Tag Archives: Nance O’Neil



Nance O’Neil (October 8, 1874 – February 7, 1965) was an American actress of stage and cinema of the early 20th century.



She transitioned successfully from the theatre to silent movies and on to sound movies into the early 1930’s.

Nance O’Neil was associated with Lizzie Borden from 1904-1905, and it is often asserted or speculated they were lovers although no credible evidence of any sort has ever surfaced to validate that claim.

She was featured in many films from 1913 to 1932    The two most referenced and easily available on VHS are Cimmaron  and The Royal Bed  both in made in1931.

The years 1930 and 1931 were very productive film years for Miss O’Neil.  She worked with some very well known, even legendary, actors, such as Barbara Stanwyck, Basil Rathbone, Anita Louise, Zasu Pitts and Edgar Kennedy.  She also acted with a young Lawrence Olivier in Westward Passage, one of her last films made in 1932.

It was quite unusual for a Broadway tragedienne of the early 1900’s to have such a long career in transitioning to movies.  O’Neil must have had a terrific agent or good connections.  Or perhaps, because she had been such a big star on the stage, producers thought her name would be an added draw to audiences.

I am offering here three films of Nance O’Neil from the 1930’s on DVD:


The Secret Service (1931) with Richard Dix I just loved this movie.  It holds up after 80 years!  Think of Richard Dix as Agent 007.  Nance plays his mother in this exciting film full of dramatic tension and surprises!  Easy to see why Dix was such a popular actor aside from his Westerns.

Image1I must say she looks like a man wearing a wig in this film, particularly in this scene.

Ladies or Leisure (1930) directed by Frank Capra is a wonderfully engrossing drama starring Barbara Stanwyck.  Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves, Submarine) is the wealthy son of stuffy but permissive parents who allow Jerry to follow his ambition to be a painter. DSCN1672When he hires party girl Kay Arnold (Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity) to be a model for one of his paintings, the two fall in love despite their obvious differences. But eventually, class distinctions push Kay away back toward her old life, one just shy of prostitution. Directed by Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), LADIES OF LEISURE was also one of Stanwyck’s first roles and the one that made her a star. Newly remastered.


Nance O’Neil plays the mother of Jerry Strong and has some terrific scenes with super closeups. In one she trys to convince “Kay” to let go of her love for the betterment of his life.  It is quite touching and highly dramatic.  One can easily see O’Neil’s acting chops in this film.


Both Stanwyck and O’Neil have been perceived as lesbians.  It’s true Stanwyck had an abortion at 15, married two times.  Her second husband, actor Robert Taylor, was also rumored to be Gay.  That marriage was arranged by Louis B. Mayor of MGM when both were stars there.

In what seemed like an inappropriate  “thank you dear for seeing my point” kiss, Nance plants one smack on Barbara’s lips.  It almost looked like it to Babs unexpectedDSCN1685ly, and she gently seems to push O’Neil back.

As a loves story, this movie holds up, not corny at all.



Floradora Girl has a similar theme as Ladies of Leisure only this time the girl wants to get rich.  Here again, O’Neil plays the wise woman to set the girl on the moral high ground. This movie stars Marion Davies and was produced through her film company established by William Randolph Hearst to showcase her stardom.  Perhaps O’Neil met the august Hearst during this time.

DSCN1674  DSCN1675

Yep, the 1890’s and early 1900’s were the American Theater’s heyday, and the 1930’s were Hollywood’s Golden Years.  And Nance O’Neil rode the crest of the former and was still afloat for the latter.




Leave a comment

Posted by on February 24, 2014 in TV, Theatre & Film, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , ,



If you’re looking for this I have it on DVD – $25.00 plus $3.50 shipping.

Some other items for sale:

ttbThe above CD is a researchers dream, just read the label to see what all it includes!  $25.00 plus $3..50 shipping.

BK-Study in Conjecture2The much coveted Lizzie Borden – A Study in Conjecture – WITH hard to find dust jacket.  $125.00.  Usually sells for several hundred.

playsThree Lizzie Borden plays = $20 plus $5.00 shipping.

Look me up on eBay – user name: promedimi888. or just enter Lizzie Borden at the eBay search line.


Leave a comment

Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Collectibles


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Some Glimpses of Lizzie’s View of The 1900’s

(Recycled from July 21, 2008)

Lizzie Borden was fond of shopping and the theater in New York City. If she was on Twenty-Third Street in August of 1901, the video below is typical of what she would have seen. With the advent of Edison’s “moving pictures” films such as these were taken at many thoroughfares in popular cities throughout the U.S. and Europe. Queen Victoria had died in January of 1901 and only two weeks after this film, President William McKinley would be shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

Marc Dimon of the Fall River Herald News wrote a cute piece today regarding downtown Fall River. I liked his idea of “preserving” it as it is now. LOL! But it did bring me to mind of what Fall River was like “in Lizzie’s day” as illustrated by these postcards.

Working girls in the mill.

A family takes time out for some fun in their store.

A fancy hearse.

1918 Mary Whittum, 106 Hunter St. Fall River, Mass.” Shelves at left are cans of corn, salmon, Van Camps Evaporated Milk, boxes of Ideal Not-A-Seed Raisins, Zinc covered jars of Heideman Pickles and containers of Euclid Brand Sardines. Signs in the upper right are hanging boxes labeled ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘Nabisco Crackers’ with another sign saying in part- ‘Serve with ice cream.’

1914 Burritt & Chamberlin Drugs Store- 623 Locust St.

1914 – Peckham Dairy 104 Barrett Street at the corner of Peckham Street. Milk bottles can be seen in numbered compartments on the left. There appears to be metal pans, pails and dippers on the right. On the middle shelf is a framed certificate with the heading ‘Dairy & Food Department’ which was likely issued either by the City of Fall River or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The circular symbol on the certificate may well be the city’s motto- ‘We’ll Try.’

Gifford’s Jewelry Store – note clerk at left eyeballing shopper.

Rioux Tailors, 85 Purchase St. Fall River, Mass. 1912.

Popular custom of the times was to have a postcard made of your home. This one on Rock Street shows the Central Congregational Church in the background.

1906 “Mrs. “Borden’s home Highland Ave. F.R.,” it shows, we sitting on her sofa in the parlor of her home. There were quite a few Borden families residing in the Highlands. This is definitely not Lizzie. But take note of the painting over the sofa. Another popular print of “The Village Elms” which is the picture above the sofa at 92 Second Street in the crime scene photos.

4th of July Parade – 1918


1913 – Mr. Hawkins Grocery Store on South Main

And of course the alluring Nance O’Neil


Tags: , , , , ,

Carolyn Gage’s Plays on Nance O’Neil, Lizzie Borden and Bridget Sullivan

Carolyn Gage is a prolific, award winning playwright who’s one-act plays are as captivating as she is.  A lovely human being, she exemplifies “Live Life Liberated” in word and deed as well as her joyful exuberance as illustrated in this image.

She has written a play of Nance O’Neil and her alleged laison with Lizzie Borden:

The Greatest Actress Who Ever Lived

Carolyn Gage in character as Bridget Sullivan for reading of her play, “Lace Curtain Irish”

Here’s the web page showing the dates and locations where these plays are being performed.  If you live anywhere near these locations, do yourself a favor and relish in the writing and performance of Carolyn Gage.


Tags: , , , ,

Little Known Tidbit: Nance O’Neil and John Gilbert

(Recycled post)

Nance O’Neil, the “ships in the night” friend of Lizzie Borden, had a starring role in the film that destroyed the career of silent screen idol John Gilbert.

Here’s the background on the film:

His Glorious Night, also known as Breath of Scandal has gone down in history as having more or less single-handedly caused the downfall of silent-screen matinee idol John Gilbert, whose ardent declarations of “I love you, I love you” to an overly inert Catherine Dale Owen were parodied twenty-odd years later in MGM’s otherwise highly apocryphal Singing in the Rain (1952). Owen, from the Broadway stage, plays Princess Orsolini, who refuses an arranged marriage in favor of dallying with Kovacs (Gilbert), a dashing cavalry officer. But on the advice of her mother (stage luminary Nance O’Neil), the princess reluctantly informs Kovacs that she cannot love the offspring of a peasant. In revenge, the latter indulges in a bit of blackmail, but true love wins out in the end. Rumors to the contrary, the problem was not with Gilbert’s voice but with screenwriter Willard Mack’s overly florid dialogue, which might have been fine as subtitles but sounded downright embarrassing to audiences when spoken by a cast suffering from the stilted direction of a microphone-conscious Lionel Barrymore.” -Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

Gilbert’s voice sounded high-pitched and effeminate in a film where he was supposed to be a romantic swashbuckler. Audiences laughed at him upon hearing his voice at different places in the film and his career as a romantic leading man ended forever. Although Gilbert continued to make several more films over the next 5 years, he never again was the box office star he had once been. Click here for more.

Nance O’Neil was a formidable presence on stage and in films. She had transitioned from the stage to the silent film era and on to the “talkies” with her powerful voice, making over two dozen more films in her career after 1929. Only a handful of her contemporary stage actresses would transition from stage to silents to talkies as she did.

Nance, who died in 1965, would have lived long enough to have seen three foreign film remakes of “His Glorious Night” as well as the 1960 American re-make by Michael Curtiz.

During the Depression years, while many actors had no work, Nance earned her living with these films playing with all the greats – as well as many of the future greats – like Barbara Stanwyck, Lawrence Olivier, Bonita Granville, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, to name a few. Career longevity in an industry that sees so many “stars” flicker bright but burn out quickly, surely must have earned her respect among her peers.

But back in 1929, it was our dear old Nance who, literally, had a role in that little piece of theatrical history when John Gilbert met his cinematic demise.

And that, my friends, is a Little Known Tidbit about Nance O’Neil. 🙂

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Nance O'Neil


Tags: , , , ,

The Benefactors’ Edition of Parallel Lives-A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River

It’s a beautiful thing.  Check it out:

The holding sleeve has a leather/felt-like interior.

