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Martha Mansfield (July 14, 1899 – November 30, 1923) was an American actress in silent films and vaudeville stage plays.
She was born Martha Ehrlich in New York City to Maurice and Harriett Gibson Ehrlich. She had a younger sister, Edith, born in 1905. Although many biographies state that Martha was born in Mansfield, Ohio, her birth record and death certificate both have New York City as her place of birth. Her mother, Harriet, was from Mansfield, Ohio, having emigrated there from Ireland in 1885. Martha later adopted the name of the town as her stage name.
At the age of 14, she became determined to become an actress. She lobbied for, and won, a role in the Broadway production of Little Women in 1912. She also began working as an artists' model and dancer. She danced in the musicals Hop o'My Thumb in 1913.
Using the name "Martha Early", she was signed to a six-month contract with Essanay Studios in 1917 where she appeared in three films with French actor Max Linder. In 1918, she appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies. Later that same year, she made her feature film debut in Broadway Bill, opposite Harold Lockwood. In early 1919, Mansfield announced that she had decided to pursue a film career full-time. Before she relocated to the west coast, Mansfield played leads in films produced by Famous Players-Lasky. In October 1919, she appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's The Midnight Frolic.
Her first Hollywood movie was Civilian Clothes (1920) directed by Hugh Ford. She gained prominence as Millicent Carew (originally offered to Tallulah Bankhead) in the film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which starred John Barrymore. She then signed with Selznick Pictures where she was cast with Eugene O'Brien in The Perfect Lover (1919). In 1921, Mansfield returned to the stage in a vaudeville tour. She appeared in two independent films the following year: Queen of the Moulin Rouge and Till We Meet Again. She spent the remainder of the year touring the vaudeville circuit.
In 1923, Mansfield completed her contract for Selznick and signed with Fox Film Corporation. Her first film for Fox was The Silent Command, starring Edmund Lowe and Béla Lugosi. The final completed features in her short film career were Potash and Permutter and The Leavenworth Case, both from 1923.
On November 29, 1923, while working on location in San Antonio, Texas on the film The Warrens of Virginia, Mansfield was severely burned when a tossed match ignited her Civil War costume of hoopskirts and flimsy ruffles. Mansfield was playing the role of Agatha Warren and had just finished her scenes and retired to a car when her clothing burst into flames. Her neck and face were saved when leading man Wilfred Lytell threw his heavy overcoat over her. The chauffeur of Mansfield's car was burned badly on his hands while trying to remove the burning clothing from the actress. The fire was put out, but she sustained substantial burns to her body.
She was rushed to a hospital where she died less than twenty-four hours later of "burns of all extremities, general toxemia and suppression of urine". Mansfield was 24 years old. Accompanied by actor Phillip Shorey, Mansfield's body was transported back to her home in New York City. She was interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.
It was never determined who threw the match that ignited Mansfield's clothing. Some witnesses said they saw a match enter through the car window of the car Mansfield was sitting in. Another theory was that a nervous Mansfield decided to smoke a cigarette in the car to calm her nerves and accidentally ignited the dress with a dropped match or a cigarette. Mansfield's mother, Harriett Ehrlich, dismissed this theory as she said smoking made her daughter "uncomfortable".
When the Warrens of Virginia was finally released in late 1924, Mansfield's role had been edited down, and Rosemary Hill was promoted as the female lead.
Mansfield left an estate valued at $2,473. She bequeathed $22,000 in Liberty bonds to her mother. She also left her mother two life insurance polices worth $25,000 each.
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Martha Mansfield, a city woman, makes a stop in a country town in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield is very impressed as Norman Kerry single-handedly tames
a group of unruly workers in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield reads about Norman Kerry's success in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield has a drink with Norman Kerry in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield will not give up on Norman Kerry without a fight in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield seems heartbroken when she is rejected by Norman Kerry in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield makes one last desperate and doomed attempt to win Norman Kerry in "Is Money Everything?" (1923).
Martha Mansfield pets her horse in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).
Martha Mansfield meets Eugene O'Brien in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).
Martha Mansfield expects things to happen, but Eugene O'Brien hesitates in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).
Martha Mansfield is ready for a kiss as Eugene O'Brien looks on in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).
Martha Mansfield worries about a strange change in her beau in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).
Martha Mansfield reacts as Warren Cook confronts Eugene O'Brien in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).
Martha Mansfield is excited to see John Barrymore in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield plays the piano in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield is worried about John Barrymore in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield is consoled by Brandon Hurst in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield wants to see her beau in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield is going to her beau's home in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield is assaulted by the evil half of John Barrymore in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), director John S. Robertson.
Martha Mansfield is alone at the party in "Max in a Taxi" (1917).
Martha Mansfield meets Max Linder in "Max in a Taxi" (1917).
Martha Mansfield stumbles upon Max Linder again in "Max in a Taxi" (1917).
Martha Mansfield writes a note to Max Linder in "Max Wants a Divorce" (1917), made by Essanay Studios.
Martha Mansfield gets a note from Max Linder promising a string of pearls in "Max Wants a Divorce" (1917), made by Essanay Studios.
Martha Mansfield talks to the the private eye in "Max Wants a Divorce" (1917), made by Essanay Studios.
- 1921 His Brother's Keeper
- 1921 Gilded Lies
- 1921 The Last Door
- 1921 A Man of Stone
- 1922 Queen of the Moulin Rouge
- 1922 Till We Meet Again
- 1923 Is Money Everything? - Hidden Gem
- 1923 The Woman in Chains
- 1923 Youthful Cheaters
- 1923 Little Red School House
- 1923 Fog Bound
- 1923 The Silent Command
- 1923 Potash and Perlmutter
- 1923 The Leavenworth Case
- 1924 The Warrens of Virginia
Martha Mansfield and and Eugene O'Brien in "His Wonderful Chance" (1920).