1/21/21 The King Of The Movies (Before Clark Gable)

By Fred Muenz

Pictured here are two statues, one of patriot Nathan Hale which stands before the Tribune Tower in Chicago, the other, of Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore stands before the courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland. Also pictured is a U.S. postage stamp featuring the face of the Nathan Hale statue. A close examination of the two statues would reveal that the faces are remarkably similar. In fact, the model for both statues was a young Francis X. Bushman, who went on to became one of the most popular movie actors of his time, appearing in nearly 200 films in a career confined mostly to the silent era.

Born in Baltimore in January, 1883, Francis Xavier Bushman’s father wanted him to be a doctor, but he was bitten by the acting bug while still a teenager and played walk-on roles with local stock companies. As a young man, he joined an athletic club and began a body building program which would give him the physique he became known for as a sculptor’s model and early film star. After college, he became a full-time professional actor, making his Broadway debut in 1908. While performing in Chicago in 1911, he was offered a film contract with the Essanay Company, one of the premier movie studios of the time. Over the next few years, he appeared as a leading man in over 100 films for the studio. Since a screen lover’s image had to be one of accessibility, the studio publicity department kept secret the fact that he had been married since 1902 and was the father of five children. To hide his past, the studio listed his birthplace as Norfolk, VA. When he moved to California and signed a contract with Metro Pictures in 1915, his marital status became known, but his popularity offset his concerns. One of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, he lived on a 280-acre estate and owned a fleet of lavender limousines. In 1916, he began a torrid affair with his co-star, Beverly Bayne, which resulted in his wife suing for divorce. It was rumored, at the time, that the ensuing scandal was fomented by his studio, which resented his huge salary demands. When he married Bayne, and the couple left Metro, their movie careers came to a virtual halt. They formed their own production company and appeared on stage together, but within a few years they were both written off as “yesterday’s stars”. Francis X. Bushman wasn’t finished, however. In 1925, he signed with MGM to appear in the role of Massala in BEN HUR (1925), co-starring Ramon Navaro. While it appeared that his career was on the rise once again, it came to a screaming halt when he was blacklisted by Louis B. Mayer. The story was told that Mayer was offended when he came to visit Bushman at his home, but was refused entry by a valet, who told Mayer that he couldn’t enter because he wasn’t expected. Bushman appeared in a few more films at minor studios, but the silent film era was ending. Still very wealthy, Bushman donated a home and land on Hollywood Blvd. to his friend, Sid Grauman for his famous Chinese Theater. Bushman’s fortune was finally wiped out by the stock market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression which followed. He was able to make a modest living taking small roles in films and trying to run several small businesses on the side. He finally started new careers as a radio announcer, and actor in radio soap operas. In later years, he began making guest appearances on television, with supporting roles in some of the most popular TV shows of the 1950’s and early 60’s. Ironically, one of his last television appearances was in the role of a silent film collector menaced by the Riddler in an episode of Batman. Due to the ravages of time, and several fires in studio film vaults, most of Francis X. Bushman’s films have been lost, with only clips and still photos remaining. Bushman died of a heart attack in August, 1966, after taking a fall in his home. He was 83.

LOOK FOR ANOTHER SILVER SCREEN MEMORY NEXT WEEK

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: