Lina Basquette; Star of Silent Movies
Lina Basquette, the raven-haired dancer and actress best remembered as the leading lady in Cecil B. DeMille’s final silent film “The Godless Girl,” has died. She was 87.
She died Friday at her home in Wheeling, W.V., from lymphoma, her grandson, Michael Hiatt, said Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Miss Basquette, who spent her later years breeding and judging Great Dane champion dogs, was born Lena Baskette on April 19, 1907, in San Mateo, Calif. An RCA Victor representative spotted her dancing to phonograph records in her father’s drugstore when she was 7 and hired her to advertise Victrolas at the San Francisco World Fair in 1915.
Prodded by a stage mother, the child star was signed by Universal to make a series of silent films titled “Lena Baskette Featurettes.” Taught by her stepfather, dance instructor Ernest Belcher, she attracted the patronage of ballerina Nina Pavlova and was sometimes called “Pavlova Junior.”
Miss Basquette respelled her name in 1923, the year she became the principal ballerina for the Ziegfeld Follies. When she appeared in Ziegfeld’s “Louie the 14th” a couple of years later, Sam Warner, one of the four co-founding Warner Bros., fell in love with her.
He became the first of her many husbands and they had a daughter, Lita. When Warner died suddenly, shortly before Warner Bros.’ “The Jazz Singer” injected sound into the film industry, Miss Basquette became a 20-year-old widow. She lost everything, the estate and custody of her child--whom she did not see for 32 years--in bitter court battles with the Warner family.
With many marriages and more storied affairs, Miss Basquette enjoyed recalling in her later years how she fended off Adolf Hitler with a sharp knee to the groin and an assertion that her grandfather was Jewish. In 1943, a U.S. soldier in Los Angeles was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping her.
“I believe in nature and I believe most men are wonderful,” she said last year. “I used to fall in love with very attractive people. And I didn’t go for one-night stands. I fell in love and when you fell in love in my day, you got married, you didn’t shack up.”
After “The Godless Girl” in 1929, Miss Basquette’s on-screen popularity waned. She appeared in several Buck Jones and Hoot Gibson Westerns in the 1930s. Her only recent performance was as a grandmother in a 1991 independent film, “Paradise Park.”
That same year, she published what was meant as the first installment of her memoirs, “Lina: DeMille’s Godless Girl.”
Miss Basquette was fond of saying that dogs saved her after men almost ruined her. From the 1950s through the 1970s, she operated Honey Hollow Kennels in Bucks County, Pa., and became the single biggest winner of Great Dane events in dog history, primarily with all-time champion “Special K.”
After retiring from breeding dogs in 1983, she worked as a judge for the American Kennel Assn.
A 1989 profile in the New Yorker renewed interest in Miss Basquette’s old films. She was honored at a standing-room-only screening last year at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and made several appearances at the Silent Movie in Los Angeles.
Miss Basquette is survived by her daughter, Lita Warner Heller; her son, Edward Alvin Hayes; her half-sister, actress-dancer Marge Champion, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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