Celebrating the History of Motion Pictures from 1890 to 1960

Alice Calhoun: Lovely Lady of the Silent Screen

by Susann Disbro Gilbert

Alice Calhoun 1923.

BORN:

November 24*, 1900, in Cleveland, OH

DIED:

June 3, 1966, in Los Angeles, CA
Buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, CA

FULL NAME:

Alice Beatrice Calhoun (nicknamed “ABC”)

OVERVIEW:

Alice Calhoun was a pretty, petite, brunette leading lady of Hollywood silents.  She appeared in (at least) 49 films.  Starting in bit parts, she quickly worked her way up to leading roles when she was contracted by Vitagraph**.  When Vitagraph was purchased by Warner Bros. in 1925, she worked as a freelancer until she retired from the film business in 1934. She made one sound film.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES:

Alice Beatrice Calhoun was the daughter of Florence F. Payne and Joseph Chester Calhoun.  She had one brother, Joseph Jr., who was not only a practicing attorney in Cleveland, but also a Danish and Norwegian consul.

In the 1920’s, movies were basically an unchallenged mass entertainment form – radio was not yet a part of the culture.  Most of Alice’s movies were based on literary works, such as Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons, that was filmed as “Pampered Youth”, or short stories from periodicals, which were widely read.  While she played roles in various genre (for example, slapstick and westerns) that were storyboard–designed, most of her movies were script–based.

Alice Calhoun 1919.

Alice was a hard-working actress and regarded as highly professional by her peers. While modern audiences often view the melodramatic acting method of silents as over-the-top, it clearly reflected the technique necessary for the genre.   Without sound, the audience must be able to clearly interpret the actor’s thoughts and emotions.  Silent film is an interactive art form.  Alice’s mastery of that technique was widely admired and considered skillful and believable.   Most of her films were successful because of her charm, and that quality made her popular and durable for the period of time she worked in.  There was a darling naiveté to her work that was vivid, gutsy, human, and sentimental.  She had an active fan club, and always answered all the letters that she received.

Alice Calhoun.

This being pre-code Hollywood, many of Alice’s films had themes that were considered mature and sophisticated – even for today.  In “One Stolen Night” (which admittedly rode in on the coattails of Valentino’s “The Sheik“), her role as Diantha oozes erotica and torrid sexual angst.   While she did play her share of helpless waifs and hopeless romantics, she also often starred in mysteries and adventures, playing strong, action-motivated roles. One of her legacies is the modern-themed starring roles, playing successful, working wives or even a secret agent (“Hidden Aces”). Feminine assertiveness was becoming a popular subject matter in the mid-1920’s, and she often portrayed strong women.  She was also a very skilled comedienne.  One of my favorite films of hers is “Hidden Aces” (with Charles Hutchison), in which she is absolutely hilarious.

Alice’s co-stars were equally famous.  She worked with Anna Q. Nilsson (“Between Friends“, “Flowing Gold“), Sydney Chaplin (“The Man On the Box“), Cullen Landis (“The Midnight Alarm“, “Pioneer Trails“, “Masters of Men“, “Pampered Youth“), Ben Alexander (“Pampered Youth“) Alan Hale, Sr. and John Bowers (“Code of the Wilderness“), William Fairbanks (“Flying High“), Oliver Hardy (in two rare dramatic roles in “Little Wildcat” and “One Stolen Night“) and even Rin Tin Tin (“A Hero of the Big Snows“).  Her one sound film, “Now I’ll Tell“, co-starred Spencer Tracy, Alice Faye, Helen Twelvetrees and Shirley Temple (Alice played Shirley’s mother).

She was also a savvy businesswoman.  With friend Mark Hansen, she built a movie theater at 6025 Hollywood Boulevard in 1925 known as the Marcal Theatre, later called the World Theatre.  Around that time, she met and married theater owner Max Clarence Chotiner in 1927.  (It is rumored that Alice had a very brief first marriage to renowned entertainment attorney Mendel B. Silberberg). Max owned at least three theaters in California – Chotiner’s Ravenna Theatre and the Fox Parisian, both in Los Angeles, and the Lomita Theater.   Although Alice and Max divorced ten years later amid much publicity and humiliation, they later reconciled.  They were remarried in 1948, and remained together until her death in 1966. 

Alice was awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and it can be seen at 6815 Hollywood Boulevard.  At the City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles, a plaque in her honor is installed outside the Alice Calhoun Chotiner Wing that Max contributed in her honor. She died of cancer on June 3, 1966, and rests at the Little Garden of Faithfulness at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

© 2005 Susann Disbro Gilbert. All Rights Reserved


Editor’s Notes:

     * A number of sources list Alice’s birthday as November 21. However, government records verify it was actually November 24.

   ** The Vitagraph Company of America was the most important of the early film producers. It opened its first studio in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn in 1905, and in 1913 it established additional studios in California. In 1925 it was purchased by Warner Bros. for $735,000. The Vitagraph name continued to be used as a trademark by Warner Bros. through the 1950s.


How Could You, Caroline (1918)Flowing Gold (1924)
The Dream Lady (1918)Between Friends (1924)
Everybody’s Business (1919)Code of the Wilderness (1924)
The Thirteenth Chair (1919)The Everlasting Whisper (1925)
Human Collateral (1920)Pampered Youth (1925)
Captain Swift (1920)The Happy Warrior (1925)
The Sea Rider (1920)The Part Time Wife (1925)
Deadline at Eleven (1920)The Other Woman’s Story (1925)
Princess Jones (1921)The Man on the Box (1925)
The Charming Deceiver (1921)The Power of the Weak (1926)
Peggy Puts It Over (1921)A Hero of the Big Snows (1926)
Rainbow (1921)Kentucky Handicap (1926)
Matrimonial Web (1921)Tentacles of the North (1926)
Closed Doors (1921)Flying High (1926)
The Little Minister (1922)Life in Hollywood #4 (1927)
Angel of Crooked Street (1922)In the First Degree (1927)
Blue Blood (1922)The Trunk Mystery (1927)
The Girl in His Room (1922)The Flag (1927)
A Girl’s Desire (1922)Hidden Aces (1927)
Little Wildcat (1922)The Isle of Forgotten Women (1927)
One Stolen Night (1923)Savage Passions (1927)
Masters of Men (1923)The Down Grade (1927)
The Man Next Door (1923)Bride of the Desert (1929)
The Midnight Alarm (1923)Now I’ll Tell (1934)
Pioneer Trails (1923)

The following products will help you explore this subject further:

Books:

  • The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films 1921–1930, (1971)
  • The Big V: A History of the Vitagraph Company, (1987) by Anthony Slide
  • An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Pictures 1915 – 1928, (1990) by Richard Koszarski
  • Cinema Year by Year 1894–2005, (2005)
  • Silent Movies: The Birth of Film & the Triumph of Movie Culture, by Peter Kobel and the Library of Congress

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