Pearl White - The Original Damsel in Distress
Few people remember silent film star Pearl White. But most everyone has heard of her most famous role, as the damsel in distress in The Perils of Pauline.
The 20-episode series was one of the first great movie serials. It arrived at the Dominion Theatre on Granville Street in March 1915, and new episodes ran on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for four months.
Vancouverites flocked to the theatre to see Pauline kidnapped by pirates, tied to railway tracks and/ or trapped in a fire. Miraculously she would escape every week, within the 20-minute time limit of the serial. The Vancouver Sun helped with the hype by running a Perils of Pauline “photo-play serial story” every week. Why were villains constantly trying to do her in? Because Pauline was heir to a fortune, and her dastardly guardian was trying to kill her so he could nab all her money for himself.
White was an athletic gal who did many of her own stunts. But she apparently got injured a couple of times, so a double did the stunts in her next serial, The Exploits of Elaine. (That’s the title, honest.) The Dominion Theatre ad for the second episode of the serial is just fabulous, featuring a handsome logo with a crest flanked by British flags and a big photo of White as Pauline. There was a little come-on about the plot (“depicting the wonderful aeroplane accident, the most remarkable ever registered by a camera”), and a small “biographical sketch” of Pearl White.
White worked hard - the silent movie website goldensilents.com says she appeared in 98 movies or serials in 1913 alone. In 1914, she cut her work down to 33 appearances, and from 1915 through 1921 she appeared in two to four films annually. She moved to France after retiring from film, where she developed a drinking problem and died in 1938. She was only 49.
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