Johnson were Lubin's top romantic team.  The public eagerly awaited every one of their releases.  Lottie's popularity may have endured longer if not for Johnson's untimely death in 1916.  With Arthur and Lubin long gone by 1920, Miss Briscoe found herself a has been.

    Where and when Lottie was born is a matter of debate.  Billy Doyle's outstanding book "The Ultimate Directory of the Silent Screen Performers" lists her birth date as April 19, 1883, while her death certificate suggests October 1, 1889.  Her New York Times obituary states her age at death as 79 which would have made her born in 1870.  It is unlikely she was that old, as a New York Times article dated June 4, 1895 reported that Lottie was a juvenile actress being hounded by The Gerry Society in its crackdown on child labor.  I suspect Doyle's date is closest.  Her birthplace is universally given as St. Louis, Missouri even though Lottie's name was no where to be found in city birth records.  The identity of her parents is also a mystery.  Her mother's maiden name may have been Therese Fischer while her father's name is unknown.  Much of the information on Lottie's death certificate is vague and incomplete.  The informant was her husband, Harry Mountford, who himself was at death's door.  Apparently due to illness he was unable to clearly recall vital details of Lottie's life.  It is just possible Miss Briscoe herself perpetuated the confusion.  Contemporary magazine articles suggest she was guarded about her personal life so perhaps she preferred to keep everyone guessing.

    What can be positively confirmed is that she made her stage debut at the age of four.  A determined stage mother combined with her own fiery ambition motivated Lottie.  Discovered by McKee Rankin, she played child parts in The Runaway Wife, Editha's Burglar, and For Fair Virginia.  Upon reaching adolescence she made a strong impression opposite Richard Mansfield (who called her his "one and only princess") in Richard III.  Lottie made a smooth transition to adult roles playing ingénues at the Orpheum Theater in Philadelphia.  Miss Briscoe had no shortage of work but still could not afford to remain idle during the theater's slow season—the sweltering summer months when theaters typically closed.  Therefore she sought work in the rising motion picture industry where she would find her grandest success.

    The plucky actress made a modest film debut with the Essanay Studios of Chicago where she appeared opposite matinee idol Francis X. Bushman.  At first Lottie had some difficulty finding a foothold in the industry.  Her stay with Essanay was brief followed by an even shorter period with the Imp Company as King Baggot's co star.  Opportunity knocked when Florence Lawrence, the top box office star of the time, was departing the Lubin Studios, leaving matinee idol, Arthur V. Johnson, in need of a new leading lady.  Dark, distinctive, and dimpled, Lottie proved the ideal choice.  From 1912 to 1915 Arthur and Lottie were inseparable on screen in a variety of comedies and dramas.

    To team with Arthur V. Johnson was an honor.  Tall, dark, and devilishly handsome, Johnson had the privilege of starring in The Adventures of Dollie (1908) which was D.W. Griffith's first directorial effort.  Johnson appeared in many of the master's early classics for the Biograph Studios most notably A Drunkard's Reformation (1908) and Resurrection (1909).  Biograph made the best films of the time but was not especially interested in promoting their actors.  Per Biograph policy, actors worked as needed whether it be a starring role, bit, or crowd scene.  Whatever a performer's status, Biograph adamantly refused screen credit for any member of their stock company.  Even without billing or publicity, however, audiences took notice of Arthur who fairly lit up the screen.  When the star system was introduced in 1910, Biograph still insisted on anonymous casts, leading him to seek a more lucrative position.  The Lubin Studios not only offered him star treatment but a chance to direct as well, so Arthur gladly jumped aboard.  Within no time Arthur Johnson was the toast of the film world and Lubin's top draw.  Lubin gave him all their best assignments which meant Lottie's work had special prestige.

 

    Initially hired as a leading lady, Lottie soon became a star in her own right.  When audiences and critics fell prey to her charms Lubin was obliged to give her equal billing.  Her portrait was pictured glowingly in fan magazines along with exclusive interviews.  "I enjoy my work, every minute of it, and consider acting in pictures ever so much harder than on the stage" she said, "but I'd much rather do it for there is constant novelty and change that makes every day different from the others".  Lottie and Arthur developed a strong chemistry on screen.  While not romantically linked, the two became fast friends with a good working relationship.  They were not as popular a team as Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne, but were still fierce competitors.  Just a few of their joint appearances are The Amateur Iceman, The Preacher and the Gossips, The Violin's Message (all 1912), The Sea Eternal, The Artist's Romance, His Niece from Ireland (all 1913), Kiss Me Goodnight, The Shadow of Tragedy, The Inventor's Wife (all 1914), Comrade Kitty, On the Road to Reno, and Winning Winsome Winnie (all 1915).  The most famous of their collaborations was probably the 15-episode serial The Beloved Adventurer (1914).  By some merciful twist of destiny, a few snips of this chapter play can still be viewed today.

