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1930s & Earlier / Biograph Girl Florence Lawrence
Canadian born Florence Lawrence was America's first big movie star--but no one knew her name. During the first decade of the twentieth century, movie companies did not publicize their actors' names in order to keep their salaries down. Florence Lawrence made dozens of films for D.W. Griffith's Biograph Company and became the studio's most noteworthy star. Nevertheless she remained anonymous. Known to her fans only as 'the Biograph girl,' she was earning just $25 per week. When she left Biograph in 1910 to join the newly formed IMP company, her new studio started a false rumor that she had been killed in a streetcar accident in St. Louis. It then announced that 'the Biograph girl' was Florence Lawrence. She was alive and well and about to star in a new film for IMP. This was likely the first Hollywood publicity stunt. Lawrence appeared in more than 300 films, but her popularity waned almost as quickly as it had grown. By the 1920s she had only uncredited bit roles and was earning $75 per week. The Great Depression ruined her finanacially and she endured three unhappy marriages. In December 1938, a week before 53rd birthday, Lawrence committed suicide by ingesting ant paste.