A major screen presence during the early silent era, stage star Helen Gardner was one of the first, if not the first, film personality to establish her own production company. An early convert to the possibility of motion pictures, Gardner was appearing for the Vitagraph company already by 1911 -- starring in one-reel versions of Vanity Fair (1911) and in three parts A Tale of Two Cities (1911) -- before forming the Gardner Picture Players, whose main release, the still extant Cleopatra (1913), not only featured the founder in the all-important title role but also credited her as producer, costume designer and film editor. (Gardner's husband, Charles L. Gaskill, directed.) Today, Gardner comes across as exactly what modern audiences often mistakenly associate with silent screen performing: wildly gesticulating and in-effect posing for pictures (as screen acting was often referred to at the time) rather than emoting. But in her day Gardner received fine reviews, not only for Cleopatra, but also for such star vehicles as A Princess of Bagdad (1913), Miss Jekyll and Madame Hyde (1914), and Fleur-de-Lys (1914). Often playing less-than-innocent women, she is often mentioned as the screen's first femme fatale but was in reality preceded by several other "vamps," including Lolita Robertson. Like most of her contemporaries, Gardner's starring career proved rather short-lived, ending in 1920. She returned for a small supporting role as Arthur Edmund Carewe's wife in Sandra (1924), then left permanently.
by Hans J. Wollstein biography