Henry Lehrman (March 30, 1886 – November 7, 1946) was an American actor, screenwriter, director and producer. Lehrman was a very prominent figure of Hollywood's silent film era, working with such cinematic pioneers as D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett. However, he is primarily remembered today not for his own achievements, but for three biographical facts: he had directed Charlie Chaplin's very first film, Making a Living (though Chaplin and he didn't get along); he was notoriously careless of the safety of the actors who worked for him; and he was the lover of the actress Virginia Rappe, for whose death Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, in a highly-publicized series of trials, was accused, and later acquitted, of manslaughter.
Life and career
Born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, Lehrman emigrated to the United States at a young age and although he is best remembered as a film director, he began his career as an actor in a 1909 Biograph Studios production directed by D. W. Griffith. He gained the nickname "Pathé," reportedly because he told Biograph he had been sent there from Europe to have a job by France's Pathé Frères. While the executive at Biograph may not have believed him, they nevertheless gave him his first acting work in film, appearing as one of many in a mob scene with another aspiring actor named Mack Sennett. A few years later Lehrman was a successful actor and would make his directorial debut, co-directing a 1911 Biograph production with Sennett. When Sennett left to create his own Keystone Studios, Henry Lehrman would join him, working as an actor, a screenwriter, and as the first director of Charlie Chaplin.
In 1915, Lehrman established his own film company called the L-KO Kompany to make two-reel comedies for Universal Studios. Lehrman was notorious for his low regard toward actors, such as for Charles Chaplin in the actor's earliest films, and his willingness to place his actors in dangerous situations earned him the nickname "Mr. Suicide." Author Kalton C. Lahue noted that bit players and extras actually refused calls from L-KO.
In 1916 Lehrman gave up acting to devote himself fully to directing and producing. In 1917 Lehrman left the L-KO Kompany and moved to Fox Film Corporation as producer of their "Sunshine Comedies" unit. In 1919 Lehrman met a young actress named Virginia Rappe and a personal relationship ensued that resulted in their engagement. However, in September 1921, Rappe, 26, died after attending a private party hosted by Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle at a hotel in San Francisco. Arbuckle would be accused of raping her and was charged with her murder; Lehrman used the trial for his own personal publicity. Eventually Arbuckle was found not guilty.
For the two years following his fiancée's death, Henry Lehrman was virtually inactive in the film business. He went through a short-lived marriage in 1922 to Jocelyn Leigh. In 1924 he accepted an offer from the Fox Film Corporation to return to directing their "Sunshine Comedies" unit. Lehrman continued as a successful director until the introduction of talkies at the end of the 1920s. He directed two sound films for Fox in 1929, one a short comedy, the other a feature-length production titled "New Year's Eve" starring Mary Astor. The films demonstrated Lehrman's difficulty adapting to directing with sound and he was dropped by Fox. Two years later he made his final attempt at sound films, writing and directing a comedy short for Universal Studios.
Henry Lehrman died of a heart attack in Hollywood in 1946 and was interred in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery next to Virginia Rappe. He was 60.
- "Henry Lehrman Marries. Fiance of Virginia Rappe Weds Jocelyn Leigh, Former Actress". New York Times. April 29, 1922.
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