Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thom's Sawyer

“Perhaps no picture player in the world is better known and more admired than Miss Laura Sawyer”, proclaims the April 1911 Motion Picture Story.   The very opposite is true about her today – she’s one of the most obscure of silent film stars.

 There’s not a whole lot available on her early life; indeed, all I could find was from Wikipedia, and even that was sorely lacking: her birthdate (Feb 3, 1885), her parents (Alvah Hayden and Laurette Sawyer), and that she was schooled at the Ursuline Academy in St Louis, Missouri.

She performed with the Otis Skinner theatrical troupe for four years before landing at Edison Studios, where she would remain until 1913.  Sawyer’s work there was highly regarded, and she was said to have been the favorite actress of Thomas Edison himself.

Miss Laura Sawyer, leading lady in the Edison company…commonly referred to by her intimates as “Dolly Dimples”, is as charming a young woman as she is a talented actress…” [Moving Picture World, April 26, 1913]
During her time at Edison, she headlined one of the first detective story serials:

Let it be understood that these stories will be absolutely independent of each other, each telling of an entirely separate case on which Kate Kirby, a girl detective, is detailed to work…[t]hese “Kate Kirby’s Cases” will be particularly interesting because of the mystery that will sorrund them. [“Kate Kirby’s Cases”, The Kinetogram (Edison’s own trade paper), July 15, 1913]

The Kate Kirby serials proved quite popular (matching the success of Edison’s own “What Happened to Mary?” with Mary Fuller) and got good reviews; Moving Picture World called the first installment, THE DIAMOND CROWN, “very commendable…as a one reel detective story this is unusually good”.  Future installments were just as well-received: “very good…the best regular release of the last two weeks” and “well-acted”.

Sawyer, too, was lauded for her performance…

[Sawyer’s] performances are invariably forceful and she shows remarkable powers of repression in scenes which less capable players would spoil by overacting.  [“Edison Studio Notes”, Moving Picture World, August 16, 1913]

…as well as other things:

“[A] girl with two noticeable dimples, dark ‘soulful’ eyes, a mass of chestnut hair and a debonair manner that will overlook formalities and put you at your ease”…[A]smile filled with California sunshine – a smile that radiated kindness, happiness, the joy of living and perfect health, was one of the chief attributes of his leading lady.
[“Laura Sawyer, of the Edison Company – Chats with the Players”, Motion Picture Story, August 1913]  (Anybody else think the reporter had a teensy crush on her? – JR)

 At any rate, by the end of August 1913, Sawyer had ended her tenure at Edison and moved to Famous Players, bringing Kate Kirby along with her.  The “girl detective” lasted three more installments; by 1915, after a couple of additional films, Laura Sawyer’s career was over.  Whether the choice was hers or the studios’, I cannot say.  As for her personal life, Wikipedia lists her as having married, but I have no idea if this had any say in her leaving movies or not. 

The last word on Laura comes from the ubiquitous “where are they now” section:

The author of that successful photoplay, “The Valentine Girl”, in which Marguerite Clark played the delightful lead, is none other than our old friend Laura Sawyer (Edison), who, after leaving the silent drama, has returned as a successful scenario-writer. [Lester Sweyd, “What They Are Doing Now”, Motion Picture, February 1918]

Her scenario-writing seems to have been limited to that one picture...after that, she completely vanished from the public eye.  Laura Sawyer died on September 7, 1970, at age 85.

[photo courtesy the Jonathan Silent Film Collection]

1 comment:

Lasso The Movies said...

I have to be honest and say that in all my film experiences I don't ever recall hearing of her before. This does however seem to be a grave injustice and I will always be on the lookout for her now. Thanks for opening my eyes to a new, overlooked star of the early days.