Robert Emmett Harron
April 12, 1893
New York City, U.S.
|Died||September 5, 1920 (aged 27)|
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
|Cause of death||Self-inflicted gunshot wound (accident)|
|Resting place||Calvary Cemetery, Queens|
|Other names||Bobby Harron|
|Relatives||John Harron (brother)|
Mary Harron (sister)
Robert Emmett "Bobby" Harron (April 12, 1893 – September 5, 1920) was an American motion picture actor of the early silent film era. Although he acted in over 200 films, he is known for his roles in the D.W. Griffith directed films The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).
Early life and family
Born in New York City, Harron was second oldest child of nine siblings in a poor, working-class Irish Catholic family. Harron's younger siblings John (nicknamed "Johnnie"), Mary and Charles also became actors while one of his younger sisters, Tessie, was an extra in silent films. Charles was killed in a car accident in December 1915. Tessie died of Spanish influenza in 1918 while Harron's brother John died of spinal meningitis in 1939.
Harron attended the Saint John Parochial School in Greenwich Village. At the age of fourteen, he found work as an errand boy at American Biograph Studios. In addition to cleaning duties, Harron also appeared as an extra in a few shorts for Biograph.
Within a year of working for Biograph, Harron was noticed by newly hired director D.W. Griffith. Harron quickly became a favorite of Griffith and Griffith began to give the 14-year-old increasingly larger film roles. His first film for Griffith was the 1909 short crime drama The Lonely Villa. The teenaged Harron was often cast by Griffith in the role of the "sensitive" and "naïve" boy, who was overwhelmingly sympathetic and appealing to American film-goers in the very early years of American motion pictures and not far removed from Harron's real-life persona; Harron was often described as a quiet and soft-spoken youth. It was these traits that helped garner much public interest in the young actor, especially amongst young female fans. In 1912 alone, Robert Harron appeared in nearly forty films at Biograph.
Harron is probably best recalled for his roles in the three epic Griffith films: 1914's Judith of Bethulia, opposite Blanche Sweet, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, and Dorothy and Lillian Gish; 1915's controversial all-star cast The Birth of a Nation; and 1916's colossal multi-scenario Intolerance opposite such popular stars of the era as Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Wallace Reid, Harold Lockwood, and Mildred Harris. One of Harron's most popular roles of the era came in 1919 when he starred opposite Lillian Gish in the Griffith directed romantic film True Heart Susie.
Robert Harron's film career continued to flourish throughout the 1910s and he was occasionally paired with leading actresses Mae Marsh and Lillian Gish with romantic plots, often in roles that cemented his "sensitive boy" image. Harron had, in fact, a burgeoning off-screen romantic relationship with Dorothy Gish. By 1920, Harron had grown too old to continue playing the juvenile roles that had launched his career. He began losing leading man roles to Richard Barthelmess. Later that year, D.W. Griffith agreed to loan Harron to Metro Pictures for a four-picture deal. His first film for Metro, also the last film of his career, was the comedy Coincidence. The film was released in 1921, after Harron's death.
In late August 1920, Harron traveled by train from Los Angeles to New York City to attend the premiere of the film Way Down East and a preview of what would become his final film, Coincidence. Harron checked into the Hotel Seymour on September 1 with his friend, screenwriter and director Victor Heerman, with whom he was sharing a room. Harron and Heerman attended the preview for Coincidence later that day. Heerman later said that the preview went poorly as the film was not well received by the audience.
After the premiere, Harron returned to his hotel room alone. At some point, Harron sustained a gunshot wound to the chest after a gun in his possession discharged. According to published reports and Harron’s own account, he had the gun in a trunk along with his clothes and other possessions. As he was taking some clothes out of the trunk, the gun fell to the floor, discharged, hitting him in the chest and puncturing his lung.  Harron called the hotel desk for assistance and was still conscious when the hotel manager came to his room. Not realizing he was seriously wounded, Harron joked with the manager that he was in a "devil of a fix" having shot himself. He initially refused to let the manager call an ambulance, only wanting to be examined by a local physician in his room. After a physician could not be found, Harron relented and agreed to allow the manager to call an ambulance. When medics arrived and attempted to transport Harron using a stretcher, he insisted to be taken down in a chair. As he had lost a considerable amount of blood, medics had to convince Harron that he needed to be transported on a stretcher.
