Florence Lawrence: The First Movie Star
Florence Lawrence was one of the most recognizable women in America in the early 1900s—although nobody knew her name. A leading lady in nearly 250 silent films at the dawn of American cinema, Lawrence remained un-credited on screen until a maverick studio owner used her name to promote his films and turn her into the first movie star.
The first movie star was born into the acting business. The daughter of a vaudeville actress known professionally as Lotta Lawrence, young Florence Bridgwood toured with her mother, made her stage debut at age three as part of a song-and-dance routine and soon gained billing as “Baby Flo, The Child Wonder Whistler.”
Adopting her mother’s stage surname, Florence Lawrence got her big break in the film industry after being hired in 1906 by Thomas Edison’s movie studio to play Daniel Boone’s daughter in a biopic of the frontiersman. The following year she appeared in nearly 40 movies for the prolific Vitagraph Studios before she was lured away to Biograph Studios in 1908 by the prospect of a $25-per-week salary. Directed by pioneering filmmaker D.W. Griffith, the statuesque leading lady captured the public’s attention in a range of roles from Cleopatra to a cowgirl to Juliet. Nobody, however, knew her name.