Francis X. Bushman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the American actor and director. For his son, also an actor, see Francis X. Bushman, Jr..
Francis X. Bushman
Bushman during silent film career
Born (1883-01-10)January 10, 1883
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died August 23, 1966(1966-08-23) (aged 83)
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, director, screenwriter
Years active 1911–66
Spouse(s) Josephine Fladung Duval (m. 1902–18)
Beverly Bayne (m. 1918–25)
Norma Emily Atkin (m. 1933–56)
Iva Millicient Richardson (m. 1956–66)

Francis Xavier Bushman (January 10, 1883 – August 23, 1966) was an American actor, film director, and screenwriter.[1][2] His matinee idol career started in 1911 in the silent film His Friend's Wife, but it did not survive the silent screen era.

Bushman, like many of his contemporaries, moved into the films from the stage. He was performing at Broncho Billy Anderson's Essanay Studios in Chicago, Illinois, when he was noticed for his muscular, sculpted torso. Bushman appeared in nearly 200 feature film roles—more than 175 films before 1920, and 17 in his screen debut year of 1911 alone. He also worked for the Vitagraph studio before signing with Metro in 1915.

Early life[edit]

Bushman was born in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young man, he joined the Maryland Athletic Club and began the body building that developed his muscular physique. He cited Eugen Sandow as one of his influences. He worked as a sculptor's model in New York City, often posing in the nude for the classes.

Bushman began acting when he was 13. Although his parents opposed it, he played bit parts with a stock company in Baltimore.[3]

In 1902, Bushman married Josephine Fladung, a seamstress. By the beginning of his film career, they had five children. In 1918, Bushman became the center of a national scandal, when his affair with costar Beverly Bayne became public. His wife divorced him, and three days before the divorce was final, he married Bayne; they later had a son. Bushman and the studios he worked for, Essanay and Metro Pictures, had kept his marriage secret, fearing it would affect his popularity. He eventually would be married four times.

Silent film career[edit]

Bushman and Ruth Stonehouse in the Essanay production Ashes of Hope (1914)

Bushman retained the talent services of Harry Reichenbach as his agent. When Bushman noted that he was slated to star in Ben-Hur, Reichenbach had an idea to increase his marketability. He took Bushman to see studio executives from the railway station and dropped pennies to the street from his pocket. People followed them, picking up the coins as they went. The studio executives got the impression that Bushman was very popular and cast him as Messala. Bushman was worried that playing the villain would harm his career, and he asked William S. Hart (who had played the part on stage for years) for advice. Hart's said, "Take it. It's the best part in the play!" Unlike Ramón Novarro, the star of the picture, Bushman knew how to drive a team of horses and a chariot. When Ben Hur was remade in 1959, Charlton Heston had to learn the skill and quipped, "The only man in Hollywood who can drive a chariot is Francis X. Bushman – and he's too old!" Bushman was sixteen years older than Novarro, though their characters were supposed to have been children together.

That role might have brought Bushman stardom, except for allegedly being blacklisted by Louis B. Mayer of MGM film studio. When Mayer visited Bushman's home, the valet, not knowing him, had refused him entrance. This imagined insult angered Mayer.

At the peak of his career, Bushman was advertised as "The Handsomest Man in the World". He was also known as "the King of Photoplay" or "the King of Movies", before those were later attached to Clark Gable. During that time, he was married to Bayne and living with her in their Maryland compound "Bushmoor" with roughly thirty pet dogs and (allegedly) the largest private collection of songbirds in the world.[4]

Later career[edit]

Bushman was paid large salaries during his screen career, and donated his home and the land upon which it stood on Hollywood Boulevard to Sid Grauman, who erected his famous Chinese Theater upon it. But his fortune was wiped out in the great crash of 1929, and his career as a movie star had run its course. Bushman eked out a living taking small roles in pictures and attempting to run a few small businesses. On viewing one of his early films, Bushman is said to have remarked, "My God, look at that! I'm putting all my emotion into my chin!"[citation needed]


After his film career had waned, Bushman went into broadcasting. From 1932 through 1939, he starred in Stepmother, a soap opera on a station in Chicago.[3] He also was in the CBS Radio network's long-running dramatic serial, Those We Love. In the soap opera, which ran from 1938 to 1945, Bushman played the role of John Marshall, a father of the twins (played by Richard Cromwell and Nan Grey). Robert Cummings rounded out the cast.

