Lina Basquette

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Lina Basquette
Lina Basquette 1917.jpg
in 1917
Born Lena Copeland Baskette
(1907-04-19)April 19, 1907
San Mateo, California, U.S.
Died September 30, 1994(1994-09-30) (aged 87)
Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S.
Cause of death
Lymphoma
Nationality American
Other names Lena Baskette
Lena Basquette
Occupation Actress, dog trainer and breeder, writer
Years active 1916–1994
Spouse(s) Sam Warner (m. 1925; died 1927)
Peverell Marley (m. 1929; div. 1930)
Ray Hallam (m. 1931; died 1931)
Theodore Hayes (m. 1931; div. 1932)
Theodore Hayes (m. 1934; div. 1935)
Henry Mollison (m. 1937; div. 1944)
Warner Gilmore (m. 1947; div. 1950)
Frank Mancuso (m. 1959)
Children 2
Relatives Marge Champion (half sister)

Lina Basquette, born Lena Copeland Baskette (April 19, 1907 – September 30, 1994), was an American actress noted for her 75-year career in entertainment, which began during the silent film era. Talented as a dancer, she was paid as a girl for performing and gained her first film contract at age nine. In her acting career, Basquette may have been best known for her role as Judith in The Godless Girl (1929) The film was based on the life of Queen Silver, known as a 20th-century child prodigy, and feminist and Socialist activist.[1]

Basquette also was noted for her several marriages, including her first, to the much older noted producer, Sam Warner, founder of Warner Bros. film studio. She had several marriages and a tumultuous personal life.[2] When her film career declined, she returned for a period to dancing and stage performances. After she retired from the entertainment world, in 1947 Basquette moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she became a noted breeder of Great Danes; her dogs won numerous professional show prizes. She wrote several books on dog breeding as well. Later living in West Virginia, she also served as a judge for the American Kennel Club, and wrote a column.

Early years[edit]

She was born Lena Copeland Baskette to Frank Baskette, a drugstore owner, and his wife Gladys Baskette (née Rosenberg) in San Mateo, California. She began dancing as a child. An RCA Victor representative saw her dancing to a record in her father's store. He hired her at the age of eight (through her parents) to advertise Victrolas at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco. Basquette later began studying ballet.[3][4]

Baskette secured her first film contract at the age of nine in 1916 with Universal Studios in Los Angeles for the silent film series, Lena Baskette Featurettes.[2][4] Shortly after she was signed with Universal, her father Frank Baskette committed suicide. Baskette later blamed her father's death on her mother's ambition for fame and fortune.[5]

Within a year, Gladys Baskette married dance director Ernest Belcher. Their daughter Marjorie Belcher, half-sister to Lina, was born in 1919 in Los Angeles, where the family was then living. Marjorie became a dancer and choreographer known as Marge Champion.[5]

Career[edit]

Early success[edit]

In 1923, Baskette and her mother traveled across the country by train to New York City, so that the girl could audition for John Murray Anderson. Anderson urged her to change the spelling of her surname from "Baskette" to "Basquette". Producer Charles Dillingham changed the spelling of her first name from "Lena" to "Lina" saying, "Lena is a cook, Lina is an artiste."[5]

Before she could sign with Anderson, Florenz Ziegfeld cast the 16-year-old Basquette in his Ziegfeld Follies and cast her as a featured dancer. The Follies producers officially dubbed her "America's Prima Ballerina." The girl gained notice from Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who wanted to mentor her in classical ballet. Her mother Gladys Baskette decided that a career as a ballerina would not yield enough money and turned down Pavolva's offer. Basquette later said, "I dreamed of being in a ballet company and it broke my heart."[5]

Marriage and family[edit]

By 1925, at age 18 Basquette was appearing in two concurrent Ziegfeld productions. She was spotted in Louie the 14th by Sam Warner, film producer and co-founder of Warner Bros. studio. Warner instantly fell in love with her and proposed marriage. Basquette did not want to marry him, as he was considerably older than she. Her mother insisted that Basquette accept Warner's proposal, believing that the producer was wealthy (at the time, Warner Bros. was losing money).[5]

