Carmen DeRue, a child star in the earliest days of silent pictures and the last surviving member of the cast of the landmark film “The Squaw Man,” has died at her home in North Hollywood at the age of 78.
DeRue, known as Baby DeRue as a child star and as Carmen Schrott to her neighbors in later years, died of a heart attack Sunday, said her son, Gregory Schrott.
She was the daughter of Eugene DeRue, who got into the film industry with her on a fluke in 1913 and went on to become a director and studio executive. He won a place in Hollywood history as the developer of the dubbing process, in which actors later record dialogue to match filmed lip movements.
In 1913, in her first role, Carmen DeRue played a young Indian boy, Hal, in “The Squaw Man,” a pioneering Western that was the first major film made in Hollywood and the first film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Made by Jesse Lasky Feature Play Co., which grew into Paramount Studios, much of the movie was shot in a barn at Vine Street and Selma Avenue in Hollywood. The building has since been restored as the Hollywood Studio Museum.
As DeRue and her father told the story in later years, their opportunity came when the company was shooting outdoor scenes of Indians on horseback at the site where Forest Lawn Cemetery now adjoins Griffith Park.
DeRue’s father, then a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, had gotten his 5-year-old daughter the role as an Indian boy. He was taking care of her on the set when he was offered $3 to work as an extra, riding with a gang of “Indians.” When his horse began to move, DeRue, who had never ridden before, fell off and rolled downhill.
His fall remained in the film and he was offered other roles, although he refused to ride again.
Carmen, meanwhile, acquired a following of her own and appeared in a series of films that she estimated numbered about 200, including “Masterminds,” “Carmen’s Race for Life,” “Carmen’s Wild Ride,” “Carmen’s Wash Day,” “Flirt,” “Broken Doll,” “Babes in the Woods” and “The Girl with the Champagne Eyes.”
She joined several of the sets of young performers who ground out series of “cute kids” films, including Franklin’s Triangle Kiddies and the Fox Kiddies.
She became a fan of Theda Bara, the slinky, exotic vamp who was a leading sex symbol of the day, studied her films and imitated her, she recalled in later years.
A reporter for the Los Angeles Record wrote in 1915 that “little 6-year-old Carmen Faye DeRue has hundreds of dresses and is the ‘Theda Bara’ of juvenile pictures. She can dance, ride, spell, read and count. Her dream is to become a vamp. . . . At 56 pounds, she just celebrated her sixth birthday.”