Silent Star of November 1996
Margaret Philpott began dancing as a young girl to correct a
posture problem, she dreamed of being a stage actress and dancer. The
determined little girl made her theatrical debut as a slave girl in a
production of Aida. When called into child labor court, the 9 year old
replied that she was not in violation of the law because she wasn't
At the age of 17, Margaret decided to run away from home and try her
luck in New York City. It didn't take long for the beautiful young
dancer to land a role in the Broadway production of The Love
Mill. Not long after, she captured the attention of theatre owner
Daniel Frohman, who, struck by her beauty, offered to
aid her career, encouraged her to act, rather than dance, and changed
Margaret Philpott into Madge Bellamy.
Proud, defiant, stubborn, and impetuous, Madge Bellamy became known
as the actress who was too hard to handle.
On Frohman's letter of introduction Madge obtained her first stage
speaking role in Pollyanna for the princely sum of $100.00 per
week. According to Madge's autobiography, Darling of the
Twenties, she was ostracized by the rest of the troupe by her good
reviews while a virtual unknown.
After Pollyanna finished touring, Madge went on to replace
Helen Hayes in the stage production of Dear Brutus. During
this time she made her debut in motion pictures, as a player in one of
the last films of Geraldine Farrar,
The Riddle: Woman. When touring of Dear
Brutus ended, Madge joined Monta Bell's stock company in
Washington, D.C., performing in a new play every week.
Over Frohman's objections, Madge accepted an offer to make a screen
test for Thomas Ince. While himself a member of the
board for Famous Players, Frohman felt that Madge belonged on the
stage. But Madge was hooked, and signed a four-year contract with Ince
and left for Hollywood.
Her arrival in Hollywood was less than overwhelming. Upon entering
Thomas Ince Studios, she was greeted by Douglas MacLean,
who informed her that she was to be his Christmas present, but a little
too thin for his taste. Incensed, Madge ran out the door, only to have
Ince himself run after her, begging her to stay.
Madge stayed, and co-starred with MacLean in her first film
Passing Through and later
The Hottentot. MacLean, Madge wrote, was jealous
of any girl appearing too pretty in his pictures, and discouraged the
cameramen from favoring the young actress.
During her time with Ince, she made
The Cup of Life
with Hobart Bosworth and Tully Marshall;
Hail the Woman with Florence Vidor; and
Love Never Dies with Lloyd Hughes,
directed by King Vidor. She adored working with
Vidor, and he became one of her favorite directors.
In 1922 Madge won the coveted role of
Lorna Doone, directed by Maurice Tourneur. The story of the
British aristocrat kidnapped by thieves became one of her most famous
roles. In 1923, Madge was personally chosen by
Mary Pickford to co-star with her brother
Garrison´s Finish. She worshipped Mary, who
taught her how to make the most of lighting techniques and shared some
of her beauty secrets.
While under contract with Ince, Madge was loaned out a great deal to
other studios. She was happiest at Universal studios, with its
extended family of Laemmles, but despised Louis B. Mayer
and B.P. Schulburg. She never forgave Mayer for not standing up when
she entered his office. While on loan to Fox Studios in 1924 Madge
co-starred with George O´Brien in the
John Ford-directed epic western
The Iron Horse. Shooting lasted four months, but
to Madge, awed by Ford's genius, it was the experience of a
In 1925, Madge was sent over to MGM to discuss a part with
Irving Thalberg, the studio's production executive.
When told that he and MGM wanted her for the role of Esther for their
Ben-Hur, the impetuous Madge replied thanks,
but no thanks - too many horses!
Later that year, Ince mysteriously died -- some said murdered --
aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst. With her contract up,
Madge signed another 4-year contract, this time with Fox. While at
Fox, Madge clashed with director Frank Borzage, with
whom she was filming
Lazybones. Because she was
portraying a poor girl, Borzage insisted that her nails be dirty. She
furiously refused. He never forgot the slight; when filming began for
Seventh Heaven, Borzage chose Janet Gaynor
for the role of Diane over William Fox's choice of Madge.
Sandy began a series of flapper films
for Madge, who bobbed and blonded her hair for the role. Madge's
tumultuous life took a strange turn when, in a fit of pique, she
married stockbroker Logan Metcalf. The marriage lasted six days.
Madge made her talkie debut in Fox's first real dialogue picture,
Mother Knows Best, also starring
Louise Dresser. While Madge received tremendous
reviews, her next film,
Fugitives, was silent. In
1929, she was also set to star in another silent film,
The Lady From Hell, when she demanded to select her
director. The studio refused, she demanded that her contract be torn
up, and she stormed off the set. Madge returned the next day to find
that instead of being fired, the studio executives were willing to
offer her an extended contract at a higher salary. Still proud, she
turned them down and left the lot.
Fox, in a last-ditch effort, offered Madge the lead role in
The Trial of Mary Dugan, but to her everlasting regret
she turned them down.
For the next three years Madge was broke and unemployed, returning to
Hollywood to star in the cult horror classic
with Bela Lugosi. She again signed with Fox in 1934,
and appeared in low-prestige B films:
Charlie Chan in London,
The Daring Young Man,
Great Hotel Murder, and
Under Your Spell. Embarrassed and humiliated,
Madge turned her back on Hollywood for good.
Her life remained as tempestuous as ever; bad investments and
outrageous spending during her heyday left her financially destitute.
In 1943 she made headlines once again, this time for shooting at her
former lover Stanwood Murphy, who had jilted her.
During the last years of her life, Madge turned to writing. Her
dream was to see her autobiography in print, but tragically she died
January 24, 1990 of a chronic heart ailment, before her book was
Glen Pringle /
Kally Mavromatis /
Copyright © 2013
by Glen Pringle and Kally Mavromatis