The concept of the “movie star” got underway toward the end of the Nickelodeon Era, in spite of studios like Biograph and Edison that forbade using actors’ names in any publicity or in “credits” attached to the film. But audiences had started to figure out which performers they liked, and to demand more of them, and more information about them as well. And even today there are names from the silent era that shine out among the first stars, many of whom went on to long and rewarding careers.
The women nominated for acting in 1914 are among the most recognizable names of the period. Blanche Sweet got her first shot at a lead role in a feature with “Judith of Bethulia,” while Pearl White will forever be remembered as the Queen of the Serials for “The Perils of Pauline.” Marie Dressler demonstrated remarkable comedic talent in the title role of “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” holding her own against comedy veterans Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Mary Pickford is probably one of the most recognizable names of the period, and her performance as the fabled “Cinderella” shows why. Finally, Beatriz Michelena is less well-remembered today (most of her films are lost), but she was no slouch as the first Latina movie star, and represents the strong woman of the West in “Salomy Jane.”
The nominees for best actress in a leading role for 1914 are:
- Blanche Sweet for Judith of Bethulia
- Pearl White for Perils of Pauline
- Marie Dressler for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
- Mary Pickford for Cinderella
- Beatriz Michelena for Salomy Jane
And the winner is…Marie Dressler for “Tillie’s Punctured Romance!”
As opposed to the male actors, where I was searching for a performance worthy of an award, this was a tough call because all of the nominated women were terrific. Ultimately, I went with Dressler because her performance is so different to what we expect from the generally young and vivacious actresses of the time. She plays broadly, but with remarkable timing, and shows herself to be one of the great comediennes of her generation.