Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tragic Griffith Stars: Clarine Seymour and Robert Harron

Clarine Seymour and Robert Harron in "True Heart Susie"
In 1919, both Bobby Harron and Clarine Seymour were the pets of director D.W. Griffith. Other than super-pet Lillian Gish, no one in the Griffith stock company seemed to have held a more secure place than Bobby. While not in the Lillian category, nor in the same favored position as personal pet Carol Dempster, Clarine Seymour was an up-and-comer who stole the show. Griffith knew a good thing when he saw it. Yet, by 1920, Griffith was attending their funerals.

Clarine Seymour

Not your typical Griffith heroine, Clarine Seymour was feisty where Miss Lillian was fragile, full of personality where Miss Dempster seemed to have none. Youthful and spunky, she was a modern sort of gal who would have made a fabulous flapper.

Clarine started her career in films as a teenager, moving from Thanhouser to Pathe to Hal Roach. While working for Roach she claimed that she was fired for refusing to do her own stunts. Like the feisty pre-flapper she was, Clarine filed a suit against Roach and was awarded the tidy sum of $1,325 in damages.

Here is Clarine with Stan Laurel in "Just Rambling Along," a film made while she was working for Hal Roach.

In 1918 she crossed paths with Griffith and he paired her with his leading man, Robert Harron, in 1919’s “The Girl Who Stayed Home.” Playing good-time girl Cutie Beautiful, Clarine made everyone sit up and take notice. Clarine seemed the embodiment of fun.
The adorable Clarine Seymour
It wasn’t easy for a gal to find her place in the Griffith stock company, what with Lil and Carol getting the good parts. However, Griffith cast her in a showy supporting role 1919’s “True Heat Susie,” and in “Scarlet Days” and as the lead in 1920’s “The Idol Dancer.” Although the last film was not a favorite of the critics, Clarine again received great notices. She was clearly on her way to stardom.
Getting ready for stardom
In 1920, Clarine was getting ready to play a leading role in Griffith’s classic “Way Down East” when she fell ill and was admitted to the hospital in April. 4 days later she was dead at age 21 of what was termed “intestinal strangulation.” Other than this mysterious description, there seems to be no reliable information regarding her illness and death. However, her former employer, Hal Roach, seemed to think drugs and/or alcohol may have played a part. In an interview with author Betty Harper Fussell for her book “Mabel” (1982), Roach blamed Clarine’s death on Mabel Normand. He said that “Mabel ‘was the wildest girl in Hollywood’ and ‘the dirtiest talking girl you ever heard.’ Roach was not amused, however, because he felt that Mabel and her (friends) had helped destroy younger girls like starlet Clarine Seymour.”

“‘Clarine ran around with these gals for about a year,’ Roach explained, ‘and then kicked the bucket in 1920.’ Some said she died of drugs. Roach blamed Mabel.”

Whatever her cause of death, Clarine Seymour was a bright star whose light never got the chance to fully shine.


Young and innocent Bobby Harron

 Bobby Harron owed everything to D.W. Griffith. At age 14 he began working as an errand boy for the Biograph Studios. He was noticed by Griffith, who began using Bobby in front of the cameras. As a teen-ager he embodied the youthful innocence Griffith loved. Graduating from shorts to feature films, Bobby was cast in some of Griffith’s greatest films: “Judith of Bethulia” (1914), “Birth of a Nation” (1915), and “Intolerance” (1916). It was his performance of The Boy in the modern story of “Intolerance” that elevated him to real and respected stardom. Today, almost 100 years after the film’s release, his performance, along with those of of Mae Marsh and Miriam Cooper, remains compelling and heartbreaking.
Harron's greatest performance in "Intolerance"

After “Intolerance,” Harron was Griffith’s leading man of choice in such Griffith productions such as “True Heart Susie” (with Clarine Seymour), “Hearts of the World” (Griffith’s propaganda film for WWI) and “The Romance of Happy Valley.” Although he often partnered Lillian Gish, he enjoyed an off-screen romance with the lovely Dorothy Gish. Things were going well for Bobby Harron, the former errand boy.

Bobby and Lillian  were so charming in "True Heart Susie"

However, youth fades, even when you are only 27, and Griffith found a new preferred leading man in Richard Barthelmess. In 1920, mentor Griffith was done with Bobby and loaned him to Metro Pictures. By all accounts, Harron was deeply hurt.

On September 1, 1920 Harron arrived in New York to support Lillian Gish at the premier of “Way Down East” and to also preview his first Metro picture. While alone in his hotel room he shot himself.   According to all accounts, the gun discharged accidently. Initially he requested a doctor come to the hotel room, but after he had lost too much blood he was taken to Bellevue Hospital. While he was being treated for his wound he was arrested for the possession of a gun without a permit. While rumors began to swirl that Bobby had intentionally shot himself, he and his many friends denied this. He seemed to be on the road to recovery, but on September 5th, four days after the accident, he died at age 27. The name of the New York hotel he had checked into was the Hotel Seymour. The name of his first Metro film (and last film) was “Coincidence”.

so much talent lost

In 1920, Hollywood lost not only Clarine Seymour and Robert Harron, but also actress Olive Thomas and daredevil movie stunt pilot and actor Ormer Locklear. A memorial service was held for all four of these fallen stars on September 26, 1920. The eulogy was delivered by director William Desmond Taylor who would be murdered in 1922.


DorianTB said...

Marsha, it's amazing that so many of these tragic stars get any fame at all! How sad. You did a great job, my friend!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dorian, for stopping by. These players are so long forgotten, but they did have their moment.

Silver Screenings said...

Both Clarine Seymour and Robert Harron are delightful on screen. You're right about Clarine – she would have made an excellent flapper and likely would have given Clara Bow a run for her money.

FlickChick said...

Hey Ruth - thanks for the comment. Clairne was such a cutie - she would have easily been a front runner one the flappers took over.

Caftan Woman said...

It is heartbreaking that these talents died so young.

"Intestinal strangulation" sounds akin to peritonitis, but then I suppose they would have just said so. The mysterious of Clarine's passing must have been hard on her family. Bobby's demise is so sad.


Wow, reading this piece gave me chills... both so sad! I had no idea Bobby, who I saw in Intolerance, had died so young. A great and informative post, my friend. Thanks for teaching me about these fallen stars.

FlickChick said...

CW - I know - so sad. Yes, it's hard to determine why Clarine died. Back then, complications and infections were not treated as well as they are today.

FlickChick said...

Hi Le - thanks so much for your comment. Bobby & Clarine had so much ahead of them - such a shame.

Unknown said...

I am a Clarine Seymour fan as well, but it was Mildred Reardon as the Pretty Girl in "Just Ramblin' Along" if you watch "Another Fine Mess" (Hal Roach) on youtube you will see...I wonder if the deaths of CLarine and later Bobby weren't a little suspicious...

Unknown said...

I just finished watching TRUE HEART SUSIE, and Robert Harron and Clarine Seymour were both excellent in it. So sad they both died so young! Since he had his supposed "accident" at The Seymour Hotel, is it possible he was grieving for Clarine Seymour?

Gdynianin_NJ said...

I just cannot believe that Clarine's cause of death was sudden digestive system problems. At her so young age, only 21? Come on... These are health problems of much older people and retirees. We must realize how "highly advanced" medicine was 100 years ago. Here is another example. Read the story of the great operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, who died a year later in 1921 at the age of only 48. There was no doctor capable to help him. Today, one dose of antibiotics would suffice and Caruso could live twice as long.