She was one of a trio of sisters who took Hollywood by storm in the early days of cinema, and made their family name, Talmadge, one of dynasty proportion in the town of stars. Constance Talmadge, the middle of the three, had a style and a personality all her own.
She was born Constance Alice Talmadge, in Brooklyn, New York, on April 19, 1897, to Fred and Peggy Talmadge. She, like sister Norma Talmadge, was driven towards performance by their driven stage mother; by 1914, she was engaged by the Vitagraph Company, to costar in comedy shorts with Billy Quirk. She remained with Vitagraph for two years. In 1916, however, two major events happened which reshaped Connie’s family life, and her career.
In July 1916, Connie’s little sister Natalie almost lost her life, by drowning: she was saved by fellow actress, and good friend, Dorothy Gish, the sister of Lillian. This cemented a lifelong camaraderie between the Talmadge and Gish families. On September 5, 1916, Intolerance was released, premiering at New York’s Liberty Theatre. The film, directed by the legendary D.W. Griffith, tells the story of, literally, the intolerance of atrocities through the ages, via four historical eras. The role call of stars in the picture are a virtual who’s who of silent film glitterati: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Bessie Love, and Robert Harron. Connie nabbed the plum role of the Mountain Girl in the Babylonian episode, and her success in the part exceeded any of her prior work. She revealed, more so than in two years with Quirk at Vitagraph, a natural tendency towards comedy, as she brought to life her tomboyish, spirited character: she instantly attained star status in this one role, and assured herself of approaching the level of stardom enjoyed by her big sister, Norma.
On December 26, 1920, Connie eloped to Greenwich, Connecticut, with tobacco manufacturer John Pialoglu. The couple was married in a double wedding ceremony with Dorothy Gish and James Rennie. A mere eighteen months later, on June 1, 1922, Connie received a divorce in Los Angeles, charging mental cruelty. At this time in her career, however, all was smooth sailing: guidance came from a famed in-law, Norma’s husband Joseph M. Schenck, who at the time also guided the career of brother-in-law Buster Keaton, married to sister Natalie on May 31, 1921. One might imagine that there would be a healthy competition between, especially, sisters Norma and Connie, but this was never the case. While Norma specialized in melodramatic tear-jerkers, Connie developed a penchant in the arena of the sophisticated comedy (and, at the time, she had few rivals); in 1921, the two tied for second place as most popular actress of the year; the only inconsistency was in matters financial — in 1923, according to the Motion Picture Theater Owners of America, Connie’s weekly salary was $5,000, while Norma’s was double that, at $10,000 a week. On November 22, 1924, Schenck became a partner in, and chairman of the board of, United Artists, and immediately brought Buster, Norma, and Connie into the UA family of players.
Connie married Captain Alistair MacIntosh in California in February 1926, and this marriage lasted approximately the same span of time as her first: a year and a half later, she was granted a divorce, in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 15, 1927, on the grounds of misconduct. Six months earlier, however, Connie and Norma, along with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, had been afforded an honor new to Hollywood, but one still going strong today: the four became the first stars to leave their footprints in cement, on April 15, 1927, in front of Sid Grauman’s soon-to-be-completed Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The theater, incidentally, was built on the site of the former home of matinee idol Francis X. Bushman.
Connie, with a body of stellar comedies in her filmography, including excellent extant films The Matrimaniac (1916, costarring Douglas Fairbanks), Mama’s Affair (1920), and the riotous The Duchess of Buffalo (1926), decided to retire from the screen in 1929, without making a single sound picture. That year, she married her third husband, Chicago department store heir Townsend Netcher, on May 8, 1929. The wedding took place at the Beverly Hills home of Buster and Natalie Keaton. After their January 5, 1939 divorce, she wed New York stockbroker Walter Michael Giblin later that year. This was her longest, and by far her happiest, marital union: their twenty-five years of marriage ended with Giblin’s death, on May 1, 1964, in New York City.
Constance Talmadge died, on November 23, 1973, at the age of 76, in Los Angeles, California. She, along with her parents and sisters Natalie and Norma, rest in a private room in the Abbey of the Psalms, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Connie, Natalie, and Norma were the subjects of a 1978 Anita Loos biography, most aptly titled The Talmadge Girls. Connie’s talents and contribution to the industry were recognized with a star along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, at the Southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. And what Constance Talmadge gave to motion pictures all those years ago remains with us to this day, preserved on film, video, and DVD: her crazy blonde locks, her vivacious smile, and her vibrant eyes, painting an ongoing picture that, with the passage of time, will, thankfully, never fade away.