From the Archives: Blanche Sweet, 90, Major Star of Silent Films, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Blanche Sweet, who made her first stage appearance in 1898 and later became a major star of silent films, died Saturday in New York.

Friends said she suffered a stroke in her home. She was 90.

Miss Sweet made 124 motion pictures, all but three of them silent films. Her first was “The Man With Three Wives” in 1909. She became a star in 1914 in director D. W. Griffith’s “Judith of Bethulia,” one of the first feature-length films made in this country.

Played Strong Female Roles


Unlike most silent-screen heroines, she was not the fragile flower type, but instead played the strong and determined young woman in most of her films. Griffith originally had cast her as Elsie Stoneman in the 1915 epic “The Birth of a Nation,” but gave the role instead to Lillian Gish.

Born Sarah Blanche Sweet in Chicago, a member of a show business family, she debuted on stage at the age of 18 months as “Baby Blanche.” As a teen-ager, she took dancing lessons from Ruth St. Denis.

Film historians rate her as a pioneering and exceptionally versatile motion picture actress. Film writer Anthony Slide characterized hers as “a curious career replete with highlights, falls from favor and inexplicable absences from the screen.”

In 1923 she starred in “Anna Christie,” the first film version of the Eugene O’Neill play, scoring what Slide called “a major dramatic success.” But there followed a series of minor films, excepting only “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” in 1925.

Despite her professionalism, her film career effectively ended in 1930 with “The Silver Horde,” although she later toured in vaudeville and performed on Broadway in “The Party’s Over” and “The Petrified Forest.” In the 1950s she worked as a clerk in a New York department store. In 1959, she had a bit part in the Danny Kaye movie “The Five Pennies.”

She made a comeback of sorts in 1978, appearing as herself in a documentary “Portrait of Blanche,” and appeared four years later in “Before the Nickelodeon,” a documentary about the first days of motion pictures.

Miss Sweet’s 1922 marriage to director Marshall Neilan ended in divorce in 1929. She married actor Raymond Hackett in 1936. He died in 1958.


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