 

    In 1914, Lottie reached the height of her fame.  The press took great interest in her life off screen, but Lottie preferred to talk shop.  "I am not specially interesting," she declared, "so when an interviewer appears, I always talk work to him and say little of myself".  To satisfy everyone's curiosity, Motion Picture Magazine featured the highly dubious "A Week with Lottie Briscoe" in which excerpts from the actress's "diary" were allegedly printed.  The article is full of silly fluff typical of the era's fan magazines:  "Saturday - I reported at the studio at nine sharp today and worked steadily.  Some of the players were finished early, and they waved merry good-bys [sic] to me as I stood in my costume and make up at the gate.  They were en route to ball games or the shore—I was facing an afternoon of hard work.  And they thought I should be envious; but I don't really believe I was.  For me to do my work is so interesting—there is no pleasure in life deeper than that which I get out of a good part."  Lottie probably didn't even keep a diary much less write these canned words.  It was, however, proof that the fans were starved for news of her, even if it sounded phony!

    Lottie and Arthur's partnership was strong and steady going into 1915.  Sadly, it was cut short when Arthur became seriously ill in the spring.  Many superstars like him were badly overworked which ultimately took a toll on their health.  Following a nervous breakdown, he was forced to take an extended absence.  Despite a public announcement stating he was better and would soon make a comeback, he died on January 17, 1916.  His passing was deeply felt by many in the film world, especially Lottie.  Arthur Vaughn Johnson, quite possibly the first matinee idol of the movies is buried in his family lot at Fairview Cemetery in Chicopee, Massachusetts.  The death of Arthur Johnson also meant the end of Lottie's career.  Johnson & Briscoe were a team and one simply could not exist without the other.  The Lubin company, which had seen better days, was also going through major restructuring in an effort to stave off closure.  Lubin did not have the foresight of the independent studios who had long been experimenting with longer, more complex films.  Lubin reluctantly made a mad scramble to include features to it's shooting schedule.  Feature films, of course, meant fewer individual pictures in active production as well as higher budgets and salaries.  Perhaps Lubin let Lottie go so they could afford to keep others.  In May, 1915 Lottie departed the Lubin Studios for a much needed rest.

 

    After an absence of several years Lottie made a one-shot comeback playing a supporting role in Metro's The House of Mirth (1918).  Unfortunately, her participation went largely unnoticed.  She did a little Vaudeville and some radio work before an undisclosed illness confined her at home.  Divorced from director Harry McRae Webster, Lottie at some point married Harry Mountford, executive secretary for The White Rats Actor's Union of America.  Mountford had been vocal in union efforts to give Vaudeville actors more control over bookings.  When Lottie Briscoe Mountford died at her Manhattan apartment on March 19, 1950 she was survived by her husband and one sister.  Her death certificate does not list a cause of death.  Harry died less than three months later.  The Mountford's remains were cremated at Fresh Pond Crematorium in Long Island, Queens, but their ashes are not in the columbarium there.  According to crematory records, the cremains were given to their families.

 

    Lottie's frequent appearances in period fan magazines suggests she possessed considerable spark on screen.  Somewhere out there, perhaps tucked away in a film archive, may be a Lottie Briscoe film waiting to be found.  If that day ever comes, her star power will shine brightly once again.

 

Octavia Handworth

    Even had she not been a movie star, Octavia Handworth still might have become famous just for having that name.  A lively, vivacious blonde, she was also a shrewd business woman who formed her own independent studio.  Despite her best efforts none of her movies made history so she remains a mere footnote in reference books.  Yet, she had a certain charm that endeared her to contemporary audiences which proves that she was more than just a name.

    She was born Octavia Boas in New York City on December 24, 1887 to Nils and Wilhelmine Boas.  Octavia had at least one brother, Walter.  The daughter of Danish immigrants, her family moved back to Copenhagen, Denmark soon after her birth.  From an early age Octavia proved to be musically inclined leading to extensive vocal training.  With her fine soprano voice, she later studied at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music upon returning to America.  A promising career as a concert songstress was cut short by a sudden illness.  For months Octavia was bedridden and when she recovered, her singing voice was completely gone.  Her theatrical career was by no means over as there was always dramatic productions.  Making her debut around 1904 with the Cora Payton Stock Company, she later played with Weber and Fields and other top stars.  At some point she met and married actor Harry Handworth who had ambitions to direct.  Octavia herself directed the Dallas Stock Company in Texas where she doubled as leading woman.  The Handworth's tired of touring by 1909 and longed to stay anchored in the New York City area.  An ideal new direction in which to pursue their careers was in the fast-growing motion picture industry in New York and New Jersey.

