The Great Cast Contest of 1915

"An Opportunity to Vote for All Your Favorites and Do Them All Justice"

Special piece for SFSFF 2015
by Fritzi Kramer

"An Opportunity to Vote for All Your Favorites and Do Them All Justice"
With that announcement, the editors of Motion Picture magazine launched a new popularity contest for actors. They asked readers to vote for the best performers in twelve categories, creating a dream cast of the best stars. The contest shined the spotlight on comedians, mature performers, and character actors who had all been neglected in previous polls. Readers voted from January to September, and the final results appeared in the November 1915 issue. The top ten winners are a blend of the famous and the forgotten and make for a fascinating time capsule for modern viewers.

1. Mary Maurice
The overall winner, Maurice was known as “The Screen Mother” or “The Vitagraph Mother” and swept the Old Lady category. According to interviews, she played that part offscreen and on, mothering the younger players of the company. Her fans praised her as refreshing counterprogramming to the then-stylish vamps and serial queens. She continued to act until her death in 1918.

2. Charles Chaplin
Chaplin had left Keystone and signed with Essanay, where he perfected his Tramp character and teamed with Edna Purviance. The world was gripped with Chaplinitis and he easily topped the male comedian category, though Ford Sterling made a respectable showing in second place.

3. Bobby Connelly
Bobby Connelly was the victor in the Child category. Another Vitagraph player, he was just shy of his fifth birthday when he began the Sonny Jim series, in which he played a mischievous but good-hearted boy. Connelly made twenty Sonny Jim shorts from 1914 to 1915. He went on to win roles in Frank Borzage’s Humoresque and the Olive Thomas vehicle The Flapper. Like Thomas, Connelly’s life was cut short. He was only thirteen when he died of bronchitis in 1922.

4. W. Chrystie Miller
Miller was dubbed the “Grand Old Man of the Movies” in Motion Picture magazine. A stage veteran, he spent his entire film career at Biograph under the direction of D.W. Griffith. By the time the voting began, Miller had made his final film appearance in Judith of Bethulia and had retired to the Actors’ Fund Home on Staten Island. He died in 1922.

5. Mabel Normand
Normand was at the height of her popularity and talent as a star, director, and “the sugar on the Keystone grapefruit.” Flora Finch was her closest rival in the female comedian category but Mabel managed to win by a healthy margin. Other runners-up included Florence Lawrence and both Constance and Norma Talmadge. In fact, Norma placed above Constance in this category.

6. Antonio Moreno
Moreno was described as having “IT” in the 1920s but in 1915 he was a popular romantic lead at Vitagraph. He joined the studio in 1914 and had spent most of that year acting opposite Norma Talmadge. Moreno was versatile and his roles included a newspaper editor, a cowboy, a shipwreck survivor clad only in palm leaves, and, yes, the occasional Latin lover.

7. Mary Pickford
The lone representative of Famous Players in the top ten, Pickford continued her reign of popularity, easily besting all comers in the Leading Woman category. She had scored a hit that year with Rags, in which she played one of her signature cute spitfires. Studio executives did not find her so adorable at the bargaining table, where she managed to negotiate, among other things, being paid half the profits from her films.

8. Earle Williams
Williams was a major star at Vitagraph where he was paired with Number 10 Anita Stewart. Williams was the overall winner in the Leading Man category but it was a close three-way race between Williams, Francis X. Bushman, and the perennially popular J. Warren Kerrigan, who had placed in the top five in both the 1913 and 1914 contests.

9. Beverly Bayne
One of the top stars of Essanay, Beverly Bayne was famously teamed with leading man Francis X. Bushman. She came in second to Mary Pickford in the Leading Woman category, barely scraping ahead of Edith Storey. Other runners-up included Florence La Badie and Alice Joyce.

10. Anita Stewart
Vitagraph personality, accomplished pianist, and proud owner of an electric coupe, Stewart was first in the Beautiful Young Woman category. She had played the victim of a guerrilla social experiment in The Goddess, a serial that also featured Earle Williams and Mary Maurice. She later headed her own production unit under Louis B. Mayer.

—Fritzi Kramer