Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Million Dollar Mystery: Florence La Badie

Ironic that Florence La Badie starred in "Million Dollar Mystery" - since her own life both began and ended under mysterious circumstances.  In between the cradle and the grave, she was one of Thanhouser's brightest, most beautiful stars.

Look at those eyes:

Florence was born in New York City, on April 27, 1888.  She was adopted by the La Badies as a baby, and lived in Montreal.  As to her biological family, we have but one clue.  From the Thanhouser website:

A deposition by Marie C. Russ, a patient at the Home for Incurables, New York City, October 8, 1917, stated that: "Florence Russ, my daughter, is an owner of lot no. 17187 in the Greenwood Cemetery, being a grandchild and heir of Mrs. Louisa Russ, the purchaser of said lot. That some years ago said Florence Russ was legally adopted by Joseph E. and Amanda J. LaBadie, and her name legally changed to Florence LaBadie.…"

Given that the only person who ever came forward with this info was institutionalized for mental illness, we can only speculate to its truth, but most seem to accept it as fact.

She began acting on stage in 1908, and toured through 1910 in productions like The Ragged Robin and The Blue Bird.  But in 1909, it was a chance studio visit, a tag-along with her best friend, which would start her film career.

Guess who that best friend was?

Hint: it's not Ben Turpin.

Florence got a bit part that day in a Biograph production, but only remained with them a year; in spring 1911 she signed with Thanhouser.  Here's where she flourished, quickly moving up to lead roles (doing her own stunts, too) and becoming their best known (and most publicized) player.  

image courtesy Thanhouser

Florence was also a great supporter of the peace movement; a soldier's letter from the trenches, complete with devastating photographs, moved her so much that she converted them into slides - on her own dime - and toured the country giving lectures and displaying the horrors of war.

Sadly, while at the height of her fame, tragedy struck:

While Florence was driving an automobile near Ossining, New York on August 28, 1917, with her fiancé, Daniel Carson Goodman as a passenger, the brakes failed, after which the car plunged down a hill at a frightening rate, causing it to overturn at the bottom. While Goodman escaped with a broken leg and minor injuries, Florence was thrown from the vehicle and suffered a compound fracture of the pelvis. She was hospitalized in Ossining, under the care of Charles C. Sweet, M.D., of 13 Maple Street, who first attended her the day following the accident. Complications ensued, and her condition worsened.

Florence La Badie died on October 13, 1917.  She was only 29 years old.

photo courtesy Thanhouser

After her death, her adoptive mother, Amanda La Badie, disappeared.  She did not attend her daughter's funeral, and her house was simply abandoned.  To this day, only Florence rests in the double plot meant for her and her mother.  No word of Amanda was heard ever again.

Florence's death was surrounded by controversy.  There were those who believed that she'd had an affair with President Woodrow Wilson, and that something occurred between the two that necessitated her being "removed".  From the wonderful blog Silence is Platinum (I highly recommend you read her entire post on Miss La Badie):

[Florence] accepted [Pres. Wilson's] invitation to visit the White House during Christmas of 1914. She returned from the trip a different person. She was an emotional wreck, forgot her lines on set, stopped answering her telephone or speaking to her friends...

Any details were pure conjecture; those closest to her refused to talk about any of it.  The Legion of Decency notes:

On more than one occasion, Mary Pickford was seen to become very agitated when someone asked about her friendship with Florence LaBadie. Once, she told a reporter, "There are some things better left unresolved!" and fled the room.

We will never know what happened towards the end of Florence's life, or what shadow was cast over her death...but thanks to the preservation efforts of Thanhouser, we can see this lovely woman doing what she should be remembered for: acting.   There are twelve of her films available for viewing on their website for free:  Click here to watch.

image courtesy Thanhouser

Next time, we'll delve into the drifts around Marguerite Snow.


Emma said...

Thanks for the post, I had not heard of Florence beofre. What a strange and tragic woman.

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas said...

I'm just fascinated by her. Not to mention, she was the first movie star to die at the height of fame. :( Glad you liked the post!

The Lady Eve said...

This was my introduction to Florence La Badie. What a fascinating and mysterious story.

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas said...

Very pleased I could introduce her to you! Isn't it fun? :)

ClassicBecky said...

I too was unfamiliar with Florence. Her life was indeed mysterious, and such a tragedy to die so young. I wonder what did happen to make Mary Pickford so adamant about not discussing her. And what could have happened to her mother? As you said, we will never know. The first picture in your article shows different emotions on her lovely face. Wonderful look at this strange girl!

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing...

Fritzi Kramer said...

Hi there! I thought you might like to know that Lilac Lane published a pretty devastating debunking of the "mystery" of Miss La Badie's death. Excellent reading.

Fritzi Kramer said...

Hi there! Since I last wrote in, I did my own digging on Florence La Badie.

I found census records proving that her adopted mother was still living in New York in the 1920s, I tracked down the original source articles quoted by the cited blogs. Not a single source supports the fantastic allegations against Woodrow Wilson.

And during the Christmas of 1914, Woodrow Wilson was actually surrounded by his three adult daughters in the wake of the death of the first Mrs. Wilson. All three spent Christmas and New Years at the White House and one of them gave birth to Wilson's grandson a few weeks later. The entire "affair" is pretty much bunk that is easily disproved.

The verdict: The "murder" of Florence La Badie is an elaborate urban legend and all of the information about it can be traced back to a single book of very poor scholarship called "Stardust and Shadows"

William Reynolds said...

Dear Ms. Kramer,
Thank you for detailing the fiction surrounding the alleged affair between President Woodrow Wilson and Florence LaBadie.
I am writing, wearing 'two hats.' First and foremost, I am a Presidential Historian. Believe it or not, I was once considered for the Director's position of the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace in Staunton, Virginia.
Secondly, I am the former Village Historian of Ossining, NY, where Florence met her tragic end.
Coincidntally, the site of the car crash was a stone's throw away from one of my mother's childhood homes. She died in the Old Ossining Hospital. i have photocopies of the local newspaper accounts of the accident and her death, as well as a copy of her death certificate.
I became acquainted with Florence through Ned Thanhouser, the grandson of the Thanhousers.
We attended a ceremony at Florence's final resting place, where a headstone was finally erected in her memory, more than95 years after her death.

Pud said...

Thank you Ms. Kramer and Mr. Reynolds for further information that debunks the gossipy rumours against the lovely Ms. La Badie (not to mention, President Wilson).

Thank you also to the blog author. Always interesting and refreshing to see someone's unwavering interest in the flickers - keeping this important historical genre alive for the future generations.