Harron was transported to Bellevue Hospital Center where he remained conscious but in critical condition. While he was being treated, Harron was arrested for possessing a firearm without a permit under the Sullivan Act and placed in the hospital's prison ward. Shortly after the shooting, rumors arose that the shooting was not accidental and Harron had attempted suicide. There was speculation that Harron was despondent over being passed over for the leading role in Way Down East (Richard Barthelmess was ultimately cast). Several of Harron's friends rejected the suicide theory. Victor Heerman, with whom he often went on double dates and was staying with Harron in the Hotel Seymour, later said that he visited Harron in the hospital and he denied that he had attempted suicide. Harron admitted the gun belonged to him, but claimed that he had brought it with him because he did not want the gun at the family home in Los Angeles. Harron told Heerman that his younger brother Johnnie had become "hard to handle" and he feared leaving the gun at the family home where Johnnie could find it. Harron told Heerman that he wrapped the gun up in a pair of his trousers and placed them in his suitcase. On the night of the shooting, Harron said he had gone to retrieve the trousers from his suitcase to have them pressed when the gun fell out and discharged. Harron also told a priest who visited him in the hospital that the shooting was an accident.
Despite Harron’s denial, rumors of attempted suicide persisted. One such rumor was that Harron attempted suicide over the breakup of his relationship with Dorothy Gish. Victor Heerman rejected this theory because Harron, a teetotaler and virgin, was a devout Catholic. Actresses Miriam Cooper and Lillian Gish, both of whom were friends with Harron, agreed with Heerman’s reasoning. Cooper and Gish also believed Harron had not tried to kill himself as he was his family's major source of income and had plans to start shooting a new film with Elmer Clifton.
Friends who visited Harron in the hospital were optimistic about his recovery as he appeared to be on the mend. However, on September 5, four days after he was shot, Harron died of his wound. He is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York City.
|1907||Dr. Skinum||Boy at Door||Short|
|1907||Mr. Gay and Mrs.||Messenger||Short|
|1908||The Snowman||A child||Short|
|1908||Balked at the Altar||Short|
|1908||Monday Morning in a Coney Island Police Court||Young Man||Short|
|1908||A Calamitous Elopement||George Wilkinson||Short|
|1909||Those Awful Hats||Theatre Audience||Short, Uncredited|
|1909||At the Altar||Boy On Street||Short|
|1909||A Drunkard's Reformation||Theatre Usher||Short|
|1909||The Lonely Villa||Short|
|1909||The Hessian Renegades||Farmer||Short|
|1909||To Save Her Soul||Stagehand / Usher||Short|
|1911||The Broken Cross||Short|
|1911||The White Rose of the Wilds||White Rose's Brother||Short|
|1911||Enoch Arden||Teenage Arden Son||Part II|
|1911||Fighting Blood||The Old Soldier's Son||Short|
|1911||A Country Cupid||Among Students||Short|
|1911||The Last Drop of Water||In Wagon Train||Short|
|1911||The Battle||A Union soldier||Short|
|1911||The Miser's Heart||Bakeshop Assistant||Short|
|1912||For His Son||At Soda Fountain||Short, Uncredited|
|1912||The Transformation of Mike||At Dance||Short|
|1912||Under Burning Skies||On Street / At Farewell Party||Short|
|1912||A String of Pearls||In Tenement||Short|
|1912||One Is Business, the Other Crime||Delivery Boy||Uncredited, Short|
|1912||The Lesser Evil||In Smuggler Band||Short|
|1912||A Temporary Truce||The Murdered Indian's Son||Short|
|1912||Man's Lust for Gold||The Prospector's Son||Short|
|1912||The Inner Circle||In Crowd / Accident Witness||Short|
|1912||A Change of Spirit||Young Man on Street||Short, Uncredited|
|1912||Two Daughters of Eve||At Stage Door||Short|
|1912||So Near, Yet So Far||The Rival / In Club||Short|
|1912||A Feud in the Kentucky Hills||A brother||Short|
|1912||The Painted Lady||Beau at Ice Cream Festival||Short, Uncredited|
|1912||The Musketeers of Pig Alley||Rival Gang Member / In Alley / At Dance||Short|
|1912||The Informer||The Southern Boy||Short|
|1912||A Sailor's Heart||On Porch||Short, Uncredited|
|1912||The New York Hat||Youth outside church||Short|
|1912||My Hero||The Young Man||Short|
|1912||The Burglar's Dilemma||Young Burglar||Short|
