Lois Wilson; Star of Early Silent Movies

Times Staff Writer

Early screen star Lois Wilson, who acted in many important silent Paramount productions, including the 1923 Western epic, “The Covered Wagon,” has died at age 93, it was reported Tuesday.

Miss Wilson, who succumbed to pneumonia in Reno, came to Hollywood in 1915 after winning a statewide beauty contest in Alabama.

She soon wangled a small part in “The Dumb Girl of Portici,” which starred legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova, and went on to act in more than 100 silent and sound films over the next 33 years.

Her best known roles included Molly Wingate in “The Covered Wagon” and Daisy Buchanan in the 1926 version of “The Great Gatsby,” for which she won the Photoplay magazine best performance award.


In other features, Miss Wilson acted opposite such stars as Rudolph Valentino and John Gilbert.

After retiring in 1941--except for a bit part in the forgettable 1949 comedy “The Girl from Jones Beach,” starring Ronald Reagan--Miss Wilson turned to the Broadway stage, road company productions, including “The Women” for 57 weeks, and, eventually, television.

Among the network soap operas in which she played featured character roles were “The Guiding Light” and “The Edge of Night.”

Although she never wed, Miss Wilson, a 5-foot-5 brunette, was once described as cultivating a screen image of the “soft, marrying kind of woman.”


Selected in 1924 by Paramount to represent the motion-picture industry at the British Empire Exposition, studio officials termed her “a typical example of the American girl in character, culture and beauty.”

She was also typical, for that era anyway, in fudging on her age. While various studio publicity accounts have listed her year of birth as anywhere from 1896 to 1902, her actual birthday was June 26, 1894, according to officials at the Riverside Hospital for Skilled Care in Reno, where Miss Wilson died March 3.

Born in Pittsburgh to an English father and a Bostonian mother, Miss Wilson attended grammar and high school in Birmingham, Ala., where her family moved when she was a toddler.

Earning a teaching certificate at Alabama Normal College, Miss Wilson briefly taught in rural schools before winning the beauty contest and coming west to enter a contest to publicize the newly founded Universal City.


Miss Wilson parlayed her role in “The Dumb Girl of Portici” into a contract with Paramount and the role of leading lady in a series of J. Warren Kerrigan films, including “The Covered Wagon.” Her other film credits included roles in Valentino’s “Monsieur Beaucaire,” “Ruggles of Red Gap,” “The Vanishing American,” and her personal favorite, the 1921 “Miss Lulu Bett.”

Miss Wilson made her stage debut in Los Angeles in 1928 and moved to New York a decade later, appearing on the Broadway stage in such plays as “Farewell Summer,” “Chicken Every Sunday,” and, in the late 1960s, “I Never Sang for My Father.”

After retiring, Miss Wilson returned to North Hollywood, where she shared a home with a sister. She later moved near her niece, Sheila Fitzmaurice Shay, in Reno, according to nephew George C. Lewis.

Miss Wilson was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Glendale, on Monday after a memorial service at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.