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Lee, c. 1930
Augusta Wilhelmena Fredericka Appel
July 25, 1905
Union Hill, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||November 13, 1973 (aged 68)|
Saranac Lake, New York, U.S.
(m. 1923; div. 1931)
Jack R. Peine
(m. 1934; div. 1935)
John E. Murphy
(m. 1944; div. 1949)
|Children||James Kirkwood Jr.|
The daughter of Augusta Fredericka Appel and Carl Appel, Lee was born Augusta Wilhelmena Fredericka Appel on July 25, 1905 in Union Hill, New Jersey (now part of Union City), into a middle-class family of German immigrants who relocated to New York City. She had an older sister, Pauline, who had been born in Hamburg, Germany.
Searching for a hobby for their gregarious young daughter, the Appels enrolled Lila in Gus Edwards' kiddie review shows where she was given the nickname of "Cuddles"; a name that she would be known by for the rest of her acting career. Her stagework became so popular with the public that her parents had her educated with private tutors. Edwards would become Lee's long-term manager.
Lillian Edwards, wife of Gus Edwards, was Lee's guardian. When Lee was 15 years old, she went to court seeking an injunction to prevent Mrs. Edwards "from collecting any money for Lila's services." Mrs. Edwards countered that she had spent 10 years helping to shape Lee's career and had invested money in her.
Lee performed in vaudeville for eight years.
In 1918, she was chosen for a film contract by Hollywood film mogul Jesse Lasky for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which later became Paramount Pictures. Her first feature The Cruise of the Make-Believes garnered the seventeen-year-old starlet much public acclaim and Lasky quickly sent Lee on an arduous publicity campaign. Critics lauded Lila for her wholesome persona and sympathetic character parts. Lee quickly rose to the ranks of leading lady and often starred opposite such matinee heavies as Conrad Nagel, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, and Rudolph Valentino. Lee bore more than a slight resemblance to Ann Little, a former Paramount star and frequent Reid co-star who was leaving the film business and at this stage in her career an even stronger resemblance to Marguerite Clark.
In 1922 Lee was cast as Carmen in the enormously popular film Blood and Sand, opposite matinee idol Rudolph Valentino and silent screen vamp Nita Naldi; Lee subsequently won the first WAMPAS Baby Stars award that year. Lee continued to be a highly popular leading lady throughout the 1920s and made scores of critically praised and widely watched films.
As the Roaring Twenties drew to a close, Lee's popularity began to wane and Lee positioned herself for the transition to talkies. She is one of the few leading ladies of the silent screen whose popularity did not nosedive with the coming of sound. She went back to working with the major studios and appeared, most notably, in The Unholy Three, in 1930, opposite Lon Chaney Sr. in his only talkie. However, a series of bad career choices and bouts of recurring tuberculosis and alcoholism hindered further projects and Lee was relegated to taking parts in mostly grade B-movies.
Lee was married and divorced three times. Her first husband was actor James Kirkwood, Sr., whom she married on July 26, 1923. The marriage ended in August 1931 on grounds of her desertion. Lee and Kirkwood had a son in 1924, James Kirkwood, Jr., whose custody was granted to his father; he became a highly regarded playwright and screenwriter whose works include A Chorus Line and P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Her second husband was broker Jack R. Peine and her third husband was broker John E. Murphy. According to author Sean Egan in the James Kirkwood biography Ponies & Rainbows (2011), Murphy's will left Lee at the financial mercy of his second wife, who consequently became the manipulative character Aunt Claire in P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, written by Lee's son, James Kirkwood, Jr.
In the 1930s she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to Saranac Lake, New York for treatment at the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. Lee made several uneventful appearances in stage plays in the 1940s, and starred in early television soap operas in the 1950s.
In 1973 Lee died of a stroke at Saranac Lake. She is buried at Brookdale Cemetery in Elyria, Ohio.
- The Cruise of the Make-Believes (1918) as Bessie Meggison
- Such a Little Pirate (1918) as Patricia Wolf
- Jane Goes A-Wooing (1919)
- The Secret Garden (1919) as Mary Lennox
- Puppy Love (1919) as Gloria O'Connell
- Rustling a Bride (1919) as Emily
- A Daughter of the Wolf (1919) as Annette Ainsworth
- Rose o' the River (1919, unknown/presumably lost) as Rose Wiley
- The Heart of Youth (1919) as Josephine Darchat
- The Lottery Man (1919, lost film) as Polly
- Hawthorne of the U.S.A. (1919) as Princess Irma
- Male and Female (1919) as Tweeny - the Scullery Maid
- Terror Island (1920, incomplete, two reels missing) as Beverly West
- The Soul of Youth (1920, extant; Library of Congress; on DVD) as Vera Hamilton
- The Prince Chap (1920, unknown/presumably lost) as Claudia (age 18)
- Midsummer Madness (1921) as Daisy Osborne
- The Charm School (1921, lost film) as Elsie
- The Easy Road (1921, lost film) as Ella Klotz
- The Dollar-a-Year Man (1921) as Peggy Bruce