 

    Entering films with the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn, the actress soon found a better engagement with Pathé Freres of Union City, New Jersey.  Over the next few years Octavia made dozens of shorts for Pathe including The Motor Fiend, A Gambler's End, How Rastus Gets His Turkey (all 1910), The Stepsisters, A Daughter of the South, The Lost Necklace (all 1911), The Lure of the Footlights, A Brave Little Indian, A Simple Maid (all 1912), The Infernal Pig, The Moonshiner's Last Stand, and The Count's Will (all 1913).  Several of these also featured the fabled Pearl White who was then a promising starlet.  White soon hit pay dirt in the title role of the 20-chapter serial The Perils of Pauline (1914).  As Pathe's golden girl, Pearl went on to make 11 more exciting serials with the studio.  One can imagine Octavia found a certain pride in having witnessed Pearl White's rise to stardom.  In spite of fierce competition from White's escalating popularity, Octavia Handworth was still a name proudly featured on theater marquees.  With the fan mail piling up every week, Pathe was certainly glad to have her.  While Pathe did promote the new serial genre, they were in no hurry to produce features.  In order to secure better roles in bigger films, Octavia knew she would have to be her own boss.

 

    Helen Gardner, formerly of Vitagraph, made film history as the first star to form her own production company.  Doing so provided her with creative freedom she could not have under strict studio policies.  She began a trend which continues to this day.  By 1914, Octavia felt confident enough to go into independent production.  In joint ownership with her husband, she opened the Excelsior Feature Film Company in Lake Placid, New York.  With Harry as her director Octavia starred in four feature films:  The Toll of Mammon, The Path Forbidden, When Fate Leads Trump (all 1914), and In the Shadow (1915).  Unfortunately, the Handworth's independent venture was largely unsuccessful.  Without profitable hits an independent producer loses his own money.  Unappreciated by the critics and public, the Handworths had to shut down their company.

    With her finances in distress, Octavia seriously needed to restart her career.  Providence intervened and handed her a contract with the Lubin Studios.  Even though Daniel Blum's marvelous book "A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen" places Octavia with Lubin in 1913, she did not actually sign with the company until the spring of 1915.  The Studio was going through a transitional period with the switch to features.  It is probable they hired Octavia to draw on her previous experience with longer films.  At first she appeared in a number of last-minute shorts including The Darkness Before Dawn, The Beast, The Inevitable Penalty, and Sweeter Than Revenge.  The latter is among her few surviving films.  Plum roles followed in two of Lubin's more ambitious undertakings: The Great Ruby (1915), and The City of Failing Light (1916).  The Great Ruby, shot on location at actual historic sights, was particularly memorable.  In a 1979 interview, her brother recalled, "There were gorgeous settings and historically interesting locations for the company to work in, such as Old General Wayne's Inn, one of George Washington's headquarters en route to Valley Forge. The Wayne stagecoach was used in the filming and there were interesting shots of a racetrack and even a balloon ascension". 

    Octavia warmly remembered the shoot saying “I shall never forget this film, not only because of the charming company who worked with us, but our director Barry O'Neil.  It was a distinct pleasure to work under so clever a man.  I will always look back to this period as the most pleasant association of my motion picture career".  Regrettably, few of Lubin's subsequent efforts were anywhere near as notable.  Like most Motion Picture Patents companies, Lubin did not have the vision of the more innovative independent studios.   The age of features was long established before Lubin finally added them to their program.  Independent features had gotten well beyond the experimental stage while Lubin was just getting started.  As a result Lubin's product paled by comparison sending them into decline.  That, combined with Harry Handworth's death on March 22, 1916, forced Octavia to put her career on hold indefinitely.

    After a period of mourning, she returned to the screen in two rather indifferent shorts for the Arrow Company Puppets of Fate and Sowing the Wind (both 1916).  It was announced that Arrow was writing a feature drama especially for her but nothing seems to have come of it.  Her lucky star came through once more when she married actor Gordon DeMain Wood, her leading man at Excelsior.  With the security of a happy marriage, and now doting on daughter Elsie, Octavia lost interest in her career.  She made one final comeback supporting Elsie Ferguson in Footlights (1921) before retreating back to domestic life.

