Florence Lawrence

The first movie star

Born: 2 January 1886 in Hamilton, Ontario as Florence Bridgewood
Died: 28 December 1938 in Beverly Hills, California

At age four, Florence Lawrence was travelling the vaudeville circuit as "Baby Flo - The Child Wonder Whistler". At age twenty, she was making her screen debut in the silent film, Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer Days in America. Lawrence would appear in over 270 films in her lifetime—72 in 1909 alone—but her real claim to fame was that she was the first performer to be identified by name on screen or on a playbill.

Florence Lawrence was anonymous in her first films for Vitagraph, as were all performers in those days. When she moved to the Biograph company in 1910, she became known as the "Biograph Girl". Carl Laemmle, eventual founder of Universal Pictures, recognized her popularity and wanted her to be the leading actress at his new Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP). He started a rumour that she had been killed in a streetcar accident and then, after a bit, announced that she was alive and well and working for him. A star was born and she would thereafter be billed as Florence Lawrence.

An injury in 1914 (or 1915) forced her to take some time off to recover. Her comeback attempts were unsuccessful and Lawrence committed suicide by ingesting poison shortly after Christmas in 1938. Ironically, she was not given screen credit for her last three roles.

Additional trivia:

Lawrence's gravestone reports her year of birth as 1890. However, this would mean that she was only 16 when she made Daniel Boone in 1906. Her actual year of birth is commonly believed to be 1886.

More information on:

Silent movies

Suggested reading:

Florence Lawrence, the Biograph Girl: America's First Movie Star by Kelly R. Brown
The Biograph Girl by William J. Mann

Sources include:

Colombo, John Robert. 1000 Questions About Canada. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001.


By Name · L
By Province · Ontario
By Claim to Fame · Stage & Screen · Firsts
Group(s) · Women

Added 14 April 2002.