Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Fleeting Aristocracy of Constance Binney

Constance Binney fairly leapt out of the pages of Blum's A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen, with the kind of eyes that "often fire first and with deadly aim" [Film Fun, Sept 1919]. In a volume filled with lovely faces, hers was different somehow -- her gaze held depth, sparkle.  Who was the woman behind it?

Constance was born in New York City in 1896. She was sent to Paris for her education, returning to Connecticut to attend finishing school.  It was at the latter that she began performing in student productions, both acting and dancing.  By 1917 she was back in New York and appearing on Broadway in Saturday to Monday.

1918 saw her first appearance on the screen in SPORTING LIFE, along with her sister Faire.  Both young ladies had a mildly successful (if short-lived) career, with Faire's list of credits lasting only two years longer than Constance's.

Coincidentally, both Binneys made films with John Barrymore, and both in 1919:  Faire in HERE COMES THE BRIDE, a breezy comedy of the sort Jack excelled in at the time, and Constance in his first dramatic picture, THE TEST OF HONOR.  (Both films are lost as of this entry.)

[image courtesy Corbis]

The fan magazines made much of Constance's background, calling it "Massachusetts aristocracy" and playing up her ancestry as a "direct descendant of one of the ten thousand families that came over on the Mayflower" [1].  As a result, the image they paint of her is composed, noble, almost patrician:

There was none of the usual histrionic flutter in this twenty-year-old...[s]he is a lovely thing facially and the poise of breeding...[and] the saving grace of a vast underlying gund of New England common-sense. [1]

She was very small, cool...distinctively, pleasantly crisp...upon an interesting verge of flapperism.  That cool little something, poise, aplomb...prevents her from ever quite slipping over the edge. [2]

Binney had good notices for THE TEST OF HONOR; Linda "Mrs DW" Griffith herself called her "a darling little person, with...youth, beauty, personality, and a simple, unaffected, direct style of acting" ["Comments and Criticisms of a Free-Lance", Film Fun, June 1919].  Famous Players-Lasky was impressed enough to sign her to their prestigious RealArt division.

Yet, even with this stellar beginning, her career slid to a halt by 1923.  (Her sister Faire's would end by 1925.)  She did a little stage work in London in the early 1940s, and was briefly married to British war hero Leonard Cheshire.  But, unlike Faire, who did a little TV work in the 1950s, Constance slipped completely from the public eye by 1951.  At one point, she returned to the New York area, settling in Queens.  Constance Binney died on November 15, 1989.  She was 93.

[1] Julian Johnson, "Plymouth Rock Chicken". Photoplay, September 1919
[2] Kenneth Curly, "Constance: The Brute-Breaker". Motion Picture, May 1922
All images courtesy the Media History Digital Library unless otherwise noted.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Where was she buried?