 

    Little was heard of the once famous star until her death on October 3, 1978.  Gordon had predeceased her in 1954.  Octavia's cremated remains are housed at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

 

    None of Miss Handworth's films have been seen in years.  However, she does leave a strong impression in still photographs.  Tall, elegant, poised, and regal with a healthy crown of natural blonde hair, one can only imagine how much more stunning she appeared in movies.  There may be a shortage of surviving Lubin productions, but rumor has it an abundance of Pearl White titles exist.  Perhaps someday fortune will favor Octavia Handworth and at least one of her co starring roles with White will find it's way to DVD.

Ormi Hawley

 

    Ormi Hawley was perhaps a cross between Greer Garson and Katharine Hepburn.  Lady-like society girls were her specialty, but she could play unconventional heroines as well.  The versatile star of scores of Lubin productions was game for nearly any part even if it meant wrapping giant pythons over her shoulder in Temptation (1916). With her dreamy eyes and Mona Lisa smile, there must have been something magical about her on screen.  Hopefully we will someday enjoy her charms once again.  Ormi was an ambitious dynamo who made dozens of films a year, so there is hope at least one of them is somewhere waiting to be found.

 

    She was born Ormetta Grace Hawley on February 21, 1890 in Holyoke, Massachusetts to Albert and Jennie Coates Hawley.  "Ormi" was apparently a childhood nickname.  Holyoke city records list her father's occupation as a janitor in one of the city's mills.  A precocious child of numerous talents, young Ormetta was a lovely girl filled with spunk and vitality. While still in her teens she joined a stock company later appearing on the New York Stage.  As much as she enjoyed the art of expression, the limited boundaries of the stage felt confining to such an adventuresome lass.  The new medium of moving pictures gave her the opportunity to work in the natural setting of the great outdoors.  By 1911 she had joined the Lubin Studios which offered limitless possibilities to showcase her athletic prowess.  For the next five frantic years she was among the most beloved and productive players at Lubin where she was dubbed "The Lillian Russell of the Pictures".

 

    Ormi soon settled into the routine at Lubin which gave her no shortage of interesting roles.  "As you see, we are called upon to do almost everything, " she breathlessly told a reporter ", and the director never expects 'no' for an answer".  "Opulent Ormi" graciously accepted any challenge, even diving into rushing water during a flood scene to rescue her leading man.  The world of motion pictures relied on diverse landscapes and climates which meant frequent location shooting.  One further benefit was wintering in Florida.  In a 1913 Moving Picture World interview, Ormi recounted a thrilling experience:  "We were taking The Judgement of the Deep and while half a mile out at sea, awaiting the signal to row in towards the camera, my oars snapped and began to drift.  The frail boat I was in was the only one we had and the nearest settlement was two miles down the beach.  When my plight was realized and I began to drift out to sea, there was a dash down the beach ... well here I am, but really, it was an agonizing situation while it lasted."  Whatever the risk, Ormi felt fulfilled as she conceded, "I love my work and am fond of my fellow players".

 

    Lubin made a wise investment in Ormi Hawley.  In no time she racked up dozens of credits and millions of admirers. She was not as popular as Ethel Clayton, the undisputed queen of Lubin, but was certainly a worthy successor to the throne.  Her Lubin titles go on for miles:  Betty and the Roses, the Price of a Silver Fox, the Puppets Hour (all 1912), Fashion's Toy, In the Harem Of Haschem, Tamandra the Gypsy (all 1913), The Klondyke Bubble, the Two Roses, A Leaf From the Past (all1914), The Friendship of Lamand, The Last Rebel, and The Telegrapher's Peril (all 1915).  Many of her roles were as beautiful aristocrats, but whether playing in rags or riches, Ormi never left her audience wanting.