The sleeve has the staged photo of Lizzie in her senior years on the back porch of Maplecroft.

The woman that is pictured in the edition already opened (the one I read in Hawaii) is Anne Lindsey, sister of Mary Brigham.  What a Dame!

The marbleized end pages are taken from a book in Lizzie’s library

Note the edged gold “gilt” on the pages.

The “Presentation” page.  Click for larger image.

Yep.  She’s a beaut all right.  🙂


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On the Lizzie Borden Case, Have You Ever Wondered…


Have you ever wondered why:

Winnie French was so adamant to testify on behalf of Grace Howe & Helen Leighton at the Probate Hearing against Charles Cook’s claim of ownership of the Henry House?

Orrin Gardner had so little tribute in ink when he died, although it was highly deserved?

What specifically Bailey Borden sold of Lizzie & Emma’s possession in his Fall River store acquired from Hamilton Gardner?

Why there was so little reporting of Lizzie writing a blank check to Ernest Terry as she lay dying on her last day of life?  (All those people at the bank knew.)

Why Charles Cook parked his car in Lizzie’s garage and then charged the heating to her estate?

Why Ernest Terry went to work for Charles Cook after Lizzie died?

Why Grace Howe, with a keen eye for antiques, left so much of it?

Why so many of Lizzie’s good books ended up with Marian Reilly?

Well, I hope to have answers to some of this to post later.

Back home and much to catch up with.


Note:   Some people wonder the same thing as stated in this comment I received from “Norman Pound”:

“Inquisitive thirst comes on strong as I wait for your book and/or screenplay! This theatrical passage is evidence that it is impossible to endure another year without the pleasure of your literary talent and aptitude for investigation collected in manuscript form. Us Lizzie lovers await, chatting numerously, “When Phaye? When?””

The answer is:  “I don’t do things in a hurry.”   😉

There’s much to wonder about in the Lizzie Borden case, whether at its core or on the periphery.  Here’s just a few things:

Have you ever wondered if Lizzie knew Nance O’Neil had married Alfred Devereaux Hickman in 1916, becoming his second wife?   (A widower for only one year, his first wife died in 1915).

And, have you ever wondered if Lizzie went to any of those movies Nance O’Neil was in?  She certainly lived long enough to read, if not actually see, Nance’s transition from the theatre to the silent screen and then in speaking roles.

And – as to those movies – here’s an interesting tidbit:

John B. Colton (1889–1946),  was a New York dramatist whose plays include Nine Pine Street (1933), based on the Borden murder case.  (He also co-wrote Rain (1922), based on a Somerset Maugham story).   But here’s the thing – Colton co-wrote “Call of the Flesh”, a film featuring Nance O’Neil released August 16, 1930.  And less than 3 years later on April 27, 1933, Nine Pine Street premiered at the Longacre Theatre and starred Lillian Gish as “Effie Holden.”  It played for 28 performances and closed in mid May, 1933.  Do you wonder if  Colton spoke to Nance about Lizzie Borden and was thereby inspired to write Nine Pine Street?  Something to ponder.

Here’s what was going on around that time:

February 18, 1933 New York Magazine article on LMH “the mysterious alter ego of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
March 24, 1933 4th & Final Probate Court acctg. filed by Cook on Lizzie’s Will – period Nov. 28, 1932 thru March 3, 1933.
March 3, 1933 Grace Hartley Howe & Helen Leighton sign 4th & Final Account of Probate.
March 4, 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt is inaugurated as the 32nd U.S. president.
April 13, 1933 Emma’s estate sells Maplecroft.                                        (LR561)
April 27, 1933 The play: Nine Pine Street opens on Broadway at Longacre Theatre starring Lillian Gish as Lizzie Borden.

And here’s something else I have always wondered about:

Why didn’t Abby have Bridget fix eggs on that August 4, 1892 Thursday morning instead of the 5 day old cold mutton and mutton soup?  After all, Uncle John Morse had picked them up from Frederick Eddy at Andrew’s farm in Swansea just the evening before and brought them back per Andrew’s request.  Those eggs were most likely in the kitchen pantry Wednesday night and Thursday morning.  I wonder if Abby asked Andrew what he wanted for breakfast and suggested the eggs.  I wonder if Andrew, with both testeronic and assertive dominance said: “No.  I’ll be selling those eggs.  Serve the mutton.  Waste not, want not.”   If so, one cannot help but wince and sigh yet again for poor Abby.

Too bad Lizzie didn’t get up earlier.  Abby might have asked her what she wanted for BREAKFAST instead of (according to Lizzie’s Inquest Testimony) what she wanted for dinner, i.e., the noon day meal.  I wonder if Lizzie would have stomped her foot and said: “Mutton?!!  No!!! I want eggs!”

Just a few things to wonder about.  There’s more, but I’m out of time and American Idol is on with the results of the next four to get booted off.

Hmmm, something to ponder.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,