A head-start for late silent-film star

A head-start for late silent-film star
Flo rida: Silent film star Florence LaBadie appeared in dozens of flicks before dying in a car crash.
Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc.

A nearly forgotten silent-film star’s memory is finally being marked at Green-Wood Cemetery.

Florence LaBadie, or “Fearless Flo,” was at the height of her career as an actress in silent cinema when she died in 1917, at age 29. Now, nearly a century later, the grandson of the producer who made many of LaBadie’s films is making a point of educating people about her life and legacy.

“There’s more to film history than Edison and Biograph and Charlie Chaplin,” said Ned Thanhouser, who has been trying to preserve the work made by his grandfather’s company Thanhouser Films. “I’m having a wonderful time sharing her life with people.”

The Thanhouser production house turned out 1,000 silent films between 1909 and 1918, but many of the titles were destroyed before Ned Thanhouser was even born. He has been recovering and preserving as much of the portfolio as he can get his hands on since 1986. A big chunk of the ouvre he has dug up revolves around LaBadie, who starred in 180 of his grandfather’s films.

“She’s a huge part of the Thanhouser legacy,” he said. “She’s like a part of our family.”

LaBadie is known by film buffs for her distinctive looks, her independence, and the fact that she did her own stunts. She started her career alongside Mary Pickford in 1909, working for Biograph Studios, but left two years later, frustrated by operating in the shadow cast by her friend’s success. She settled down at Thanhouser and became one of the company’s biggest stars. Her free-spirited personality really stood out at the time, Thanhouser said.

On a mission: Ned Thanhouser wants to preserve the legacy of Florence LaBadie, a leading lady in his grandfather’s silent films.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“She represented the new woman of the era,” he said. “Independent.”

LaBadie died in 1917 after complications from injuries suffered in a car crash in upstate New York. Her personality, her young age, and the tragic circumstances of her death were hard on fans, Thanhouser said.

It is still somewhat of a mystery how LaBadie ended up in an unmarked grave in Green-Wood Cemetery, but when Thanhouser learned about it, he started a fund-raising campaign to get the leading lady of his grandfather’s films a proper headstone. He collected $3,000 in donations, and the cemetery matched that amount.

The new headstone was unveiled on April 27, marking what would have been LaBadie’s 126th birthday.

Administrators at Green-Wood say the effort to get LaBadie a new marker helps to raise the profile of her story. Tragic though it is, the tale of LaBadie’s life is the type of story Brooklyn’s lush, hilly, resting place is good for, one said.

“Green-Wood is all about the stories of the people who came before us,” said Lisa Alpert, director of development and marketing for the cemetery. “The stories of people who were a part of the fabric of New York.”

Marked man: Green-Wood Cemetery president Richard Moylan stands next to the newly erected headstone for Florence LaBadie.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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