|1912||A Cry for Help||Witness to Accident||Short|
|1913||A Misappropriated Turkey||Union Member||Short|
|1913||Brothers||The Father's Favorite Son||Short|
|1913||Oil and Water||Minor Role||Short, Uncredited|
|1913||Love in an Apartment Hotel||The Desk Clerk||Short|
|1913||Broken Ways||In Telegraph Office||Short|
|1913||Near to Earth||Gato's Brother||Short|
|1913||Fate||The Beloved Son||Short|
|1913||The Sheriff's Baby||The Deputy||Short|
|1913||A Misunderstood Boy||The Son||Short|
|1913||The House of Darkness||Asylum Guard||Short|
|1913||A Timely Interception||The Farmer's Adopted Son||Short|
|1913||Death's Marathon||The Messenger||Short|
|1913||The Sorrowful Shore||One of the Son's Friends||Short|
|1913||The Battle at Elderbush Gulch||The father||Short|
|1913||The Tender Hearted Boy||The Tender Hearted Boy|
|1913||The Little Tease||Jim|
|1913||The Yaqui Cur||Strongheart|
|1914||Judith of Bethulia||Nathan|
|1914||The Battle of the Sexes||John Andrews, the son|
|1914||Brute Force||Harry Faulkner||Short, Prologue - Weakhands (The Old Days)|
|1914||The Great Leap; Until Death Do Us Part||Bobby Dawson|
|1914||The Life of General Villa||American lover|
|1914||Home, Sweet Home||The Easterner, Robert Winthrop|
|1914||The Escape||Larry Joyce|
|1914||The Rebellion of Kitty Belle||Joe Belle||Short|
|1914||The Avenging Conscience||The Grocer's boy|
|1914||The Idiot||The Idiot||Short|
|1915||The Birth of a Nation||Tod Stoneman|
|1915||The Outlaw's Revenge||American lover|
|1915||Her Shattered Idol||Robert|
|1915||The Missing Links||Henry Gaylord|
|1916||Hoodoo Ann||Jimmie Vance|
|1916||A Child of the Paris Streets||Jimmie Parker|
|1916||A Wild Girl of the Sierras||Bob Jordan|
|1916||The Marriage of Molly-O||Larry O'Dea|
|1916||Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages||The Boy (Modern Story)|
|1916||The Little Liar||Bobby|
|1916||The Wharf Rat||Edward Holmes|
|1917||The Bad Boy||Jimmie Bates|
|1918||An Old-Fashioned Young Man||Frank Trent|
|1918||Sunshine Alley||Ned Morris|
|1918||Hearts of the World||The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton||Uncredited|
|1918||The Great Love||Jim Young|
|1918||The Greatest Thing in Life||Edward Livingston|
|1918||A Romance of Happy Valley||John L. Logan, Jr.|
|1919||The Girl Who Stayed at Home||James Grey|
|1919||True Heart Susie||William Jenkins|
|1919||The Mother and the Law||The Boy|
|1919||The Greatest Question||Jimmie Hilton|
|1922||Peacock Alley||Cleo of Paris|
- Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 173, 175. ISBN 0-813-12249-X.
- Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent Film Necrology. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. p. 230. ISBN 0-786-41059-0.
- Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0-786-48790-9.
- Kear, Lynn; King, James (2009). Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook. McFarland. p. 212. ISBN 0-786-45468-7.
- Golden, Eve (2000). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland. p. 49. ISBN 0-786-48354-7.
- Lowery, Carolyn (1920). The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen. Moffat, Yard. p. 66.
- Golden 2002 p.50
- Golden 2002 pp.50-51
- Slide, Anthony (2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 174, 175. ISBN 0-813-12249-X.
- Stokes, Melvyn (2007). D.W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time. Oxford University Press. p. cvi. ISBN 0-199-88751-9.
- Schickel, Richard (1996). D.W. Griffith: An American Life. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 439. ISBN 0-879-10080-X.
- "MOVIE STAR SHOOTS SELF BY ACCIDENT". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 2, 1920. p. 1. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
- Affron, Charles (2001). Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life. University of California Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-520-23434-0.
- Staff report (September 2, 1920). Rob. Harron shot as his pistol falls. Film star in critical condition as result of accidental wound. Faces Sullivan Act charge. He is moved into prison ward at Bellevue after policeman places him under arrest. New York Times
- Slide 2002 p.175
- Staff report (September 6, 1920). Robert Harron dies; actor succumbs to wound received in pistol accident. New York Times
- John Holmstrom, The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 10.
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