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Publicity photo of Dempster from Stars of the Photoplay (1924)
December 9, 1901|
|Died||February 1, 1991
La Jolla, California
|Spouse(s)||Edwin S. Larsen (1929–1991)|
Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Dempster got her start in films as a protégé of legendary film director D.W. Griffith alongside other Griffith actresses of the mid-1910s Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Mae Marsh. Griffith gave Dempster her first role at age 15 in his colossal 1916 all-star cast Intolerance playing one of the Babylonian harem girls alongside another teenaged newcomer, Mildred Harris. Dempster would eventually become one of Griffith's "favorites"; he cast her in nearly every one of his films throughout the 1920s, allegedly to the irritation of Mae Marsh and Lillian Gish. Dempster became romantically involved with the much older Griffith during the early 1920s while Griffith was estranged from his wife, Linda Arvidson.
Dempster's first feature role came in 1919 in the Griffith directed The Girl Who Stayed at Home opposite Robert "Bobby" Harron. Dempster followed this with Griffith's The Love Flower (1920), Dream Street (1921), One Exciting Night (1922) and Isn't Life Wonderful (1924), America (1924), Sally of the Sawdust (1925), and That Royle Girl (1925). Dempster appeared opposite such notable actors as John Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, William Powell, Ivor Novello, and W.C. Fields.
In 1926 Dempster acted in her final film, another Griffith vehicle entitled The Sorrows of Satan (1926), co-starring Adolphe Menjou, Ricardo Cortez, and the Hungarian vamp Lya De Putti. Dempster then retired from the screen to marry wealthy banker Edwin S. Larson in 1929.
Dempster's critical stock was never very high, in part because she was unable to live up to the performances of Lillian Gish, whom she replaced as Griffith's leading lady. Her somewhat "ordinary" appearance and animated acting style were frequently criticized. Also, with a few exceptions, the films she appeared in were not among Griffith's more popular works. In recent years, however, viewers and critics alike have slowly begun to appreciate her performances.
Dempster died in La Jolla, California in 1991 at the age of 89 from heart failure and was laid to rest at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in Glendale, California. Upon her death, Dempster left an amount of $1.6 million to the San Diego Museum of Art, which was used to expand the museum's collections of prints and drawings.
All features were directed by D. W. Griffith except Sherlock Holmes, which was directed by Albert Parker. The Hope Chest, a product of the New Art Film Company from 1918, was produced by Griffith but directed by Elmer Clifton.
|1918||Lillian Gish in a Liberty Loan Appeal||Bit|
|The Greatest Thing in Life (Lost)||Dancer|
|The Hope Chest||Ethel Hoyt|
|1919||A Romance of Happy Valley||Girl John Logan meets in New York|
|The Girl Who Stayed at Home||Acoline France|
|True Heart Susie||Bettina's friend|
|Scarlet Days||Lady Fair|
|1920||The Love Flower||Stella Bevan|
|Way Down East||Barn dancer|
|1921||Dream Street||Gypsy Fair|
|1922||Sherlock Holmes||Alice Faulkner|
|One Exciting Night||Agnes Harrington|
|1923||The White Rose||Marie Carrington|
|1924||America||Miss Nancy Montague|
|Isn't Life Wonderful||Inga|
|1925||Sally of the Sawdust||Sally|
|That Royle Girl (Lost)||Joan Daisy Royle|
|1926||The Sorrows of Satan||Mavis Claire|
- Obituary Variety, March 4, 1991.
- Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/1991-10-26/entertainment/ca-100_1_million-to-art-museum
|This section lacks ISBNs for the books listed in it. (April 2015)|
- The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. by David W. Menefee. Connecticut: Praeger, 2004.
- The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me. By Lillian Gish. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
- Focus on D.W. Griffith. By Harry M. Geduld. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
- Adventures with D. W. Griffith. By Karl Brown. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973.
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