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Flo made movie after movie at her new home with Vitagraph, including The Athletic Girls of America, which put her tomboy past to use, and The Viking's Daughter. She had another stroke of luck when she met Harry Solter, a fellow struggling actor. He was given a break when, much like Flo, he was cast at Vitagraph due to the fact that he matched the physical description of a needed character. Actually, he matched the the build of his director, who wanted to perform the stunt driving in his next film and needed a lead with a similar body type to perform the non-action oriented portion! Solter, coincidentally, had become friends with one David Wark Griffith in San Francisco. He tried to get his pal DW a job at Vita, but David wound up working at Edison.
Harry and Flo, however, got on swimmingly, and Harry fell hard for the golden haired beauty, but he had more than his share of competition! Flo seemed to favor Harry's advances, and in time he grew closer to her than her other suitors. He came to see how hard a worker Flo was, how much she sought her mother's approval as well as her own high standards. She was at times dangerously self-critical. But he admired her perseverance and courage, as well as her abundant acting talent. When Harry and DW made the move to Biograph Studios together, Harry decided to take his girl with him. When sent to find a new lead actress for the studio, Harry, now an assistant director, was supposed to get Florence Turner. He brought back Florence Lawrence instead. Luckily, she had the acting chops to make his bold move worthwhile. Flo would now be earning $25/wk at the new studio, and she was no longer required to make her own wardrobe or paint back-drops! Finally, she was paid to act and act alone!
The First Star in the Constellation
Movies were becoming big business! By 1909 there were 9000 theaters operating nationwide. Because Flo was a legitimate actress, she became a real asset to Biograph. In fact, other film producers saw her talent and came calling, trying to lure her away to their studios. For now, she was content to rotate with Linda Arvidson and Marion Leonard for the lead female roles at Bio, and the rest of the time contributed in supporting or background work. Her first big leads with the new company were Betrayed by a Handprint and Behind the Scenes. Flo was in bliss, though as a hot-headed business woman she more than once got miffed with DW went to her boyfriend Harry to negotiate her career and not her! She was definitely a pre-feminist.
On Aug. 30, 1908, Harry went from being her boyfriend to being her husband when the two eloped to Elizabeth, NJ. They kept their union a secret, as many actors in the early studios did. Even DW kept his relationship with Linda Arvidson a secret when she became his wife. Harry was not the only one smitten with sweet Flo. By this time, the first fan mail had begun to arrive at Biograph. Normally, the letters were from lovesick boys or solicitous married men, but a good deal came from women too, who indentified with Florence's honest portrayals. Despite her histrionic and exaggerated acting style, audiences still saw something they could relate too. The humility she gave her characters was felt and more than appreciated. DW loved working with her, because she could keep up with his specific directing methods. These were strange days, when actors would arrive to work with no idea who they would be that day! Scenarios were often written on the spot and the possibilities were endless, so you had to be on your toes-- especially with DW, who of course did all of his own writing.
An important step in the acceptance of film, not just as entertainment, but as art, came when the magazine "Motion Picture World" began publishing film reviews. At the start, the reviews were clumsy, basically recapping the action, but later the writers really began to look at interpretation, performance, technicality, and style. A difficult part about writing these reviews, however, was that none of the actors' names were released. Performers were referred to by their characters' names only. The studios' reasoning for this was a) they didn't want their actors to get too much power, resulting in the inmates running the asylum, and b) studios hadn't actually realized how beneficial it would be to profits to market their performers. So, Flo remained nameless in her reviews, which were always stellar.
1909 was an important year for Flo, in that it marked the beginning of what would be her most popular film series- The "Jonesy" Comedies. They were slapstick vehicles in which she played Mrs. Jones opposite John Cumpson, Mr. Jones. A favorite costar of hers whom she would also collaborate with often was Arthur V. Johnson, an early silent heartthrob (and alcoholic). They were fast friends and allies with very similar humors. On May 9th of this year, Florence performed in The Resurrection, her most praised and remembered film to date. She played Katusha to superb effect in this Tolstoy adaptation, with Arthur played opposite as Dmitri. Her performance is said to have been remarkable; the world was falling under her spell. The film was also an accomplishment technically speaking, for people couldn't believe that such an epic novel could so succinctly be translated into a mere 15 minutes of film! By the time Flo appeared in Lady Helen's Escapade, she had been given her first of many nicknames: The Biograph Girl.
Ironically, it was at about this time that Flo would meet the little golden girl who would later take this title from her: Gladys Smith aka Mary Pickford. Not knowing that the pretty little thing was a threat, Flo liked her right away. In fact, she, Mary, and Gertrude Robinson would often joke about who was the shortest between the three of them, for all were incredibly petite. Lilian Gish also began to appear on the scene, and she and Mary would be two of the women most responsible for elevating film acting to a whole knew level- one of subtlety and understatement. Their performances would in time render Florence's "balls-out" style obsolete, but for now the Queen was safe.
Despite her current success, Flo was beginning to get a case of the "antsies." She had been at the status quo for too long-- she had divided and conquered, and now she was ready for new territory! She and Harry decided to break out on their own and freelance. (Sound the death knell). Such a move went against the newly established "Trust" that had pooled all of the studio patents and awarded licenses to all within the said group. It was essentially a way to maintain order and control by the bigger guy over the little guy in the business.Only those with a license could buy film, and thus make films. By defying the hierarchical system, Flo and Harry were taking a real risk, one that left them black-listed and unemployed. Flo didn't care. She knew the power she had with audiences, and she trusted that it would get her somewhere.
In the meantime, while Flo was idle, audiences demanded to know where their favorite actress had disappeared to?! Letter upon letter arrived to Biograph, asking why no sign of her was to be seen in any of the new films being produced. People bought tickets to movies at this time not really knowing who would be in it, or even what the story would be about-- there weren't trailers yet, remember-- so when they were disappointed again and again by their favorite Biograph Girl's absence, they grew miffed. Flo was doing her very best to get back into the limelight. She tried to get work at Essanay, but they wouldn't hire her for fear of upsetting the Trust. It was the equally bull-headed and independent producer Carl Laemmle who would take her on. His company, The Independent Motion Picture Company of America (IMP) scooped her right up and made her the "IMP Girl." In the Summer of 1909, Flo joined their already superb roster: William V. Ranous, George Loane Tucker, John Brownwell, J. Farreli MacDonald, Owen Moore (soon to be Mr. Pickford), John Cumpson, Thomas Ince, and the real coup- King Baggott.
Because the studio was independent, conditions weren't as spiffy at IMP as they had been at Bio. Laemmle was often going into near bankruptcy to keep his small studio afloat, and he was also in constant legal battles with the trust. The studio was operated very shoddily with little in terms of money, tech, costume, or props. Still, they pressed on. Flo's first IMP film was Love's Strangers, and she worked steadily making a one-reel film, and later two one-reel films, per week. Laemmle was also the one responsible for starting the first publicity campaigns to get Florence's name into the public. He recognized the benefit of having a recognizable actress to advertise his films, draw in audiences, and thus draw in money to his theaters. Previous to this, theater owners hadn't considered the ability of a performer to sell a film, but Laemmle was a real business man, and his smarts would change the biz forever.