A quick quiz: what do you know about false eyelashes? Think you know all you need to know? Well, read on: you are likely to learn some eye-opening trivia from silent era leading lady Seena Owen.
She was born Signe Auen, in the rugged Pacific Northwest of Spokane, Washington, on November 14, 1894. She began her career at the old Kalem Studios, in such films as Out of the Air (1914) and An Old-Fashioned Girl (1915): she was universally praised, early on, by virtually every cameraman of the time, as being one of the greatest natural beauties, impossible to photograph badly. In such films as The Fox Woman (1915) and A Yankee From the West (1915), she was billed as Signe Auen: she soon changed her name if not phonetically, then more for ease-of-billing purposes, to Seena Owen. The next year, 1916, would be most noteworthy for the dark-eyed beauty.
Seena was signed by D.W. Griffith to appear in his blockbuster classic, Intolerance, as Attarea, the Princess Beloved. It was on the set of this film that she met her future husband, actor George Walsh: the two were married in February 1916.
It’s time to reveal the quick quiz facts: False eyelashes were conceptualized by Griffith while making Intolerance. He wanted his Princess Beloved (Owen), to have lashes that brushed her cheeks, to make her eyes shine larger than life. A wigmaker wove human hair through fine gauze, which was then gummed to Owen’s eyelids. Brilliant – and developed, over time, into the savior of sparcely coifed eyes worldwide: considering the fact that Intolerance did not reap huge financial gains for Griffith, it is a shame that he did not patent the false eyelashes.
Owen’s career continued along through the teens and twenties, with little fanfare – and a 1924 divorce from Walsh – until her next breakthrough monarchal role, in Erich Von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly (1928). Her role, as the insane Queen Regina, was noteworthy particularly for a sequence in which, dressed only in a filmy nightgown, Owen flogged Gloria Swanson throughout the marbled halls of her palace.
Seena retired from acting with the dawn of sound, owing to a less than rich vocal repertoire, but she used her considerable talents to forge quite a vociferous career as a screenwriter: among her best known works, while writing for Paramount, were two of Dorothy Lamour’s biggest hits, Aloma of the South Seas (1941), and Rainbow Island (1941). Her last known work was story writer for Carnegie Hall (1947) … practice, practice, practice!
Seena Owen died, at age 72, on August 15, 1966, in Hollywood, California. She rests in the Abbey of the Psalms, in the Sanctuary of Refuge. Without question, hers was a noteworthy career: she appeared prominently in some of the most important films of the silent film era. However, her contribution to popular culture – whether she was aware of it or not – goes beyond that of a singular part in a film. For now, when next you encounter well-endowed eyes, and wonder whether they’re real or just spectacular fakes, you’ll think of the woman who inspired the false eyelash: Seena Owen.