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Friday, January 24, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Blanche Sweet

Blanche Sweet

Blanche Sweet was a powerhouse female player in the silent era of cinema, whose onscreen nature seemed in perfect keeping with her name-- which was not an invention, apart from the fact that Blanche was her middle name. Her great beauty and graceful demeanor made the camera immediately fall in love with her, and the American public would follow suit. Her talent as an actress had been long cultivated by treading the boards from her very infancy as an actress and dancer. This in conjunction with her iron guts and angelic presence made her a shoe-in for Biograph and its leading director: D.W. Griffith.

While younger than some of Griffith's other leading ladies-- Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish among them-- Blanche's startling maturity often led to her being cast in more mature roles. While a fairly petite woman, Blanche always came across as large, filling the screen with her charisma and poignant emotional articulation. She was, therefore, not one of Griffith's standard little-girl women but a woman full stop. Perhaps this is why, after participating in many of his poetic shorts, she was selected to star in his first feature-length film, "Judith of Bethulia" (1914). Blanche would migrate to Paramount and continue her successful career working with other big time directors like Cecil B. DeMille ("The Warrens of Virginia") and Marshall Neilan ("Tess of the D'Urbervilles,")-- with whom she would enjoy a scandalous affair, which led to marriage, which led to divorce. (God love him, "Mickey" was never one for moderation, in drink or in women).

Blanche would make a triumphant transfer into the Talkies, particularly with her highly praised performance in "Show Girl in Hollywood," but she surprisingly retired from the screen to return to theatre, later doing some work on Radio and even Television. However, her post-silent career was not as successful, and she allegedly had to take a job at a department store at one point, her days in the idol sun forgotten by the world that had once adored her. Luckily, with the rediscovery of her films and the advent of TV and home video, Blanche's power once again holds sway over those blessed enough to witness her Sweet talent.

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