In 1945, Bushman had the title role in The Amazing Nero Wolfe, a Don Lee–Mutual Network radio series based on Rex Stout's fictional detective.[3]


In later years, he made guest appearances on television, playing roles on series such as Peter Gunn, Make Room for Daddy, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and Dr. Kildare. In 1956, Bushman appeared in a Burns and Allen episode (#73) where he played himself. He made three guest appearances on Perry Mason, twice as the murder victim in two 1960 episodes: Lawrence King in "The Case of the Flighty Father," and Courtney Jeffers in "The Case of the Nine Dolls." Bushman also made two science fiction films: 12 to the Moon (1960) released by Columbia Pictures, and The Phantom Planet (1961) released by American International Pictures.

Bushman and his wife Iva appeared as contestants on the 6 February 1958 episode of the TV quiz program "You Bet Your Life", hosted by Groucho Marx. The couple won $1,000.00 but declined to risk the money on the final question.[5]

Death and legacy[edit]

Crypt of Francis X. Bushman in the Freedom Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Glendale

In August 1959, Bushman and his wife attended a farewell party at the Garden of Allah Hotel. He had attended the opening party in January 1927, hosted by then-owner Alla Nazimova.

Francis X. Bushman died from a heart attack, in Pacific Palisades, California, on August 23, 1966.[1] He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Somewhat fittingly, one of his last television appearances (filmed only weeks prior to his death) had been as a silent film collector menaced by the Riddler on Batman.[6] Both Bushman and his The Grip of the Yukon co-star, Neil Hamilton (playing Commissioner Gordon), appeared in the episode—their first such reunion in 38 years.[6][7]

After his death an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, with Bushman as "Old Man", was released in October 1966.

His son Ralph Everly Bushman (1903–1978) had a film career from the 1920s through the 1940s. Good-looking and 6'4", he was in over 40 films, often playing stuffy upper-class types or menacing gangsters. In Brown of Harvard (1926) he was cast against William Haines and Jack Pickford. He was often billed as "Francis X. Bushman, Jr." Another son, Bruce Bushman, was an art director and designer for Walt Disney's animation studio.

Francis Bushman's granddaughter, Barbara Bushman Quine, married actor Harry Morgan. In the season four M*A*S*H episode, "The Interview," Harry Morgan's character, Colonel Potter, refers to his glorious cavalry days as, "...the days of Douglas Fairbanks and Francis X. Bushman." A grandson, Pat Conway (1931–1981), the son of film director Jack Conway and Bushman's daughter, Virginia, starred on the ABC western television series Tombstone Territory.

Much of Bushman's silent film work has been lost to the ravages of film decomposition. With the exception of Messala in Ben-Hur, he is not well known for any other silent film role even to silent film buffs. Clips of parts of films may show up in the occasional silent film documentary. Thus it is difficult for modern film audiences to appreciate the full breadth of his silent film career.

References in popular culture[edit]

  • In season five, episode six of Boardwalk Empire (set in 1931) the character Nucky Thompson uses the name Francis X. Bushman as an alias while chatting up a woman in a sleazy bar.
  • In the final episode of season four of M*A*S*H, Col. Potter, explaining the "glamor" of joining the cavalry, notes that that those "were the days of Douglas Fairbanks and Francis X. Bushman, too."

Selected filmography[edit]

Romeo and Juliet (1916)


  1. ^ a b "Francis X. Bushman of Silent Films Dies; Francis X. Bushman, Actor, Dies at 83". New York Times. August 24, 1966. Retrieved May 17, 2008. Francis X. Bushman, the romantic hero of the silent screen, died today after an accident in the kitchen of his home in suburban Pacific Palisades. An ambulance crew, summoned by his wife, Iva, pronounced him dead. He was 83 years old. 
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, August 24, 1966.
  3. ^ a b c "In Harness Again" (PDF). Radio Life. September 23, 1945. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  4. ^ "The 'Perfect Love' That Died with a Yawn", Pittsburgh Press (May 31, 1925) Retrieved March 27, 2012
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Sutton, David. "Guests – Francis X Bushman". The 1966 Batman TV Trivia Site. Archived from the original on October 21, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2007. 
  7. ^ The Batman episode had a clip from The Keystone Kops and a tribute to the classic The Great Train Robbery, silent films that Bushman did not star in.

Further reading[edit]

  • The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era by David W. Menefee.
  • Francis X. Bushman: a Biography and Filmography by Richard J. Maturi and Mary Buckingham Maturi.
  • Silent Lives: 100 Biographies of the Silent Film Era by Lon Davis. Albany: BearManor Media. 2008. ISBN 1-59393-124-7.
  • Rothwell-Smith, Paul. Silent Films! the Performers (2011) ISBN 9781907540325
  • King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushman by Lon and Debra Davis. Albany: BearManor Media. 2009. ISBN 978-1-59393-452-1.

External links[edit]