Basquette and Warner were married in July 1925. After the marriage, Basquette grew to love and respect Warner; the couple had a daughter, Lita, in 1926. Warner died suddenly on October 5, 1927, the day before the opening of the highly anticipated Warner Bros. film, The Jazz Singer, which he had been working on tirelessly. Basquette was devastated by his death. She spent years battling Warner's family over money and custody of the couple's daughter.[5]

Return to films[edit]

Basquette returned to work in 1928, appearing in four films. That year, she was named one of thirteen WAMPAS Baby Stars. The following year, she appeared in The Younger Generation, directed by Frank Capra.[6]

In 1929, she starred in the partially sound film, The Godless Girl, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. This is the role for which she is best known. Basquette plays the title character Judith, who is based on Queen Silver, a child prodigy who early made speeches as a Socialist activist. Judith is the leader of a high school atheist society; she forces members to renounce The Bible while placing a hand on the head of a live monkey.

In the film's climactic scene, DeMille insisted on realism while filming the reformatory going up in flames. During the filming, Basquette's eyelashes and eyebrows were burned.[7] The Godless Girl was not a box office success in the United States, but it did well in Austria and Germany. Basquette later recalled that she received a fan letter from Adolf Hitler (before he achieved his political power) saying that she was his favorite movie star.[5]

Decline[edit]

After appearing in The Godless Girl, Basquette found her popularity declining and she was offered fewer film roles. She was unofficially blacklisted in Hollywood due to her legal battles with the Warner family, which was trying to take custody of her daughter with Sam Warner in order to rear her as Jewish, and challenged settlement of his estate.[5] She made a successful transition to sound films and appeared in some Western films in the 1930s.[8]

In January 1937, Basquette was offered a contract with the Universum Film AG studio in Germany, after the Nazi Party had taken power. After arriving in Germany, she was driven to Berchtesgaden, where she met Führer Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, and Joseph Goebbels. She later claimed that Hitler made a pass at her, and she kicked him in the groin.[5] When he persisted, Basquette told him that her maternal grandfather was Jewish. She left Germany the following day.[9]

As her career in films continued to decline, Basquette returned to dancing. She performed in nightclubs and on the vaudeville circuit.[10] In 1939, Basquette and her fifth husband, English actor Henry Mollison, appeared on stage together in Idiot's Delight, which toured in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.[11] After appearing in 1943's A Night for Crime, Basquette retired from films.[8]

Later years[edit]

On August 9, 1943, Basquette was raped and robbed in Burbank, California, after she gave a ride to 22-year old Army Private George Paul Rimke. Basquette later testified that after she picked up the soldier, he forced her into the backseat and raped her. Rimke denied the charges but was found guilty on August 26, 1943 and sentenced to life in prison.[12][13]

In 1947, Basquette used money from a trust fund left to her by her first husband, Sam Warner, and purchased a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1950, she and her sixth husband Warner Gilmore opened Honey Hollow Kennels; they began breeding and showing Great Danes. Basquette went on to become the single biggest winner of Great Dane breed shows and was known as a noted dog breeder. She also wrote several books on the subject of dog breeding.

She retired from dog handling in 1983. Basquette moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, after her retirement. She continued to judge dog shows for the American Kennel Club and also wrote a monthly column for Kennel Review.[3][4][8]

Renewed interest in Basquette's films was sparked after a profile of her was published in 1989 in The New Yorker. Her films were screened in Washington, DC at the National Gallery of Art and at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles.

Basquette published her autobiography, Lina: DeMille's Godless Girl, in 1991. That same year she was cast in her first film in 48 years, an independent production titled Paradise Park. She played a grandmother who dreamed God was coming to grant a wish to residents of an Appalachian trailer park. The film also stars Porter Wagoner and Johnny Paycheck.[14] It was her final film role.

