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"Vanity Fair" (1915)

"Vanity Fair" is a historical drama, based on the classic English novel written by William Thackeray, featuring Shirley Mason, a star of Silent Hall of Fame.  

Shirley Mason was 15 y.o. and played the role of the young Becky Sharp.  Directors obviously took notice of her performance, because in 1917 she appeared in 17 feature films, in many of them playing the star role.

 

Viewers are advised to read the plot that follows before proceeding with the film.

Becky (Shirley Mason) studies at Miss Pinkerton's school for young ladies. She lives with her father, who is deeply in debt and likes to drink.  After one late night at the tavern he is brought home in a bad shape in need of a doctor.  Becky's only thought is "If he dies what will happen to me?"  So she guides his father's trembling hand to write a note to Miss Pinkerton, asking her to take care of his daughter after his death.  This note and the piety of the woman helps Becky install herself in Miss Pinkerton's home.

Twelve years later Becky (Mrs. Fiske) graduates and leaves school to live with her friend Amelia.  Becky is an opportunistic, manipulative and strong-willed woman determined to rise in society.  She tries to make Amelia's brother propose and marry her, but fails.  Later Becky is hired to take care of a certain nobleman's daughters. Soon he proposes to her only to learn in astonishment that she already married in secret his son, who is then deprived of inheritance.  Becky tells her husband sarcastically  "I could have been a nobleman's wife instead of having a penniless husband'.

In the meantime Amelia can't wait to get married to her beau George, to whom she has been engaged for many years.  The fathers of Amelia and George are long-term friends, but the friendship dies when Amelia's father loses his fortune.  George's father forbids his son to marry 'a pauper's daughter'. Amelia and George are married anyway and yes, George is then deprived of inheritance.

All these events occur under the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars.  George is killed in battle and later his son is born.  The widowed Amelia rejects for many years the affectionate advances of George's best friend William, cherishing the memory of her late husband.  At some point however, Becky tells Amelia that her husband declared his love to her.  Now Amelia must decide whether to respond to William's love.

Becky is not surprisingly a poor wife and mother, but she doesn't let her failures stand in the way of her drive up the social ladder.  In her path she uses, mistreats and leaves in the dust every man that she gets involved with.

Directed by                     Eugene Nowland
Produced by                   Thomas A. Edison, Incorporated
Scenario by                    Charles Sumner Williams and Eugene Nowland
Based on                         the novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Starring          Mrs. Fiske, Leonie Flugrath (Shirley Mason), Helen Fulton, Richard Tucker, Frank McGlynn Sr. and many others
Cinematography            Otto Brautigan
Distributed by                Kleine-Edison Feature Services
Release date                    October 6, 1915
Running time                  72 minutes
Country                           United States
Language                        Silent film, English intertitles

You can see a slideshow of stills from this film and other interesting stuff on our website silent-hall-of-fame.org.

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