Martha Mansfield

Active - 1917 - 1923  |   Born - in Mansfield, OH  |   Died - Nov 30, 1923 in San Antonio, TX  |   Genres - Drama

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Joining a sad sisterhood of former Ziegfeld Follies girls who died violently (Olive Thomas apparently poisoned herself, Allyn King jumped to her death, Bessie Poole died in a barroom brawl), beautiful Martha Mansfield suffered a horrible death in a freak accident on the Texas location of The Warrens of Virginia (1924). From Ohio (born Martha Ehrlich), Mansfield was playing small roles on Broadway when she signed to co-star with French comedian Max Linder in Max Comes Across, Max Wants a Divorce, and Max and His Taxi. She billed herself Martha Early and enjoyed a fine rapport with the eccentric French star. But Linder did not click with American audiences and Mansfield returned to the Great White Way. She was glorified by Ziegfeld in the 1918-1919 Follies and in late 1919, John Barrymore chose her to play his fiancée in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (released 1920). It was a breakthrough of sorts -- publicly, she was very excited about kissing Barrymore onscreen -- and led to a contract with Selznick. True stardom, however, proved elusive and Mansfield mainly played supporting roles until signing a long-term contract with Fox in 1923. After a small part opposite Edmund Lowe and Bela Lugosi in The Silent Command (1923), she was cast as Agatha Warren in the second screen version of William C. de Mille's Broadway hit The Warrens of Virginia. A Civil war romance, the melodrama was being filmed on location near San Antonio, TX, when tragedy struck on November 29, 1923. Mansfield was resting in a car on the set when a careless crew member tossed a match in her direction. Her voluminous period costume caught on fire and despite the attempts by co-star Wilfred Lytell to quell the flames, she sustained terrible burns and died the following morning. When Warrens of Virginia was released in October 1924, the studio had edited Mansfield's role down to a bare minimum and instead promoted supporting actress Rosemary Hill).