Stars of the Silver Screen

Profile of Mildred Harris

Black and white photo of Mildred Harris

Early Life and Career

Born on November 29, 1901,Mildred Harris was an American actress who started her career in the show business at the age of eleven years old. She was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Anna Parsons Foote and Harry Harris, a telegraph operator. At an early age, Harris had appeared in the 1912 short film, The Post Telegrapher, directed by Francis Ford and Thomas H. Ince. As well as that, she also portrayed several juvenile roles alongside Paul Willis. Afterward, in 1914, Harris was then hired by an independent film studio, The Oz Manufacturing Company, to play the role of Fluff in the film The Magic Cloak of Oz. She also appeared as Button-Bright in a 1914 American silent film, His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. In 1916, when Harris was fifteen years old, she also appeared as a harem girl in D.W. Griffith’s silent film, Intolerance.

Mildred Harris in the film, Fool’s Paradise, 1921

Subsequently, in the year 1920s, Harris transitioned from being a child actress to a leading lady. She appeared in films alongside leading men including, Lionel Barrymore, Rod La Roque, Conrad Nagel, Charley Chase, Milton Sills, Owen Moore, and Tom Moore. In 1928s Frank Capra’s silent film, The Power of the Press, Harris was starred with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Jobyna Ralston. In the same year, Harris was also cast in Melody of Love with the Canadian-American actor Walter Pidgeon.

At the beginning of the sound film, Harris found the transition difficult. With this, her career had slowed dramatically. Nevertheless, she still performed in vaudeville and burlesque. Also, she had toured with the American comedic entertainer, Phil Silvers. In the 1930s, Harris had been applauded for her performance in the Broadway adaptation of the comedy film, No, No, Nanette. As well as that, Harris also appeared in the comedy Movie Maniacs with the Three Stooges in 1939. In there, she played the role of a demanding and temperamental film starlet who was startled by Curly Howard.

In the 1940s, Harris continued to work in films under her former director, Cecil DeMille. Some of the films she was cast were on Reap the Wild Wind, which starred Paulette Goddard, who was also one of the spouses of Charlie Chaplin. Harris also starred in The Story of Dr. Wassell, an American World War II film in 1944. A year after that, her last film, Having A Wonderful Crime, was released.

Personal Life and Death

In 1918s, when Harris was sixteen years old, she met the actor, Charlie Chaplin. There was a controversy that Harris was pregnant with Chaplin’s child, but it turned out to be a false alarm. However, months after Chaplin and Harris married privately on October 1918 in Los Angeles, Harris gave birth to a child named Norman Spencer. After the two quarreled about her career and contract with Louis Mayer, Chaplin had said that she was not equal to him in terms of intellect. In 1919, their child died at the age of three, and the couple separated in the same year.

Chaplin then moved to Los Angeles Athletic Club, and Harris filed a divorce based on mental cruelty in the following year. During the divorce process, Chaplin accused her of infidelity with the actress Alla Nazimova. The accusation brought forth a scandal since lesbian relationships were not widely accepted during that time. As well as that, the scandal also gave more attention to their divorce, which was granted in November 1920. When the two divorced, Harris received about $100,000 for the settlement as well as some properties.

Four years after their divorce, Harris then married Everett Terrence McGovern. However, the couple’s union lasted only for five years. Harris filed a divorce on November 26, 1929, on the grounds of desertion. Despite that, Harris and McGovern had a son named Everett Terrence McGovern Jr. Later in 1934, Harris married the former football player, William Fleckenstein, in North Carolina.

The two remained married until Harris’ death on July 20, 1944. She died of pneumonia following a major abdominal operation. Her body was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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