Personal life[edit]

Marriages and children[edit]

Basquette's first marriage was to Sam Warner, film producer and co-founder of Warner Bros. studio. The two were married on July 4, 1925, despite Warner's family's disapproval because Basquette was not Jewish. They had a daughter, Lita (named after Charlie Chaplin's wife Lita Grey) in October 1926.[15] After suffering severe headaches and a sinus infection aggravated by several abscessed teeth, Warner was admitted to California Lutheran Hospital in September 1927. Doctors discovered that he had developed a mastoid infection that was spreading to his brain. After four surgeries to remove the infection, Warner slipped into a coma. He died of pneumonia caused by sinusitis and epidural and subdural abscesses on October 5, 1927.[16][17]

In January 1929, Basquette married cinematographer Peverell Marley.[18] Shortly after the marriage, Harry Warner, Sam Warner's older brother, asked Basquette give up custody of her daughter Lita. He was concerned that she would raise Lita as a Roman Catholic like her, rather than in the Jewish faith. Basquette said that she and Sam Warner had agreed to raise any female children they had as Catholic and any male children as Jewish. Harry Warner and his wife offered Basquette large amounts of money to relinquish custody but she refused.[5] She finally relented after Harry Warner promised her that Lita would receive a $300,000 trust fund.[4] On March 30, 1930, Harry Warner and his wife were awarded legal custody of Lita.[19] Basquette quickly regretted her decision and tried to regain custody of her daughter.[5]

In August 1930, Basquette left Marley as she tried to regain custody of Lita. When custody was denied, she attempted suicide by drinking poison at a party. She was saved when a guest heard her screams.[20] Marley and Basquette were divorced in September 1930.[18]

Basquette was never financially stable enough to regain custody of her daughter. The Warner family filed several legal suits against her to win back Sam Warner's share of Warner Bros. studio.[4] Over the next 20 years, Basquette saw Lita on only two occasions: in 1935, when Harry Warner and his family moved to Los Angeles, and in 1947, when Lita married Dr. Nathan Hiatt.[21] Basquette and her daughter reconnected in 1977 when Basquette backed a lawsuit that Lita brought against her uncle Jack Warner's estate.[4]

Basquette's third marriage was to actor Ray Hallam in 1931. He died of leukemia three weeks after they were married.[21] On October 31, 1931, she married Theodore Hayes, the former trainer of world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. After discovering that Hayes was still married to another woman, Basquette was granted a Mexican divorce on September 10, 1932.[22]

In her autobiography, Basquette said that, while she and Hayes were separated, she had an affair with Jack Dempsey. Dempsey ended the affair in July 1932, after which Basquette attempted suicide a second time. She and Hayes eventually reconciled and remarried in 1934.[23] They had a son, Edward Alvin Hayes, in April 1934. The following year, they divorced in December 1935.[24][25]

In April 1937, Basquette married British actor Henry Mollison in London.[26] They separated in 1940, and divorced in October 1944.[10]

In 1947, she married Warner Gilmore, the general manager of the St. Moritz Hotel. They divorced in 1951.[8] Basquette's final marriage was to artist Frank Mancuso. They married in 1959 and separated that same year, but they never bothered to get legally divorced.[8]

Death[edit]

On September 30, 1994, Basquette died of lymphoma at her home in Wheeling, West Virginia, at the age of 87.[3] She was survived by her half-sister Marge Champion, two children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.[2]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Short subject
Year Title Role Notes
1916 Juvenile Dancer
1916 The Dumb Girl of Portici Child Uncredited
1916 Brother Jim Margie Marsh Credited as Lena Basquette
1916 The Grip of Crime Credited as Lena Basquette
1916 Shoes Undetermined role Uncredited
1916 The Human Cactus Credited as Lena Basquette
1916 The Caravan Credited as Lena Basquette
1917 Polly Put the Kettle On Nellie Vance
1917 His Wife's Relatives
1917 The Gates of Doom Agatha as a child
1917 The Star Witness Credited as Lena Basquette
1917 A Dream of Egypt Credited as Lena Basquette
1917 A Romany Rose Credited as Lena Basquette
1917 A Prince for a Day Credited as Lena Basquette
1917 Little Mariana's Triumph Credited as Lena Basquette
1919 The Weaker Vessel Jessie
Features
Year Title Role Notes
1922 Penrod Uncredited
1927 Ranger of the North Felice MacLean
1927 Serenade The Dancer
1928 The Noose Dot
1928 Wheel of Chance Ada Berkowitz
1928 Celebrity Jane
1928 Show Folks Rita Carey
1929 The Godless Girl Judy Craig - The Girl
1929 Come Across Mary Houston
1929 The Younger Generation Birdie Goldfish
1930 The Dude Wrangler Helen Dane Alternative title: Feminine Touch
1931 Goldie Constantina
1931 Pleasure Helen
1931 Arizona Terror Katherine "Kay" Moore
1931 Hard Hombre Senora Martini
1931 Morals for Women Claudia Alternative titles: Big City Interlude
Farewell Party
1931 Trapped Girl Reporter Alternative title: The Shadow #2: Trapped
1931 Mounted Fury Nanette LeStrange
1932 Arm of the Law Zelma Shaw, a Dancer
1932 The Midnight Lady Mona Alternative title: Dream Mother
1932 Hello Trouble Janet Kenyon
1932 The Phantom Express Betty
1934 The Chump
1936 The Final Hour Belle
1937 Souls at Sea Brunette in Saloon Uncredited
1937 Ebb Tide Attwater's Servant
1938 The Buccaneer Roxanne Uncredited
1938 Rose of the Rio Grande Anita
1938 Four Men and a Prayer Ah-Nee
1942 Who Calls
1943 A Night for Crime Mona
1991 Paradise Park Nada Alternative title: Heroes of the Heart

