A Sparkling Vintage Life

silent movies

Sparkling Vintage Faces: Nancy Carroll

Nancy Carroll

Nancy Carroll

I’m basing the physical appearance of my lead character, Marjorie, on 1920s screen icon Nancy Carroll. I chose Nancy partly because I think she’s pretty, and partly because I wanted Marjorie to look very different from her friend Dot, who is described as looking like Louise Brooks (right).

Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks

Here’s a write-up on Nancy Carroll from a 1930 book, Stars of the Photoplay:

“Nancy Carroll is a real daughter of the big town. As Nancy Lahiff she went to parochial school in New York City, where she was born, November 19, 1906. and at 17 went on the stage as a dancer in Shubert musical shows. She married Jack Kirkland, a newspaperman, who is now a Hollywood scenario writer. Her big film chance came in “Abie’s Irish Rose.” Nancy is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 118 pounds. She has red hair and blue eyes. The Kirklands have a little daughter.”

Not realizing Nancy had red hair (hey, there are limits to black-and-white photography!), I made Marjorie’s hair brown. Marjorie is also bigger than Nancy, which gives her a little trouble when trying to fit into narrow 1920s fashions. As Marjorie might say, “I have the perfect figure–for 1910,” not such a great thing in 1925.

Later sources tell us that Nancy Carroll’s birth name was Ann Veronica Lahiff, that her ancestry was Irish, and that her musical background came in handy when silent films gave way to talkies and musicals. In 1930 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for The Devil’s Holiday. Fans loved her, but the studios didn’t, because she had a reputation for being difficult to work with. In the mid-1930s Paramount released her from her contract, and in 1938 she stopped making films and returned to the stage. In 1951 she appeared in a film version of “The Egg and I,” along with her daughter, Patricia Kirkland. Nancy was married three times and died in 1965.

Had you ever heard of Nancy Carroll or seen any of her movies? Celebrity is so fleeting, isn’t it? An actor or actress can be a huge star to one generation and virtually unknown to the next. What do you think of her looks? Does she look anything like you imagined Marjorie would look? 

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