Nationality: American. Born: Sarah Blanche Sweet in Chicago, Illinois, 18 June 1896. Family: Married 1) the director Marshall Neilan, 1922 (divorced 1929); 2) the actor Raymond Hackett, 1936 (died). Career: On stage from 18 months, then billed as "Baby Blanche" and "Little Blanche"; dancing lessons with Ruth St. Denis; 1909—film debut in A Man with Three Wives in New York; 1911—joined the Griffith film group in California, and made a long series of shorts for him; 1914—starred in Judith of Bethulia ; then contract with Jesse Lasky, and starred in a group of dramas; 1919—contract with Jesse Hampton Productions; 1924–25—made several films in England with Marshall Neilan; 1930—film career ended; toured in vaudeville act Sweet and Lovely , and appeared on stage in The Party's Over and The Petrified Forest ; also had a radio program in 1930s; 1950s—clerk in a New York department store. Died: In New York City, 6 September 1986.
A Man with Three Wives ; A Corner in Wheat (Griffith); The Day After (Griffith)
All on Account of the Milk (Powell)
Country Lovers (Sennett); Was He a Coward? (Griffith); The Lonedale Operator (Griffith); How She Triumphed (Griffith); The White Rose of the Wild (Griffith); A Smile of a Child (Griffith); The Last Drop of Water (Griffith); Out from the Shadow (Griffith); The Blind Princess and the Poet (Griffith); The Making of a Man (Griffith); The Long Road (Griffith); Love in the Hills (Griffith); The Battle (Griffith); Through Darkened Vales (Griffith); A Woman Scorned ( Woman of Sin ) (Griffith)
The Eternal Mother (Griffith); For His Son (Griffith); The Transformation of Mike (Griffith); Under Burning Skies (Griffith); The Goddess of Sagebrush Gulch (Griffith); The Punishment (Griffith); One Is Business, The Other Crime (Griffith); The Lesser Evil (Griffith); The Outcast among Outcasts (Griffith); A Temporary Truce (Griffith); The Spirit Awakened (Griffith); Man's Lust for Gold (Griffith); The Painted Lady (Griffith); With the Enemy's Help (Griffith); A Change of Spirit (Griffith); Blind Love (Griffith); The Chief's Blanket (Griffith); A Sailor's Heart (Griffith); The God Within (Griffith)
Three Friends (Griffith); Pirate Gold ; Oil and Water (Griffith); A Chance Deception (Cabanne); Broken Ways (Griffith); The Hero of Little Italy (Griffith); The Stolen Bride (Griffith); Classmates (Griffith); Love in an Apartment Hotel (Griffith); If We Only Knew (Griffith); Death's Marathon (Griffith); The Coming of Angelo (Griffith); The Mistake (Griffith); Two Men on the Desert (Griffith); The House of Discord (Kirkwood); Her Wedding Bell
The Sentimental Sister ; The Massacre (Griffith); Strongheart (Kirkwood); Men and Women (Kirkwood); Ashes of the Past (Kirkwood); The Soul of Honor (Kirkwood); The Painted Lady (Griffith); The Second Mrs. Roebuck (O'Brien); For Those Unborn (Cabanne); Her Awakening (Cabanne); For Her Father's Sins (O'Brien); The Tear That Burned (O'Brien); The Odalisque (Griffith); The Little Country Mouse (Griffith); The Old Maid (O'Brien); Judith of Bethulia ( Her Condoned Sin ) (Griffith) (title role); The Escape (Griffith); "The Marriage of Roses and Lilies" ep. of Home Sweet Home (Griffith); The Avenging Conscience (Griffith) (as Annabel)
The Warrens of Virginia (Cecil B. DeMille); The Captive (Cecil B. DeMille); Stolen Goods (Melford); The Clue (Neill); The Secret Orchard (Reicher); The Case of Becky (Reicher) (title role); The Secret Sin (Reicher) (as twin sisters)
The Ragamuffin (William DeMille); Blacklist (William DeMille); The Sowers (William DeMille); The Thousand Dollar Husband (Young); The Dupe (Reicher); Public Opinion (Reicher); The Storm (Reicher); Unprotected (Young)
The Evil Eye (Melford); Those without Sin (Neilan); The Tides of Barnegat (Neilan); The Silent Partner (Neilan)
The Unpardonable Sin (Neilan) (as Alice Parcot/Dimmy Parcot); The Hushed Hour (Mortimer); A Woman of Pleasure (Worsley); Fighting Cressy (Thornby) (title role)
