September 30, 2023
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On Sept. 30, 1918, every seat was full in Dallas’ Crystal Theater for every showing of “The Girl of Today” because Corinne Griffith was there in person to promote her latest silent picture.

Just three years earlier in November 1915, The Morning News informed readers: “Texarkana has given to the world who it is claimed will be a real star of the movies in the person of Miss Corinne Griffin (stage name Griffith).”

Born in 1895, the daughter of a Methodist minister lived in the town that straddles the Texas-Arkansas border until she was ten. Her mother then took her to a finishing school in New Orleans, where in her teens she dazzled everybody, including the judges of a Mardis Gras beauty contest, with her grace and stunning good looks.

There are two versions of how Corinne got her big break. In the first, a Vitagraph director spied her at a high-society function in the Crescent City and offered her a movie contract on the spot. In the second, Texas-born director King Vidor opened the door to her silent-screen debut at age 20.

Corinne started as a bit player in so-called “two-reelers” with a western theme. But Vitagraph bosses soon realized they had a hot property on their hands and began casting her in leading lady roles in their feature films.

After only two years in front of the camera, Corinne was receiving top billing in expensive productions custom-made for her. To quote an historian of the silent era,

“Griffith played a series of beautiful yet suffering women in dramas whose focal points became the star’s ever-changing wardrobe. She made up for a lack of thespian talent by sheer beauty.”

Fans and Hollywood types too were often at a loss for words to describe the beauty of the “Orchid Lady,” a studio-invented nickname, but not Adele Rogers St. Johns, queen of the fan magazines. She wrote in 1923, “Her physical charms are too obvious to mention. In the old days, her little, slender feet, and her lovely hands – have you ever noticed her hands? – and her white teeth and her soft hair would have been the subject of poems.”

Although she could have skated by on her physical assets alone, Corinne took a serious interest in all phases of movie making. After putting in ten or 12 hours on the set, she did not party all night like most actresses of those wild times but instead spent her evenings at the studio watching the “daily rushes,” reviewing scripts, making cast suggestions and learning the finer points of behind-the-scenes production.

An important part of the Griffith persona that made her so popular with the public was her pure-as-the-driven-snow reputation. She did not smoke, curse or even wear make-up off-camera, a puritanical code of conduct that caused St. Johns to comment, “She is innocence personified.” Clean living clearly helped her weather the scandalous storms that would have damaged or destroyed the career of most twice-divorced actresses.

Sadly Corinne was one of the famous casualties of the “talkies.” She tried to make the transition from silent pictures but simply did not have the voice. In a review of “Lilies of the Field,” a 1930 flick with sound segments, Time magazine pointed out, “Pretty Corinne Griffith talks through her nose in her first sound film.”

In a matter of weeks, the “Orchid Lady” went from box-office gold to box-office

poison. First National, Corinne’s employer for the past seven years, agreed to pay her off if she would just leave quietly. She accepted their generous terms with the parting words, “Why should I go on until I am playing mother roles? I have plenty of money.”

That was no exaggeration. At the peak of her earning power, when she was pulling down $12,000 a week, Corinne wisely invested most of her money. Her knack for picking profitable properties caused “an old financier of Beverly Hills” to marvel in 1927, when she already owned $500,000 worth of real estate, “What a brain that girl has!”

A third marriage to Washington Redskins owner George P. Marshall in 1936 kept Corinne in the public eye. But she did not need the heir to a chain of laundries, who purged the National Football League of black players, to stay center-stage. A very successful second career as an author with two best-sellers did that for her.

In the 1950’s, Corinne launched a personal crusade calling for the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment. Throughout the ultra-conservative Cold War decade, she was the best known critic of the federal income tax.

But a day in court in 1966 stripped her of her credibility and caused many devoted fans to question her sanity. Filing for divorce from her fourth husband, who happened to be 26 years her junior, she swore under oath that she was not Corinne Griffith but her much younger sister!

“Mary” claimed she had secretly taken her famous sibling’s place in the mid-1920’s after the sudden death of the movie star on location in Mexico. And Corinne Griffith stuck to that silly story until her dying day in 1979, when she passed away with $150 million in the bank.

“Texas Entertainers: Lone Stars in Profile” is full of talented Texans who deserve a

curtain call. Order your copy by mailing a check for $24.00 to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.

Bartee Haile


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