Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lucille La Verne

Lucille La Verne, a renown stage actress for decades, spent her limited Hollywood career as a character actress. In Hollywood, she played mostly old hags and villains, but on the stage she was known for a remarkable range and the ability to play almost any role. A trooper on the boards since the late 1800s, she played Juliet at 14 years old, and at the same age, also played Lady Macbeth.

She eventually played Broadway, and in 1928, Broadway’s Princess Theater was renamed the Lucille La Verne Theater briefly when she played there in “Sun-Up.” (That theater, located at 104 West 39th Street, had several name changes and was eventually demolished in 1955.) Uncommonly, she also wrote for the stage, and directed, and was named manager of the Empire Theater of Richmond, Virginia, running her own stock company.

We best know Miss La Verne from her portrayal of the hag Mother Frochard in D. W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm” with her exaggerated bullying of Dorothy Gish. She is hefty, commanding, carries a bit of a mustache on her upper lip and an ugly mole to make her even more disgusting to us if the bullying alone isn’t enough.

She made the transition to sound, but at the end of her life and her career, she is probably most famous for her voice work in Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1938) where La Verne speaks the part of the Wicked Queen and Hag.

What kind of a career, what kind of life must it have been to star as Juliet at 14 years old, manage a theatrical company producing the classics, and end as ugly Mother Frochard (when La Verne was only around 49 years old), and voicing the Wicked Queen that scared us as children? There is a good deal going on in between that we don’t know, but would make an interesting story. She was known as an extremely versatile actress, and evidently a most versatile human being as well.

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