Not deliberately, mind you. It’s just that our grasp of the silent era, which predates our decades of cinematic concentration, is not as comprehensive as we would like.
But, of course, that doesn’t stop us from writing about one of the most remarkable, unsung actresses to emerge from the silent era. There she is above, Nancy Carroll. That come-hither look and her musical and dramatic abilities turned her into a vivacious star by the 1930’s — an actress who drew more fan mail than any other major star.
Her following was immense — reportedly including Britain’s future King George VI.
Born in New York City in 1903, Carroll (nee Ann Veronica LaHiff) began her career early, performing on the musical stage at 16 and developing into a Broadway chorine two years later. After a couple of flirtations with “the silents” Carroll landed in 1927 in four features including the big screen version of the long-running Broadway favorite, Abie’s Irish Rose.
In 1928, she made another five films, and by the end of the decade she cemented her rising star status in 15 features. Her costars included Richard Dix and Buddy Rogers. (In all, Carroll racked up 47 movie and tv credits over some 35 years, extending to the early Sixties.)
Interestingly Carroll is NOT included among the roster of silent movie stars who could NOT make the transition to talkies in the late Twenties. She flourished in the exciting new medium. She made six movies in 1929 including Close Harmony, Paramount’s first full talkie, and propelled the picture in super hit status. Soon after, it finally dawned on the studio that it had a genuine superstar on its hands.
Carroll appeared in some 25 features during the decade of the Thirties, winding up with 1938’s That Certain Age. A Hollywood highlight, of course, was her Oscar nomination for 1930’s The Devil’s Holiday. Carroll didn’t win (Norma Shearer did for The Divorcee) but the event put Nancy in head to head competition with such titans as Shearer, Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. Impressive company.
From the early 1950s through the early 60’s Carroll concentrated on tv and the stage. She was appearing in a performance of Never Too Late at the Mineola Playhouse in Long Island, N.Y. in 1965, when she failed to show up for a performance. She was found dead of a heart attack in her hotel room. Carroll was 60.