Helen Gardner (actress)

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Helen Gardner
Actress Helen Gardner c1912.jpg
Helen Louise Gardner

(1884-09-02)September 2, 1884
DiedNovember 20, 1968(1968-11-20) (aged 84)
Other namesMiss Garnder
Alma materAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
OccupationActor, producer, writer, editor, costumer
Years active1910–1924
Duncan Clarkson Pell, Sr.
(m. 1902; died 1964)

Helen Louise Gardner (September 2, 1884[1] – November 20, 1968) was an American stage and film actress, screenwriter, producer, editor and costume designer.


Gardner was born in Binghamton, New York. An alumna of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Gardner began her acting career as a stage actress. She became a Vitagraph Studios player in 1910 and earned critical acclaim for portraying Becky Sharp in the film version of the novel Vanity Fair. In 1912, she became the first film actor, male or female, to form her own production company,[2] the Helen Gardner Picture Players in Tappan, New York with capital provided by her mother. Hiring her lover Charles L. Gaskill as a director and scenarist, she produced eleven feature films before closing her studio in 1914.[2] She was known for her portrayals of strong female characters. Her first production was Cleopatra (1912) which was one of the first American full-length films.[3] The film was re-edited and re-released after Fox released the 1917 adaptation starring Theda Bara. Gardner was considered the screen's first vamp and predated Theda Bara, Valeska Suratt and Louise Glaum in roles of this type.[4]

In 1915, she returned to Vitagraph briefly before signing with Universal. By this time, her popularity began to wane and she retired from acting in 1924.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Before Gardner embarked on an acting career, she married socially prominent businessman Duncan Clarkson Pell, Sr., on October 16, 1902, in West Haven, Connecticut.[5] The marriage took place shortly after Gardner's 18th birthday and one week after Pell's divorce from his first wife, Anna. Duncan and Anna Pell's divorce was covered in the gossip columns of The New York Times.[6] The couple had one child.[7] Gardner left Pell in 1906 to continue her acting career but they never divorced.[8] They remained married until Pell's death in 1964.

Some sources state that Gardner married for a second time to Charles Gaskill, the director of many of her films. Gardner's granddaughter and biographer, Dorin Gardner Schumacher, states that this is incorrect and that Gardner never divorced Duncan C. Pell, Sr.[2][3]

Later years and death[edit]

In the 1950s, Gardner returned to Orlando, Florida where she had previously lived with her estranged husband. Gardner died in Orlando on November 20, 1968, at the age of 84.[6]

Selected filmography[edit]

Short subject
Year Title Role Notes
1910 How She Won Him Muriel Hanson
1911 A Tale of Two Cities Uncredited
1911 The Inherited Taint The nurse
1911 The Wooing of Winifred Winifred
1911 The Show Girl Audrey, an actress
1911 For Her Brother's Sake Bessie Black - the Sister
1911 Barriers Burned Away John's wife
1911 A Quaker Mother Lois Pearson Harmon - A Quaker Wife
1911 She Came, She Saw, She Conquered Rose Leigh - a Young Schoolteacher
1911 The Death of King Edward III Alice Ferrers
1911 For Love and Glory Rose Seaton
1911 By Woman's Wit The wife
1911 Ups and Downs The Young Wife
1911 Regeneration Elfie - Ross' sweetheart
1911 Madge of the Mountains Madge of the Mountains
1911 Arbutus The Mountain Woman
1911 The Girl and the Sheriff The Mountain Girl
1911 Freshet Meg Matthews
1911 Vanity Fair Becky Sharp
1911 A Reformed Santa Claus The Widow
1912 Where the Money Went Mrs. Fred Hart - the Jealous Wife
1912 She Came, She Saw, She Conquered Rose Leigh - a Young Schoolteacher
1912 A Problem in Reduction Mrs. Smartly - a Woman Who Wants to Reduce
1912 Her Boy Sue - Harry's Sweetheart
1912 The Love of John Ruskin The wife
1912 The Love of John Ruskin Mrs. John Ruskin
1912 The Old Silver Watch Credited as Miss Gardner
1912 The Illumination Sabina
1912 The Serpents Linda
1912 An Innocent Theft Malcolm's mother
1912 An Innocent Theft Song Bird, a Young Indian
1912 The Miracle Abbasah, the Caliph's Wife
1912 The Heart of Esmeralda Louise Lennox - a Novelist
1912 The Party Dress Lydia Borne
1913 Becky, Becky Becky Writer
1913 Alixe; or, The Test of Friendship Alixe
1913 Eureka! The Castaway
1913 Vampire of the Desert Lispeth, Vampire of the Desert
1913 The Wife of Cain Save - the Wife of Cain Producer
1913 A Daughter of Pan Dusa - a Daughter of Pan Producer
1914 The Girl with the Hole in Her Stocking Producer
1914 Fleur de Lys Producer
1914 And There Was Light Producer
1914 Butterfly Nancy North - the Butterfly
1914 Underneath the Paint Tryphena Winter
1915 The Breath of Araby Clothilde
1915 The Still, Small Voice Musa
1915 Snatched from a Burning Death Joan Le Grande
1915 Miss Jekyll and Madame Hyde Madeleine Jekyll/Madame Hyde
Year Title Role Notes
1912 Cleopatra Cleopatra - Queen of Egypt Producer, costume designer, editor
Credited as Miss Gardner
1913 A Sister to Carmen Margo Producer
1913 A Princess of Bagdad Princess Ojira Producer
1914 Pieces of Silver: A Story of Hearts and Souls Sister Berenice Producer
1914 The Strange Story of Sylvia Gray Sylvia Gray/Silvery
1914 The Moonshine Maid and the Man Nancy - the Moonshine Maid
1920 The Sleep of Cyma Roget Cymba Roget
1924 Sandra La Flamme's wife


  1. ^ Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent Film Necrology (2 ed.). McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. p. 189. ISBN 0-786-41059-0.
  2. ^ a b c Letter from Dorin Schumacher to the New York Times (June 27, 1999)
  3. ^ a b Helen Gardner website
  4. ^ Information about Helen Gardner
  5. ^ "Marriage Announcement: Gardner-Pell", The New York Times, October 26, 1902
  6. ^ a b Wallace Dickinson, Joy. "Few Remember Days When Film Queen Lived Among Us". orlandosentinel.com. p. 1.
  7. ^ "What's Doing in Society?", The New York Times, January 26, 1904
  8. ^ Wallace Dickinson, Joy (March 25, 2001). "Early Screen Queen Turns Heads Again". orlandosentinel.com.

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