 

    Ormi was perhaps too comfortable at Lubin.  The studio paid her well and kept her active, but never gave her an assignment worthy of her dramatic potential.  She was deserving of far better than Lubin's mediocrity. Due to major cutbacks at Lubin, Ormi received her walking papers in 1916.  By now the industry was flooded with Broadway stars anxious to make their film debuts.  Ormi and others like her who first found fame in the more primitive one-reel era found it increasingly harder to compete.  She bravely kept her career going by free lancing in Mutual's Her American Prince, Phax Pictures Race Suicide, World's The Social Highwayman, Metro's The Weakness of Strength, and Fox's Where Love Leads (all 1916).  As much as she enjoyed her career, Ormi had no illusions about it's supposed glamour:  "I want to be serious for just a minute.  It's about the scores and scores of girls all over the country who are dreaming of a career in motion pictures.  Letters pour in upon me in quantities beyond my power to answer, and the substance of them all is:  'how can I become a screen player?'.  The girls for the most part fondly imagine a life of pleasure.  They see their favorite photoplayer time after time and dream of her as a favored being who spends her life as the principal in a sympathetic situation whose path is strewn with roses, who has little to do except dash off pretty notes and autograph portraits and ring for a maid to come and dress her in the latest importation.  Is it any wonder these foolish, short-sighted girls long to see themselves doing these things?  Poor children, they never see the other side; they never know that for every morsel of success the actress pays and pays dearly.  It is a sacrifice from beginning to end.  I might mention just one feature—the hours of irksome rehearsals, doing the same thing over and over again for the benefit of some one who doesn't catch on to what the director wants".

 

    The actress had hopes of reestablishing herself when she signed with Paramount to appear opposite opera great Enrico Caruso in The Splendid Romance (1918).  Paramount's Adolph Zukor also enticed the famous tenor to film My American Cousin (also 1918).  Considering his rich voice, it is odd Caruso consented to appear in silent films.  Zukor first entered the industry luring prominent stage celebrities to bank on their already cemented fame.  For a time the idea worked ingeniously and helped motion pictures obtain respectability.  Unfortunately, the concept of "famous players in famous plays" was obsolete by this time.  More significantly, Caruso held no appeal without his magnificent voice.  When My American Cousin flopped resoundingly, Paramount did not bother to release The Splendid Romance. Disappointed by this failure, Ormi made only a handful of subsequent films before returning to the stage.

 

    In  addition to other odd jobs Ormi managed the All American Girl's Symphony Orchestra before retiring in 1926.  With arrival of talkies a few years later, Ormi's stage trained voice might have enabled her to make a comeback as a sophisticated character actress similar to Mary Astor.  However, Ormi longed for an ordinary existence and after her marriage to Charles Fulcher, retreated to a farmhouse in Camden, New York.  For the next fifteen years she lead a simpler life on the farm spending her time painting portraits and writing children's stories.  Sadly, a life of peace and serenity could not bring back her good health.  Around 1940 she developed pulmonary edema which led to heart disease.  It appears she did not seek treatment.  Following sudden inflammation she entered Oneida County Hospital in nearby Rome, New York where she died on June 3, 1942.  She is buried in Forest Park Cemetery in her beloved Camden.

 

    Her New York Times obituary claimed she "was seen in 370 pictures" which is almost certainly an overstatement.  Still, looking over her endless credits, it was at least half true.  Ormi died long before the revival of silent movies in the 1960s.  By that time her films had all but vanished.  Had fortune favored her, she may have found a whole new generation of fans.  Today, Ormi can still be seen in Twixt Love and Ambition (1912) and a few other film scraps. Otherwise her considerable legacy is lost to us.

 

Helen Marten

 

    Greta Garbo, step aside—Helen Marten is the true enigma.  This charming star of early silents remains one of cinema's unsolved mysteries.  Little is known about the actress including birth and death data.  Even Billy Doyle has not uncovered any vital statistics for Miss Marten.  Yet, she was an actress of incredible beauty and obvious talent so I feel some semblance of a story must be written on her.  Due to lack of information, I am forced to rely on guesswork and what can be found in faded fan magazines.

    Where and when Helen Marten was born is unknown but it is a fair guess it was in the New York City area.  Judging from her appearance in circa 1914 studio portraits, I estimate her birth year to be 1892.  Moving Picture World July 4, 1914 reported that "Miss Marten was virtually brought up in the theatrical business" and that she began her career playing Little Eva in an Uncle Tom's Cabin road show.  Practically every actress of the period claimed to have debuted in this same role so whether or not Helen ever truly played the part remains unclear.  Skipping over the awkward adolescent years, she blossomed into a lovely young lady.  Reporter F. Marion Brandon described her as "small, slim graceful; imperious.  Her beauty is delicate—cameo like".  Modeling soon followed with her lovely face gracing the covers of leading magazines.  She won first prize in the Spring Beauty Competition sponsored by the New York World as well as first prize in the Gibson Girl Contest.  Some writers claimed she posed for Charles Dana Gibson himself and was the original inspiration for his Gibson Girl, but this is obviously hype as the artist first introduced his Gibson Girl idea in the early 1900s when Helen was almost certainly still a child. 

