Robert Harron

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Robert Harron
Robert Emmett Harron.jpg
Born Robert Emmett Harron
(1893-04-12)April 12, 1893
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died September 5, 1920(1920-09-05) (aged 27)
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Self-inflicted gunshot wound (accident)
Resting place Calvary Cemetery
Nationality American
Other names Bobby Harron
Occupation Actor
Years active 1907–1920
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).

Harron was the older brother of film actors John Harron and Mary Harron.

Early life and family[edit]

Born in New York City, Harron was second oldest child of nine siblings in a poor, working-class Irish Catholic family.[1] 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.[1] Charles was killed in a car accident in December 1915.[2] Tessie died of Spanish influenza in 1918 while Harron's brother John died of spinal meningitis in 1939.[3][4][5]

Harron attended the Saint John Parochial School in Greenwich Village.[1] At the age of fourteen, he found work as an errand boy at American Biograph Studios.[6] In addition to cleaning duties, Harron also appeared as an extra in a few shorts for Biograph.[7]


Robert Harron (second from left), director John W. Noble (far left), actress Mae Marsh (second from right) and camerman George W. Hill (far right) discuss the script for the film Sunshine Alley on location in 1917.

Within a year of working for Biograph, Harron was noticed by newly hired director D.W. Griffith.[6] 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.[8]

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 Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Wallace Reid, Harold Lockwood, Carol Dempster 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] The film was released in 1921, after Harron's death.


In September 1920, Harron traveled from Los Angeles to New York by train to support Lillian Gish at the film premiere of her film Way Down East. He checked into the Hotel Seymour on September 1. He was also there for a preview of Coincidence and was sharing the hotel room with screenwriter and director Victor Heerman. Heerman also attended the preview and later said that the film was not well received.[9]

After the premiere, Harron was alone in his hotel room when a gun in his possession discharged and wounded him. According to published reports, Harron had the gun in a trunk along with other possessions. As he took some clothes out of the trunk, the gun fell to the floor, discharged and hit him in the chest, puncturing his lung.[12] [13] He 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. After a physician could not be found, Harron agreed to allow the manager to call an ambulance. Harron then insisted that he not be taken down by stretcher, but a chair. As Harron had lost a considerable amount of blood, he was finally convinced to be taken downstairs on a stretcher.[12]

Harron was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. While he was being treated, he was arrested for possessing a firearm without a permit under the Sullivan Act and placed in the hospital's prison ward.[14] Shortly after the shooting, rumors arose that Harron had intentionally shot himself. There was speculation that Harron was despondent over being passed over for the leading role in Way Down East (Richard Barthelmess was cast in the lead role).[15] Several of Harron's friends rejected the suicide theory. Harron's friend Victor Heerman, with whom he often went on double dates and was staying with Harron in the Hotel Seymour, later said that he went to see Harron after the shooting and Harron denied that he intentionally shot himself. Harron admitted the gun belonged to him but that he had brought it to New York because he did not want the gun at the family home in Los Angeles. Harron said that his younger brother Johnnie had become "hard to handle" and he feared leaving the gun 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.[15]

There were also rumors that Harron had attempted suicide over the breakup of his relationship with Dorothy Gish. Victor Heerman said that Harron was a teetotaler and a virgin because he was a devout Catholic, and for those reasons Heerman rejected claims that Harron had killed himself. Miriam Cooper and Lillian Gish agreed, largely because he was his family's major source of income and he was about to start filming with Elmer Clifton.[15] Harron also told his friend, a priest, that he did not attempt suicide.[13]