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wendy McElroy, Queen Silver: The Godless Girl, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1999
  2. ^ a b c "Lina Basquette, Silent-Film Star And Dog Breeder, Is Dead at 87". The New York Times. October 6, 1994. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c Oliver, Myrna (October 5, 1994). "Lina Basquette; Star of Silent Movies". latimes.com. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Thomas, Kevin (August 23, 1991). "Lina Basquette: Her Life Is Screenplay Material Movies". The Los Angeles Times. p. 16. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Brownlow, Kevin (October 8, 1994). "Obituary: Lina Basquette". The Independent. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  6. ^ Liebman, Roy (2000). The Wampas Baby Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934. McFarland. p. 23. ISBN 0-786-40756-5. 
  7. ^ "Lina Basquette, silent screen star, dies at the age of 87". The Telegraph. October 6, 1994. pp. A–7. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Smith, Linell (April 22, 1991). "She's 84, doggone stylish and a rare breed". baltimoresun.com. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  9. ^ Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. University Press of Kentucky. p. 16. ISBN 0-813-12249-X. 
  10. ^ a b "Divorce in Prospect for Lina Basquette". The Milwaukee Journal. October 26, 1944. p. 2. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Star of Stage and Screen For "Idiot's Delight"". The Sydney Morning Herald. January 19, 1939. p. 4. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Clear Courtoom In Basquette Rape Case". The Lewiston Daily Sun. August 26, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Army Private Convicted On Actress' Story". The Milwaukee Journal. August 26, 1943. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Poverty tale has upbeat message". The Press-Courier. January 28, 1992. p. 2. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  15. ^ Eyman, Scott (1997). The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930. Simon and Schuster. p. 98. ISBN 1-439-10428-X. 
  16. ^ Eyman (1997) pp.137-138
  17. ^ "Sam Warner, Noted Film Magnate Dies". Berkeley Daily Gazette. October 5, 1927. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b "Lina Basquette Divorced By Her Second Husband". The Lewiston Daily Sun. September 11, 1930. p. 13. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  19. ^ Eyman 1997 p.361
  20. ^ "Star Regrets Suicide Trial". The Pittsburgh Press. August 14, 1930. p. 10. Retrieved May 27, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Warner Sperling, Cass; Millner, Cork; Warner, Jack (1994). Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story. Prima Pub. p. 265. ISBN 1-559-58343-6. 
  22. ^ "Lina Basquette Is Divorced From Business Agent." Zanesville Signal. September 11, 1932, Page 1.
  23. ^ Formanek, Ray, Jr. (September 29, 1991). "Great-grandmother returns to her career roots". Toledo Blade. pp. G–5. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Son Born To Lina Basquette Hayes". Lewiston Morning Tribune. May 4, 1934. p. 6. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Ted Hayes, Former Dempsey Trainer, Sued for Divorce". The Windsor Daily Star. December 12, 1935. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Lina Basquette and Henry Mollison Married". Ottawa Citizen. June 19, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk". latimes.com. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 

External links[edit]