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Thursday, March 20, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Constance Talmadge

Constance "Dutch" Talmadge

The Talmadge sisters were three: Norma the glamorous, Natalie the silent, and Connie the clown. Constance Talmadge was one of silent cinema's original firecrackers. Unlike the elegantly postured Norma or the shy and depressive Natalie, Constance-- nicknamed "Dutch"-- was a buoyant woman of energy and fun. Raised to be assertive and strong-- all the Talmadge women learned to fend for themselves when their alcoholic father abandoned them-- Connie embraced the absurdity and harsh realities of life and combatted them with her humor and independent spirit. Embarking on a career in cinema almost as a gag-- "Well, why the Hell not?"-- she may not have taken the craft as seriously as the more ambitious Norma, but she possessed an even more charismatic presence that would draw contemporary audiences to the flame of her warmth and vivacity.

Constance was a staple in what would be known today as the Romantic Comedy wherein she naturally transitioned her bright personality to that of the hammy but attractive buffoon, perhaps not going as far as fellow comedienne Mabel Normand but packing her emotional sentiment with an equal blend of hilarity. Her most recognizable role remains that of the Mountain girl in D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, but she performed as the leading lady in many popular films of the time including both shorts and features: Her Night of Romance, The Love Expert, A Pair of Silk Stockings, etc. When the talkies intruded on the family profession, the sisters opted to bow out, probably predicting that their Brooklyn accents wouldn't translate well into sound. Constance had no regrets and let bygones be bygones.

Constance's private life unfortunately dwindled in her late years. Once wooed by Irving Thalberg, Connie's need for personal liberty was not easy to be contained. She was married four times and her high-living ways-- her hopes of outrunning the past and making the best of things-- caught up with her when she became dependent on alcohol. Still, the tough old bird made it to the 1970s before her candle was finally snuffed out. Though nowhere near as popular as she was in her own day, her goofy, honest, and infectious performances inspired future funny females whose work allows her own to live on. Remnants of her own contributions can still be found in the blessed modern world of DVD and live streaming, where she continues to encourage her audiences to laugh it up. What else have ya' got in the end?

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