Lois Wilson

Active - 1915 - 1950  |   Born - Jun 28, 1894   |   Died - Mar 3, 1988   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Action

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Biography by AllMovie

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Alabama, actress Lois Wilson was one of four sisters, all of whom would subsequently have silent film careers--but only Lois would rise to stardom. Intending to become a schoolteacher, Wilson was lost to academia forever when she won an Alabama beauty contest sponsored by Universal Pictures. Her first film for the studio was Dumb Girl of Portici (1916), filmed in Chicago, where she showed up uncredited in several minor roles (along with another newcomer named Boris Karloff). Blessed with a serene beauty and expressive eyes, Lois had little trouble achieving leading-lady status in a group of J. Warren Kerrigan westerns. She moved to Famous Players (aka Paramount) in 1919, attaining full stardom for her subtly shaded performance as an outwardly meek but inwardly determined Scotswoman in What Every Woman Knows (1921). After being reunited with J. Warren Kerrigan in the western classic The Covered Wagon (1923), Wilson followed up this film with several other outdoor epics; it was while on location for these films that she developed her lifelong concern with fair treatment of Native Americans, contributing thousands of dollars to Indian mission schools. While filming North of 36 (1924), Wilson, an amateur photographer, filmed invaluable footage of the last major cattle drive in the US--which looks better than anything the "professionals" filmed while recording the same event. In 1926, she reached an artistic peak with her performance as Daisy Buchanan in the first version of The Great Gatsby. Throughout the silent era, she would balk whenever given a passive role that did little justice to her talents, and as a result spent nine months on suspension from Paramount in 1927, which did considerable damage to her career. This coincided with the advent of talkies; though her voice recorded beautifully, the suspension lost her too much ground for her to thrive as a star in sound pictures. Oddly, it was one of her secondary talkie roles for which Wilson is most fondly recalled today: As Shirley Temple's mother in Bright Eyes (1934), she is killed off halfway through the picture, but her sudden demise affects the outcome of the film to such an extent that one can't help remembering her. In 1937, Wilson left Hollywood for a long and fruitful stage career, returning only periodically thereafter. Her last screen appearance was as Virginia Mayo's mother in 1949's The Girl from Jones Beach, but she remained active on stage (I Never Sang for My Father, Madwoman of Chaillot) and television (The Aldrich Family, The Guiding Light) into the '70s. In 1958, Lois Wilson was made a vice president of Actors Equity, using the clout of her position on behalf of the union's Ethnic Minorities Committee.

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