Fannie Ward

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Fannie Ward, 1917

Fannie Ward, a.k.a. Fanny Ward[1] (February 22, 1872 – January 27, 1952) was an American actress of stage and screen, known for comedic roles as well as The Cheat, a sexually–charged 1915 silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

Ward's curiously ageless appearance, however, is what drove her celebrity. An obituary described her as "an actress who never quite reached the top in her professional ... [and who] tirelessly devoted herself to appearing perpetually youthful, an act that made her famous".[2]


Ward's picture in Burr McIntosh Monthly, July 1907 issue.

Ward was born as Fannie Buchanan in St. Louis, Missouri, the only daughter of John Buchanan, a dry goods merchant, and his wife, Eliza. She had one sibling, a brother, Benton.[3]


Fannie Ward (ca. 1884-1890) NYPL Digital Collection

In 1890, Ward made her stage debut as Cupid in Pippino with Eddie Foy. She went on to become a successful stage star in New York City. In 1894 she sailed for London and appeared in The Shop Girl, which led critics to compare Ward favorably to actress Maude Adams. In 1898, however, she married a wealthy diamond merchant and retired from the stage. Ward returned to her career in 1905, after her husband suffered business reversals that left him, a news account reported, "practically penniless".[4]

In 1915, around the time Ward's stage career was on the wane, American movie producer and director Cecil B. DeMille convinced her to appear in The Cheat, a silent film melodrama which co-starred Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. The film was a sensation, thanks to its mingling of racial and sexual themes. Ward portrayed a society woman who embezzles money and turns to an Asian ivory dealer (Hayakawa) for help, with brutal consequences.[5] The movie launched the careers of both DeMille and Hayakawa, the latter of whom became Hollywood's first Asian star.[6]

In addition to starring in The Hardest Way (1921), Ward appeared in a Phonofilm short film singing Father Time (1924), a second Phonofilm as The Perennial Flapper (1924), and in a Vitaphone short Fannie Ward in "The Miracle Woman" (1929).

In 1926, trading on her ever-youthful public image, Ward opened a Paris beauty shop, "The Fountain of Youth".


Fannie Ward was married twice:

  • Joseph Lewis (died 1928), a British money lender; they married in 1898 and divorced 14 January 1913.
  • John Wooster Dean (né John H. Donovan, 1874–1950), an actor who frequently co-starred with Ward on stage and in films. They married in 1914.

Ward's only child, Dorothé Mabel Lewis (1900–1938), was the result of a liaison between Ward and Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry. Her first husband was Capt. Jack Barnato (1894–1918), a pilot and nephew of mining magnate Barney Barnato; he died of pneumonia in 1918, shortly after their marriage. Her second husband, married in 1922, was Terence Conyngham Plunket, 6th Baron Plunket (1899–1938), and they were the parents of Patrick Plunket, 7th Baron Plunket, Robin Rathmore Plunket, 8th Baron Plunket, and of Hon. Shaun Plunket. After Lord and Lady Plunket were killed in an airplane crash in California on February 24, 1938, Ward's grandsons were raised by their father's sister Helen Rhodes.


On January 25, 1952, Ward was found unconscious in her Park Avenue apartment following a stroke. She never regained consciousness and died two days later. She was 79 years old.


A Gutter Magdalene (1916)
The Yellow Ticket, 1918
The Profiteers, 1919


  1. ^ New York Star (February 6, 1909) Vol.1 No.19 p.5
  2. ^ "Fannie Ward Dies; Perennial Flapper", The New York Times, 28 January 1952
  3. ^ Her New York Times obituary says her father's name was John Buchman. As seen on, the 1880 U. S. Federal Census lists her as Fannie Buchanan, age 7, in the household of Eliza and John Buchanan. Her brother, Benton Buchanan, is also listed.
  4. ^ "Joseph Lewis Left $20,000", The New York Times (9 December 1928)
  5. ^ Kathryn Shattuck, "What's On Today", The New York Times (14 November 2008)
  6. ^ "Sessue Hayakawa Is Dead at 83", The New York Times (25 November 1973)

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