I’m starting a new series within this blog, Close Ups on Fade Outs. I love writing books about early Hollywood and sharing my experiences with you through this blog. In all honesty, however, I have to say that the research into my work is what keeps me stimulated. In recent years, I have dedicated a lot of time to tracking down those early actresses who seem to have slipped away from film historians and enthusiasts. They have disappeared into the dusty past. There are questions marks where their death dates should be. What became of these ladies after their careers were over and where and how they spent their last days is what keeps me interested in what I do. Call it a fascination with necrology or an obsession with tying up the loose ends of someone’s life. Whatever it is, the yearning keeps me returning to dusty paths that lead back to the early days of filmmaking. Come with me!
Born: April 19, 1895, Los Angeles, CA
Died: July 10, 1924, Monrovia, CA
What became of actress Frances “Frankie” Burnham was a mystery for a long time. Her family could offer no help. They were even unsure what happened to Susie Burnham, her mother, who left her rural Missouri home and never returned.
Hollywood asked the same questions. Her opportunity for a big splash came when she landed the lead in Lorelei of the Sea (1917). Her reviews were mixed, but her big splash on the silver sheet turned out to be nothing more than a ripple. She vanished in 1919.
What became of Frankie Burnham?
The actress with golden hair and big bright eyes was born in Los Angeles on April 19, 1895, to Frank and Susanna (Carr) Burnham. The mysterious Frank Burnham came from either Massachusetts or Maine, no one knows at this point. Susanna, or Susie, hailed from Missouri. She lived there long enough to grow up and get out.
Susie spent the Gay Nineties wearing wedding dresses. Her first husband was Oscar Louis. This union produced Dean, born in Kansas in 1891. Susie made her way west and had a quickie marriage to Frank. Little Frances came into the world. In 1897, Susie became Mrs. Ernst Vogel and soon the mother of two more children, Ernest and Violet, born in 1899 and 1906.
In 1915, about the time Frances was breaking into films, Susie was breaking in a new husband, Everette Scates. Frances had been in films a few years when she was tapped to play the lead with Tyrone Power Sr. in Lorelei of the Sea (1917).
The cast and crew shot the film in Kalem’s old studio in Hollywood and in the islands off Santa Barbara. Lorelei (Frances) lives by the sea. As a child, she was taken in by Paul (Power) and raised as his own daughter. The drama comes when Peitro (John Oaker) and Dorian (Jay Belasco), who washes up on shore, vie for Lorelei’s affections.
Reviews of Frances’s work as Lorelei were mixed. She was everything between a “poor excuse of a star” to carrying her role “with a true dramatic touch.”
Frances had a leading role with George Walsh in On the Jump (1918), a World War I comedy. After a Western and two Lois Wilson films, Frances disappeared from the screen.
On July 10, 1920, Frances married Noble Sheldon, an Ohio hardware salesman.
In early 1924, Frances became ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. She went for treatment at Pottenger’s Sanatorium in Monrovia, where she died from the disease on July 10, 1924. She was only 29 years old.
Frances Burnham rests at Forest Lawn (Glendale).