    Youth and beauty were always in demand by the budding motion picture industry which was always on the lookout for fresh faces.  In 1911, Helen becalmed a promising new personality at the Lubin Studios. "A New Lubin Leading Lady" announced Moving Picture World January 13, 1912:  "Miss Helen Marten better known in the professional world as "The Gibson Girl" is the latest addition to the Lubin Stock Company".  Typically cast in Cinderella roles similar to Mary Pickford, Helen brightened up the Lubin program in A Midwinter Night's Dream, My Princess, The Preacher and the Gossips, and Revenge (all 1912).

 

    From the start the public responded to her dainty features and flawless mannerisms.  The fan mail poured in with many letters from star struck girls anxious to be in pictures themselves.  Although she played the wide-eyed innocent in the movies, Helen was worldly enough to comment:  "Being a film actress is far from being 'the easiest way' to earn a livelihood.  It requires almost superhuman effort to get an opportunity to enter the field; it requires daily action which has every element of physical danger; and above all, it requires constant study, not only to keep pace with the growing demands of the camera, but ahead of the horde of competitors who push every actor big or small, for his place".

 

    For whatever reason, Helen's stay with Lubin was short.  After a brief absence she turned up at the Eclair Studios where her popularity soared.  Some of her titles with the company include The Kodak Contest (1912), The Trail of the Silver Fox, The Honor of Lady Beaumont, Big Hearted Jim (all 1913), In a Persian Garden, In the Days of Old, and The Character Woman (all 1914).  Only about 35 credits are listed for Helen on the Internet Movie Database although she undoubtedly appeared in many more.  With so few extant films from that period and records on them sparse and conflicting, it is impossible to say how many productions performers of the time made.  Still, Helen does seem to have had long gaps between film assignments.  It seems that like Vitagraph's Zena Keefe, Thanhouser's Madeline and Marion Fairbanks, and Essanay's Martha Russell, Helen was a "seasonal" cinema actress.  In the days before film making found artistic merit, many actresses preferred the legitimate theater.  They toured exclusively on stage during the theatrical season from mid September to mid May in those days before air conditioning, and sought temporary shelter in motion pictures during the stage's slack period. Unfortunately, when films became respectable, the industry was deluged with new personalities who all but shoved starlets like Helen aside.

 

    For a while however, Helen was a shining, if infrequent star on Eclair's payroll.  She was famous enough to warrant a featured article in Motion Picture Magazine:  "Helen Marten - The Eclair Cameo Beauty" (May, 1914).  The article is silly and pretentious and tells next to nothing about the actresses' personal life except that she commuted daily to Fort Lee, New Jersey (Eclair's home base) from an apartment in Manhattan, and at the time, she was not married.  Mentioned are her regular visits to children's homes where she reached out to unfortunate youngsters in need.  Perhaps she was a compassionate soul for a reporter quoted her as such:  "It is your appreciation, as it comes, often times in a simple, sincere note, that tells of the happiness our work—my work—has given you; how it has helped you forget, for awhile, dark care as it bestrode your shoulders".

 

    Helen left Eclair in 1914, dropping out of sight for a time before resurfacing in an independent feature The Song of the Wage Slave (1915).  Soon after she signed with the Gaumont Studios where she appeared in the short film Lessons In Love (1915) and the features The Idol of the Stage, I Accuse, and According to Law (all 1916).  Sadly, while Gaumont was the MGM of France, it's American branch made little headway and soon folded.  In 1917, Helen returned to the screen a final time in the Independently produced Corruption.  The film made little impact and was soon withdrawn.  Following this lukewarm swan song, Helen disappeared and was not heard from again.  Still young and ravishing, her career was certainly salvageable so what could have possessed her to give up at that point is unknown.  Personally, I like to think that Helen met Mr. Right.  Perhaps she was content to let it all go for the role of wife and mother.

    It is extremely unlikely that Helen still could be alive, but no one has ever found the date of her death.  By the time of her passing she probably had been out of the limelight for so long her family did not bother going public with her death.  There is also reason to believe they didn't even know there was anything to report.  Like many early actresses, Helen might have been modest about her film career and seldom spoke of it.  If she had any children, they may have had only the slightest notion she had once been in the movies. It is possible her descendents remain unaware of it to this day.  Whatever happened to Helen Marten, one sincerely hopes she realized she did bring joy and happiness to millions of cinema patrons in the days of long ago.