Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Though complete prints of Vitagraph's My Official Wife have long been unavailable, the film has taken on near-legendary status since its 1916 release -- and all because of a misconception. Written by Richard Savage, this 5-reel romantic melodrama is set in Czarist Russia. Anxious to escape the authorities, revolutionary leader Helen Marie (Clara Kimball Young) persuades young aristocrat Sasha (Earle Williams) to smuggle her out of the country in his family's yacht. The vessel is blown out of the seas by the Russian secret police, but Helen Marie survives the ordeal, attaching herself to American tourist Arthur Bainbridge Lennox (Harry T. Morey). Thanks to a series of potentially embarrassing circumstances, Lennox is forced to pass off Helen Marie as his wife -- while his real wife Laura (Rose Tapley) is back in the U.S., awaiting his return. For years, it was assumed that among the bit players in My Official Wife was real-life Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, a "fact" seemingly confirmed by the presence of a bearded Trotsky look-alike in an excerpt from the film which appeared in a 1925 British documentary. While research has not revealed the actual identity of the hirsute extra, it is now the general consensus among movie archivists that it was not Leon Trotsky. Even so, the legend of Trotsky's "movie career" persists to the present day, still reported as an irrefutable fact in various newspaper articles and film history books.