Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress 1917

In a society in which the “male gaze” is dominant, women are common subjects for visual media. In the silent era, women could surprise you with their boldness, their strength, and sometimes their villainy. Often, the most interesting roles for women were not the leads, but were to be found in the characters that make up the world of action in which they play. The women actors of 1917 had opportunities to add complexity and color to the movies that audiences went to see.

ZaSu Pitts stands out in a supporting role for Mary Pickford in “Little Princess.” She is Becky, the scullion maid with no parents, who is excited by her new friend and also helps her survive her new condition of poverty. Musidora, who won a Century Award for her supporting role in “Les Vampires” is up again for “Judex.” In “The Atonement,” her character, Diana Monti, tries to escape her fate when Judex arrives on the boat where she is holding his true love captive. In “Polly RedheadGertrude Astor navigates a fine line between being jealous of Polly and being her benefactor when she brings the existence of Polly’s doppelganger to the attention of her employer, setting the end plot into motion. May Emory is over the top as a jealous rival for Gloria Swanson in “Teddy at the Throttle,” displaying comic timing and ability and getting a face full of mud for her efforts.

The nominees for best actress in a supporting role for 1917 are:

  1. ZaSu Pitts in Little Princess
  2. Musidora in The Atonement (Judex)
  3. Gertrude Astor in Polly Redhead
  4. May Emory in Teddy at the Throttle

And the winner is…ZaSu Pitts in “Little Princess!”

Pitts completely blew me away with her deferential, demure, yet nuanced and perky performance. I think she actually stole the show from Pickford a couple of times, and that’s quite an accomplishment. It probably helped that the two of them had real chemistry and became good friends after this film. I believe this is the first time Pitts has appeared on this blog, and she came in with a bang. I’m happy to honor her performance with a Century Award.

Best Supporting Actress 1916

Women were an important part of silent movie history, often stepping outside of the “traditional” roles to become involved in writing, production, and even directing. Historian James Card emphasized the depth of female characters on the screen as well – he often found that the women in this period are more interesting than the men. Not only as stars, but also as supporting character, female parts often gave their actors a chance to stretch and grow as artists.

This year, the women in supporting roles varied from heroines to mothers to villains, and even villainous mothers. Lidiia Koroneva’s role as a mother in “A Life for a Life” is non-traditional, in that she is a successful businesswoman whose decisions regarding inheritance and favoritism inform the rest of the plot. In “Return of Draw Egan,” Louise Glaum brings vivaciousness and brazenness to her role as a femme fatale. Constance Talmadge has a more positive approach, but no less energy, in her part as “The Mountain Girl” in D.W. Griffith’s spectacle “Intolerance.” Appearing in her own movie, “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” director Marion E. Wong also makes a complex villain as the traditional mother-in-law of an immigrant girl torn between past and present. And Musidora was the iconic Irma Vep in “Les Vampires,”  going through multiple costume changes and misadventures during the course of “The Lord of Thunder.”

The Nominees for Best Supporting Actress of 1916 are:

  1. Lidiia Koroneva, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Louise Glaum, in “Return of Draw Egan”
  3. Constance Talmadge, in “Intolerance”
  4. Marion E. Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  5. Musidora, in “The Lord of Thunder”

And the winner is…Marion E. Wong for “The Curse of Quon Gwon!”

What's that on your shoulder, son?

All of the nominees were good this year, but I felt that first time actor-director Wong deserved recognition for the subtlety and strength of her performance. Because the movie was never released, she never became the star she could have been, but a century later she can still be celebrated as one of the best actresses of her era.

Best Supporting Actress 1914

For drama to truly work, there needs to be more than a leading man and a leading lady. They need antagonists, friends, family, and in general a world of people to make their narratives appear convincing, to give them challenges to work against and help in overcoming those challenges. When one of these “other people” is a woman, we refer to her role as a supporting actress, and when they break out of the limitations of their role and make it more than a stereotype or faceless prop, we consider them for this award.

1914 brought us a number of excellent performances by women in supporting roles. Mabel Normand had been on the Keystone scene for a while, but she had a chance to really shine as the villainous counterpart to Charlie Chaplin in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance.” Mae Marsh was one of D.W. Griffith’s favorites, and he gave her an important part as “The Little Mother” in “Judith of Bethulia” – representing, as it were the suffering of an entire people in her own person. Mildred Harris played a migrant transformed into a princess in “The Magic Cloak of Oz,” and in the similar fantasy “Cinderella” Inez Martel is the fairy godmother. Finally, Elsa Krueger brought sex appeal and a sense of amorality to her femme fatale role in “Silent Witnesses.”

The nominees for best supporting actress for 1914 are:

  1. Mabel Normand for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  2. Mae Marsh for Judith of Bethulia
  3. Mildred Harris for Magic Cloak of Oz
  4. Inez Martel for Cinderella
  5. Elsa Krueger for Silent Witnesses

And the winner is… Elsa Krueger in “Silent Witnesses!”

 Elsa Krueger

All of the women nominated stood out to me in some way, but Elsa Krueger made the strongest impact, with relatively little screen time. She is both vivacious and ego-centric, and the way she treats the servant-heroine of the story as though she weren’t even there heightens the dramatic impact of the tragedy. Truly, she represents the “New Woman” in Russian garb, with the particular sense of class consciousness that country had in the mid-teens.