- Gasoline Gus (1921) as Sal Jo Banty
- Crazy to Marry (1921) as Annabelle Landis
- After the Show (1921, unknown/presumably lost) as Eileen
- Rent Free (1922, lost film) as Barbara Teller
- One Glorious Day (1922, lost film) as Molly McIntyre
- Is Matrimony a Failure? (1922, unknown/presumably lost) as Margaret Saxby
- The Fast Freight (1922, lost film) as Elsie
- The Dictator (1922, lost film) as Juanita
- Blood and Sand (1922) as Carmen
- The Ghost Breaker (1922, lost film) as Maria Theresa, a Spanish Heiress
- Ebb Tide (1922, lost film) as Ruth Attwater
- Back Home and Broke (1922) as Mary Thorne
- A Trip to Paramountown (1922, Documentary short) as herself
- The Ne'er-Do-Well (1923, lost film) as Chiquita
- Homeward Bound (1923, lost film) as Mary Brent
- Hollywood (1923, lost film) as Herself (cameo)
- Woman-Proof (1923, lost film) as Louise Halliday
- Love's Whirlpool (1924) as Molly
- Wandering Husbands (1924) as Diana Moreland
- Another Man's Wife (1924) as Helen Brand
- The Midnight Girl (1925) as Anna
- Coming Through (1925, lost film) as Alice Rand
- Old Home Week (1925, lost film) as Ethel Harmon
- Broken Hearts (1926, held by Library of Congress) as Ruth Esterin
- The New Klondike (1926, incomplete, one reel is missing) as Evelyn Lane
- Fascinating Youth (1926, lost, only the trailer survives) as Lila Lee
- One Increasing Purpose (1927) as Elizabeth Glade
- Million Dollar Mystery (1927) as Florence Grey
- Top Sergeant Mulligan (1928) as The girl
- The Man in Hobbles (1928, Library of Congress) as Ann Harris
- You Can't Beat the Law (1928) as Patricia Berry
- A Bit of Heaven (1928) as Fola Dale
- Thundergod (1928, held at Library of Congress) as Enid Bryant
- United States Smith (1928, BFI National Film & Tv) as Molly Malone
- The Adorable Cheat (1928, held at Library of Congress) as Marion Dorsey
- Just Married (1928) as Victoire
- Black Butterflies (1928) as Norma davis
- The Little Wild Girl (1928) as Marie Cleste
- The Black Pearl (1928) as Eugenie Bromley
- Queen of the Night Clubs (1929, lost, only the trailer exists) as Bea Walters
- Honky Tonk (1929) as Beth Leonard
- Drag (1929) as Dot
- Dark Streets (1929, lost film) as Katie Dean
- The Argyle Case (1929) as Mary Morgan
- Flight (1929) as Elinor Baring
- Love, Live and Laugh (1929) as Margharita
- Show of Shows (1929, black and white version exists, technicolor version is lost) as Performer in 'What Became of the Floradora Boys' Number
- The Sacred Flame (1929, lost film) as Stella Taylor
- Second Wife (1930, held at Library of Congress) as Florence Wendell Fairchild
- Murder Will Out (1930, lost film, soundtrack may exist) as Jeanne Baldwin
- Those Who Dance (1930, held at Library of Congress) as Nora Brady
- Double Cross Roads (1930) as Mary Carlyle
- The Unholy Three (1930) as Rosie
- The Gorilla (1930, lost, soundtrack may exist) as Alice Denby
- Woman Hungry (1931) as Judith Temple
- Misbehaving Ladies (1931, held at Library of Congress) as Princess Ellen
- Unholy Love (1932) as Jane Bradford
- Radio Patrol (1932) as Sue Kennedy
- War Correspondent (1932) as Julie March
- Exposure (1932) as Doris Corbin
- The Night of June 13 (1932) as Trudie Morrow
- False Faces (1932) as Georgia Rand
- Officer Thirteen (1932) as Doris Dane
- Face in the Sky (1933) as Sharon Hadley
- The Iron Master (1933) as Janet Stillman
- The Intruder (1932) as Connie Wayne
- Lone Cowboy (1933) as Eleanor Jones
- Whirlpool (1934) as Helen Rankin Morrison
- Stand Up and Cheer! (1934) as Zelda (uncredited)
- In Love with Life (1934) as Sharon
- I Can't Escape (1934) as Mae Nichols
- The Marriage Bargain (1935) as Helen Stanhope
- The People's Enemy (1935) as Catherine Carr
- Champagne for Breakfast (1935) as Natalie Morton
- The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) as Miss Prentiss, Bradford's Receptionist
- Country Gentlemen (1936) as Mrs. Louise Heath
- Two Wise Maids (1937) as Ethel Harriman
- Nation Aflame (1937) as Mona Franklin Burtis
- Oh Boy! (1938)
- Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers (1967) as Viola Zickafoose (final film role)
- "Lila Lee, 68, Dies; Silent Film Star". November 14, 1973. Retrieved February 11, 2020 – via NYTimes.com.
- "The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars". Chicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. August 24, 1924. p. Part 8 - Page 6. Retrieved March 14, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Augusta Wilhelmina Fredericka Appel". geni_family_tree. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
- "Pauline Appel". geni_family_tree. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
- Egan, Sean (December 11, 2011). "Ponies & Rainbows: The Life of James Kirkwood". BearManor Media. Retrieved February 11, 2020 – via Google Books.
- "Lila Lee of Films Asks Writ to Rid Self of Guardian". Chicago Tribune. Illinois, Chicago. April 10, 1920. p. 12. Retrieved March 15, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Lila Lee". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on March 15, 2018. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lila Lee.|
- Lila Lee on IMDb
- Photoplay: The Aristocrat of Motion Picture Magazines
- Photoplay: The Aristocrat of Motion Picture Magazines
- Lee at Golden Silents
- Virtual Film History
- Lila Lee[permanent dead link] at Find A Grave
- Houdini's leading ladies: Lila Lee at Wild About Harry
- Kirkwood and Lee with their baby 1924