Friends who visited Harron in the hospital were optimistic about his recovery as he appeared to be on the mend.[15] However, on September 5, four days after he was shot, Harron died of his wound.[16] He is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York City.[2]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1907 Dr. Skinum Boy at Door
1907 Mr. Gay and Mrs. Messenger
1908 The Snowman A child
1908 A Calamitous Elopement George Wilkinson
1908 Monday Morning in a Coney Island Police Court
1909 Those Awful Hats Theatre Audience
1909 At the Altar On Street
1909 A Drunkard's Reformation Theatre Usher
1909 The Lonely Villa
1909 The Hessian Renegades Farmer
1909 To Save Her Soul Stagehand/Usher
1910 Ramona
1911 The Broken Cross
1911 The White Rose of the Wilds White Rose's Brother
1911 Enoch Arden Teenage Arden Son Part II
1911 Fighting Blood The Old Soldier's Son
1911 A Country Cupid Among Students
1911 The Last Drop of Water In Wagon Train
1911 The Battle A Union soldier
1911 The Miser's Heart Bakeshop Assistant
1912 For His Son At Soda Fountain
1912 The Transformation of Mike At Dance
1912 Under Burning Skies On Street/At Farewell Party
1912 A String of Pearls In Tenement
1912 One Is Business, the Other Crime Delivery Boy
1912 The Lesser Evil In Smuggler Band
1912 A Temporary Truce The Murdered Indian's Son
1912 Man's Lust for Gold The Prospector's Son
1912 The Inner Circle In Crowd/Accident Witness
1912 A Change of Spirit Young Man on Street
1912 Two Daughters of Eve At Stage Door
1912 Friends Stableboy
1912 So Near, Yet So Far The Rival/In Club
1912 A Feud in the Kentucky Hills A brother
1912 The Painted Lady Beau at Ice Cream Festival
1912 The Musketeers of Pig Alley Rival Gang Member/In Alley/At Dance
1912 Heredity Indian
1912 The Informer
1912 A Sailor's Heart On Porch Unconfirmed
1912 Brutality
1912 The New York Hat Youth outside church
1912 My Hero The Young Man
1912 The Burglar's Dilemma Young Burglar
1912 A Cry for Help Witness to Accident
1913 A Misappropriated Turkey Union Member
1913 Brothers The Father's Favorite Son
1913 Oil and Water
1913 Love in an Apartment Hotel The Desk Clerk
1913 Broken Ways In Telegraph Office
1913 Near to Earth Gato's Brother
1913 The Sheriff's Baby The Deputy
1913 Fate The Beloved Son
1913 A Misunderstood Boy The Son
1913 The House of Darkness Asylum Guard
1913 A Timely Interception The Farmer's Adopted Son
1913 Death's Marathon The Messenger
1913 The Sorrowful Shore One of the Son's Friends
1913 The Battle at Elderbush Gulch The father
1914 Brute Force Harry Faulkner Prologue - Weakhands (The Old Days)
1914 The Battle of the Sexes John Andrews, the son
1914 Home, Sweet Home The Easterner, Robert Winthrop
1914 The Escape Larry Joyce
1914 The Rebellion of Kitty Belle
1914 The Avenging Conscience The Grocer's boy
1914 The Idiot
1915 The Birth of a Nation Tod Stoneman
1916 Hoodoo Ann Jimmie Vance
1916 Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages The Boy (Modern Story)
1917 The Bad Boy Jimmie Bates
1918 Hearts of the World The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton Uncredited
1918 The Great Love Jim Young
1918 Peacock Alley Cleo of Paris
1918 The Greatest Thing in Life Edward Livingston
1918 A Romance of Happy Valley John L. Logan, Jr.
1919 True Heart Susie William Jenkins
1919 The Greatest Question Jimmie Hilton
1921 Coincidence Billy Jenks


  1. ^ a b c 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. 
  2. ^ a b Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent Film Necrology. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. p. 230. ISBN 0-786-41059-0. 
  3. ^ Soister, John T. (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. McFarland. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0-786-48790-9. 
  4. ^ Kear, Lynn; King, James (2009). Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook. McFarland. p. 212. ISBN 0-786-45468-7. 
  5. ^ Golden, Eve (2000). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland. p. 49. ISBN 0-786-48354-7. 
  6. ^ a b Lowery, Carolyn (1920). The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen. Moffat, Yard. p. 66. 
  7. ^ Golden 2002 p.50
  8. ^ Golden 2002 pp.50-51
  9. ^ a b 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Schickel, Richard (1996). D.W. Griffith: An American Life. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 439. ISBN 0-879-10080-X. 
  12. ^ a b "MOVIE STAR SHOOTS SELF BY ACCIDENT". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 2, 1920. p. 1. Retrieved December 10, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Affron, Charles (2001). Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life. University of California Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-520-23434-0. 
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ a b c d Slide 2002 p.175
  16. ^ 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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