The Lens: Factory girl | St. Louis Public Radio

The Lens: Factory girl

Jun 10, 2008

That doesn’t mean that audiences weren’t noticing or finding favorites among the dozens of players they watched week after week. So Florence Lawrence, leading actress in many films produced by the Biograph studio, became identified by the public as “the Biograph girl.” Shortly after Ms. Lawrence left Biograph and signed with Carl Laemmle’s IMP Company, her new employer began cautiously exploring the possibility of identifying their players. After all, it didn’t make sense for her to be called the Biograph girl anymore.

In March 1912, IMP ran newspaper advertisements that read “We Nail a Lie”  and identified their actress by name. The lie in question was a report published in St. Louis papers that Lawrence had been killed in a streetcar accident. (The ad implied that a vengeful Biograph had planted the stories, though some claim the rumors were actually started by IMP itself.)

Shortly thereafter, while traveling across the country, Ms. Lawrence made a public appearance before a large crowd at Union Station in St. Louis to prove that she was very much alive. It was the first known public event in which it became obvious that a new and growing industry had developed its own celebrities. It was, in a sense, if not the birth then at least the baptism of the idea of the movie star.

There was another St. Louis connection on that day. Sharing the stage with Ms. Lawrence was King Baggot, a St. Louis-born actor and director who was IMP’s most popular male lead. If Lawrence was the first publicly known movie star, Baggot almost simultaneously became the second.

Another strange detail from this largely forgotten life: Lawrence was an enthusiastic automobile lover and invented the first turn signal.