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Lee, c. 1920
Augusta Wilhelmena Fredericka Appel
July 25, 1905
Union Hill, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||November 13, 1973 (aged 68)|
Saranac Lake, New York, U.S.
James Kirkwood, Sr.
(m. 1923; div. 1931)
Jack R. Peine
(m. 1934; div. 1935)
John E. Murphy
(m. 1944; div. 1949)
|Children||James Kirkwood Jr.|
The daughter of Augusta F. Appel (c. 1875–1940) and Carl Appel (c. 1873–1935), Lila Lee was born Augusta Wilhelmena Fredericka Appel on July 25, 1905 in Union Hill, New Jersey (now part of Union City), into a middle-class family of German immigrants who relocated to New York City. She had an older sister, Pauline (1900–1985), who had been born in Hamburg, Germany.
Searching for a hobby for their gregarious young daughter, the Appels enrolled Lila in Gus Edwards' kiddie review shows where she was given the nickname of "Cuddles"; a name that she would be known by for the rest of her acting career. Her stagework became so popular with the public that her parents had her educated with private tutors. Edwards would become Lee's long-term manager.
Lillian Edwards, wife of Gus Edwards, was Lee's guardian. When Lee was 15 years old, she went to court seeking an injunction to prevent Mrs. Edwards "from collecting any money for Lila's services." Mrs. Edwards countered that she had spent 10 years helping to shape Lee's career and had invested money in her.
Lee performed in vaudeville for eight years.
In 1918, she was chosen for a film contract by Hollywood film mogul Jesse Lasky for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which later became Paramount Pictures. Her first feature The Cruise of the Make-Believes garnered the seventeen-year-old starlet much public acclaim and Lasky quickly sent Lee on an arduous publicity campaign. Critics lauded Lila for her wholesome persona and sympathetic character parts. Lee quickly rose to the ranks of leading lady and often starred opposite such matinee heavies as Conrad Nagel, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, and Rudolph Valentino. Lee bore more than a slight resemblance to Ann Little, a former Paramount star and frequent Reid co-star who was leaving the film business and at this stage in her career an even stronger resemblance to Marguerite Clark.
In 1922 Lee was cast as Carmen in the enormously popular film Blood and Sand, opposite matinee idol Rudolph Valentino and silent screen vamp Nita Naldi; Lee subsequently won the first WAMPAS Baby Stars award that year. Lee continued to be a highly popular leading lady throughout the 1920s and made scores of critically praised and widely watched films.
As the Roaring Twenties drew to a close, Lee's popularity began to wane and Lee positioned herself for the transition to talkies. She is one of the few leading ladies of the silent screen whose popularity did not nosedive with the coming of sound. She went back to working with the major studios and appeared, most notably, in The Unholy Three, in 1930, opposite Lon Chaney Sr. in his only talkie. However, a series of bad career choices and bouts of recurring tuberculosis and alcoholism hindered further projects and Lee was relegated to taking parts in mostly grade B-movies.
Lee was married and divorced three times. Her first husband was actor James Kirkwood, Sr., whom she married on July 26, 1923. The marriage ended in August 1931 on grounds of her desertion. Lee and Kirkwood had a son in 1924, James Kirkwood, Jr., whose custody was granted to his father; he became a highly regarded playwright and screenwriter whose works include A Chorus Line and P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Her second husband was broker Jack R. Peine (married 1934, divorced 1935) and her third husband was broker John E. Murphy (married 1944, divorced 1949). According to author Sean Egan in the James Kirkwood biography Ponies & Rainbows (2011), Murphy's will left Lee at the financial mercy of his second wife, who consequently became the manipulative character Aunt Claire in P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, written by Lee's son, James Kirkwood, Jr.
In the 1930s she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to Saranac Lake, New York for treatment at the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. Lee made several uneventful appearances in stage plays in the 1940s, and starred in early television soap operas in the 1950s.
In 1973 Lee died of a stroke at Saranac Lake.
- Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers (1967)
- Oh Boy! (1938)
- Nation Aflame (1937)
- Two Wise Maids (1937)
- Country Gentlemen (1936)
- The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)
- The Marriage Bargain (1935)
- Champagne for Breakfast (1935)
- The People's Enemy (1935)
- Whirlpool (1934)
- In Love with Life (1934)
- I Can't Escape (1934)
- Stand Up and Cheer! (1934)
- Lone Cowboy (1934)
- Face in the Sky (1933)
- The Iron Master (1933)
- Radio Patrol (1932)
- The Night of June 13 (1932)
- Unholy Love (1932)
- The Intruder (1932)
- War Correspondent (1932)
- False Faces (1932)
- Exposure (1932)
- Officer Thirteen (1932)
- Misbehaving Ladies (1931) (*held at Library of Congress)
- Woman Hungry (1931)
- The Gorilla (1930) *lost, soundtrack may exist
- Murder Will Out (1930) *lost film, soundtrack may exist
- Those Who Dance (1930) (*held at Library of Congress)
- Second Wife (1930) (*held at Library of Congress)
- The Unholy Three (1930)
- Double Cross Roads (1930)
- Love, Live and Laugh (1929)
- Show of Shows (1929) *black and white version exists, technicolor version is lost
- The Sacred Flame (1929) *lost film
- Queen of the Night Clubs (1929) *lost, only the trailer exists
- Flight (1929)
- The Argyle Case (1929)
- Honky Tonk (1929)
- Dark Streets (1929) *lost film
- Drag (1929)
- Top Sergeant Mulligan (1928)
- The Man in Hobbles (1928) (Library of Congress)
- The Black Pearl (1928)
- The Little Wild Girl (1928)
- Black Butterflies (1928)
- The Adorable Cheat (1928) (*held at Library of Congress)
- Thundergod (1928) (*held at Library of Congress)
- United States Smith (1928)(BFI National Film & Tv)
- A Bit of Heaven (1928)
- You Can't Beat the Law (1928)
- Top Sergeant Mulligan (1928)
- Million Dollar Mystery (1927)
- One Increasing Purpose (1927)
- Fascinating Youth (1926) *lost, only the trailer survives
- The New Klondike(1926) *incomplete, one reel is missing
- Broken Hearts (1926) (held by Library of Congress)
- Coming Through (1925) *lost film
- Old Home Week(1925) *lost film
- The Midnight Girl (1925)
- Another Man's Wife (1924)
- Wandering Husbands (1924)
- Love's Whirlpool (1924)
- Woman-Proof (1923) *lost film
- Hollywood (1923) (cameo) *lost film
- Homeward Bound (1923) *lost film
- The Ne'er-Do-Well (1923) *lost film
- Ebb Tide (1922) *lost film
- Rent Free (1922) *lost film
- Back Home and Broke (1922)
- The Ghost Breaker (1922) *lost film
- Blood and Sand (1922)
- A Trip to Paramountown (1922) (*short)
- The Dictator (1922) *lost film
- Is Matrimony a Failure? (1922) *unknown/presumably lost
- One Glorious Day (1922) *lost film
- The Fast Freight (1921) *lost film
- After the Show (1921) *unknown/presumably lost
- Crazy to Marry (1921)
- Gasoline Gus (1921)
- The Dollar-a-Year Man (1921)
- The Easy Road (1921) *lost film
- The Charm School (1921) *lost film
- Midsummer Madness (1921)
- The Prince Chap (1920) *unknown/presumably lost
- The Soul of Youth (1920)(extant; Library of Congress; on DVD)
- Terror Island (1920) *incomplete, two reels missing
- Male and Female (1919)
- Hawthorne of the U.S.A. (1919)
- The Lottery Man (1919) *lost film
- The Heart of Youth (1919)
- Rose o' the River (1919) *unknown/presumably lost
- A Daughter of the Wolf (1919)
- Rustling a Bride (1919)
- Puppy Love (1919)
- The Secret Garden (1919)
- Jane Goes A-Wooing (1919)
- Such a Little Pirate (1918)
- The Cruise of the Make-Believes (1918)
- "New York Times obituary".
- 1910 census. "Ancestry. com".
- Social Security index. "Ancestry.com".
- "The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars". Chicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. August 24, 1924. p. Part 8 - Page 6. Retrieved March 14, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Lila Lee of Films Asks Writ to Rid Self of Guardian". Chicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. April 10, 1920. p. 12. Retrieved March 15, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Lila Lee". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on March 15, 2018. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
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