Norma Marie Talmadge was an American actress and film producer of the silent era. A major box office draw for more than a decade, her career reached a peak in the early 1920s, a specialist in melodrama, her most famous film was Smilin’ Through, but she also scored artistic triumphs teamed with director Frank Borzage in Secrets and The Lady. Her younger sister Constance Talmadge was also a movie star, Talmadge married millionaire film producer Joseph Schenck and they successfully created their own production company. After reaching fame in the studios on the East Coast. Talmadge was one of the most elegant and glamorous film stars of the roaring twenties, however, by the end of the silent film era, her popularity with audiences had waned. After her two talkies proved disappointing at the box office, she retired a wealthy woman. According to her birth certificate, Talmadge was born on May 2,1894 in Jersey City, Talmadge was the eldest daughter of Fred Talmadge, an unemployed chronic alcoholic, and Margaret Peg Talmadge, a witty and indomitable woman. She had two sisters, Natalie and Constance, both of whom also became actresses. The girls childhoods were marked by poverty, one Christmas morning, Fred Talmadge left the house to buy food and never came back, leaving his wife to raise their three daughters. Peg took in laundry, sold cosmetics, taught painting classes, after telling her mother about a classmate from Erasmus Hall High School who modeled for popular illustrated song slides, Mrs. Talmadge decided to locate the photographer. She arranged an interview for her daughter, who, after an initial rejection, was hired soon after, when they went to the theater to see her debut, Peg resolved to get her into motion pictures. Norma Talmadge was the eldest of the three daughters and the first pushed by their mother to look for a career as a film actress, mother and daughter traveled to the Vitagraph Studios in Flatbush, New York, just a streetcar ride from her home. They managed to get past the gates and in to see the casting director. However, scenario editor Beta Breuil, attracted by Talmadges beauty, thanks to Breuills continued patronage, between 1911 and 1912, Talmadge played bit parts in over 100 films. She eventually earned a spot in the company at $25 per week. Her first role as an actress was 1911s Neighboring Kingdom. By 1913, she was Vitagraphs most promising young actress and that same year, she was assigned to Van Dyke Brookes acting unit, and throughout 1913 and 1914 appeared in more films, frequently with Antonio Moreno as her leading man. In 1915, Talmadge got her big break, starring in Vitagraph’s prestigious feature film The Battle Cry of Peace, but ambitious Peg saw that her daughters potential could carry them further, and got a two-year contract with National Pictures Company for eight features and $400 per week
Talmadge in 1920
Beta Breuil, scenario editor for Vitagraph Studios, in a photograph published in 1912: The autograph is signed "Vitagraphically yours."