The Deadlier Sex (Thornby); Simple Souls (Thornby); The Girl in the Web (Thornby); Help Wanted—Male ( Object Matrimony ) (King); Her Unwilling Husband (Scardon)
That Girl Montana (Thornby)
Quincy Adams Sawyer (Badger)
The Meanest Man in the World (Cline); Anna Christie (Wray) (title role); In the Palace of the King (Flynn)
Those Who Dance (Hillyer); Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Neilan) (title role)
The Sporting Venus (Neilan); His Supreme Moment (Fitzmaurice); Why Women Love (Carewe); The New Commandment (Higgin)
Bluebeard's Seven Wives (Santell); The Far Cry (Balboni); The Lady from Hell (Paton) (as Lady Margaret); Diplomacy (Neilan)
The Woman in White (Wilcox) (dual role); Always Faithful (Middleton)
The Woman Racket (Ober and Kelley); Showgirl in Hollywood (LeRoy); The Silver Horde (Archainbaud)
Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (Musser) (as narrator)
"Conrad Nagel," in Photoplay (New York), June 1924.
"Keep Your Public Guessing," in Motion Picture Director (Holly-wood), August 1926.
" Judith of Bethulia ," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1969–70.
"Blanche Sweet and Marshall Neilan," interview with K. Lewis in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1981.
Slide, Anthony, The Griffith Actresses , South Brunswick, New Jer-sey, 1973.
Drew, William M., Speaking of Silents : First Ladies of the Screen , Vestal, New York, 1989.
Owen, K., "The Girl on the Cover," in Photoplay (New York), April 1915.
Carr, Harry, "Waiting for Tomorrow," in Photoplay (New York), May 1918.
Smith, Frederick, "The New Blanche Sweet," in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), November 1918.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "An Impression of Blanche Sweet," in Photoplay (New York), September 1924.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Blanche Sweet," in Films in Review (New York), November 1965.
Slide, Anthony, "Blanche Sweet and Anna Christie ," in Silent Picture (London), Spring 1972.
Lewis, K., "Happy Birthday Blanche Sweet," in Films in Review (New York), March 1986.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 10 September 1986.
Brown, G., "Sweet and Sour," in Village Voice (New York), 11 June 1996.
Rolick, Jeffrey M., "Blanche Sweet: Silent Screen Legend Looks Back," in Classic Images (Muscatine), June 1996.
* * *
A pioneering actress, Blanche Sweet had a curious career replete with highlights, falls from favor, and inexplicable absences from the screen. She was one of D. W. Griffith's first stars at Biograph, the actress chosen to head the cast of his first feature-length production, Judith of Bethulia , and the star of Griffith's subsequent features. She was set to play the role of Elsie Stoneman in The Birth of a Nation when Griffith gave the part to Lillian Gish. Sweet continued to star in films that did little to enhance her career. Then came Anna Christie , the first filming of the Eugene O'Neill play and a major dramatic success for its star. Another group of features followed, all minor, except for Tess of the D'Urbervilles with a fine performance from Sweet. She had no difficulty adapting to sound film production. She was a delight as the fading silent star in Showgirl in Hollywood , playing a suicide scene with consummate skill. Within two years, however, she had disappeared from the screen never to appear again.
Unlike her contemporary Lillian Gish, Blanche Sweet did not handle her professional life successfully. An unhappy marriage to director Marshall Neilan, too many program features, and too few major productions cut short a promising career. It is unfortunate because she was capable of fine and subtle emotional performances. Her range of characterizations was quite extraordinary, from biblical figures to drug addicts and prostitutes. She was a major silent star who deserved better from her career and deserves more recognition today.