Sunday, September 20, 2020

Silent Film star Harold Lockwood succumbs to 1918 Flu


Since late winter 2020, the world has been dealing with the effects of COVID-19 and everything that's come with it. Our vocabulary now consists of terms like 'social distancing' and quarantine, both things our generation rarely spoke of until now. 

This isn't the first time a virus has ravaged the United States or the world. In 1918 the "Spanish Flu" swept across the globe, killing millions. In the fall of 1918, the "flu" made itsway across America.  

We were not prepared for such a virus to sweep through our population, but the country did the best it could with what we had. 

Nobody was immune to this powerful virus, not even the celebrities of the silent era. 

Harold Lockwood was foreign to me until I started researching notable names hit with this powerful virus. But, it was clear he was one of the biggest Hollywood names to succumb to the ‘flu.’

Lockwood was a popular silent movie star of the time, starring in several films between 1911 and 1918 when his life was tragically cut short due to influenza and pneumonia.

Lockwood was so famous that in May 1918, months before his tragic death, he was set to win a  popularity contest in Sydney, Australia, in a picture magazine. "Its June issue prints an announcement that Lockwood heads the 'handsomeness' class in the Kings and Queens contest. Nearly 50,000 votes separated Lockwood from his nearest competitor in the competition," wrote the Oakland Tribune

Harold Lockwood was born in Brooklyn, New York. He spent his early years in Newark, New Jersey, where he went to school. He worked in exporting houses but found he didn't enjoy the work, so he started working in vaudeville. He scored a spot in one of David Horsley's companies. From there, he made his way to New York Motion Picture Company. 

Some reports stated that Harold Lockwood made his first appearance in pictures in 1910 with Universal Co. (Nestor Company), later under the direction of Thomas Ince. 

During the beginning of his career, he tried his hand at a stage career, but the screen proved more alluring. His most successful films included The King in Khaki, The River Romance, The Haunted Pajamas, The Masked Rider, The Comeback, Mister 44, Broadway Bill, Big Tremaine, Paradise Garden, and Pigeon Island. 

Lockwood never reached the current name recognition of, or was featured as much as Chaplin or Fairbanks, but he was as just as popular in the film world at the time as both men. At one time, he played opposite Mary Pickford in Famous Players productions, Tess of the Storm Country (said by some critics to be her best picture at the time of Lockwood's death). He played in leading roles in pictures made Nestor, Selig, American, Nymp, and last the Metro Company, where he was at the time of his death. 

Lockwood's best-known work was with Metro. He co-starred with Mae Allison in several films in highly successful pictures like Big Tremaine, The River of Romance, Fifty-Four, and The Comeback. In all, the team of Lockwood and Allison made twenty-two films together. 

During the height of his fame, women went wild for him. In an issue of Motion Picture Magazine dated May 1917, Miss Grace Trotter of Dallas, Texas, wrote this about Lockwood: "Symptoms-If the victim is a man, the case is hopeless. 

If the victim is a young girl and she expresses a desire for black hair. Attempts to make eyes larger and darker. Is she sometimes discovered practicing vampirish actions before a mirror? 

Treatment-Take her instantly to see a Lockwood film. 

Harold Lockjaw. 

Cause-Harold Lockwood."


At the time of his death, he was was the first motion picture star to succumb to the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the country. 

On Saturday, October 19, 1918, he passed away in his apartment at the Hotel Woodward in New York City. 

His mother, Jennie Lockwood, and several specialists were with him at the time, including Dr. Eugene A. Austin, personal physician of R. Rowland, the President of Metro at that time. 

Accounts of Lockwood's death are varied. 

Reports stated that Lockwood had only been sick for ten days before his passing, appearing on October 8, 1918, at the Motion Picture Exposition, where he complained of feeling ill. Still, he had been scheduled to appear on behalf of the Fourth Liberty Loan, he refused to listen to his friends, and with Mabel Normand, he made the week's record bond sales. 

"Harold contracted his illness while selling Liberty Bonds," said Edwin Carewe, Lockwood's director. "He and Mabel Normand were in charge of a booth in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening, October 9, (1918). The garden was crowded, and Harold became overheated by his strenuous exertions. And there was a fearful draft through the big amphitheater."

Later Lockwood went out for supper, and on leaving for home, he seemed to be in good health. The next morning Carewe had set aside some exterior shots in Lockwood's latest picture, The Yellow Dove. 

"About nine a.m., Lockwood called the studios and said he felt ill," Carewe said. "He asked me to change the schedule, and, accordingly, I dismissed the extra people."

Carewe went on to say around two p.m., Lockwood telephoned that he was seriously ill. Richard A. Rowland, president at Metro and Harold's personal manager, then learned of his condition. Pneumonia was staved off until that Monday when it developed in Lockwood's right lung. On Tuesday, his left lung became affected. On Wednesday, doctors said he only had a bare fighting chance. 

"Saturday morning Mr. Rowland and I went to the sick room. Poor Harold was wan and could scarcely talk above a whisper. 'Hello, governor; do you think I've got a chance?' he asked of Mr. Rowland. The latter could scarcely restrain his tears. 

"'Sure, Harold,' he comforted, 'Fight on till noon. If you can last that long you'll change for the better.'

"It was a grain of comfort. Harold, whose hands had been resting above his head, drew them down, and, clenching them, said, with a smile: 'All right, governor lets go!' recalled Carewe.

Lockwood fought his fight in silence, asking the time, and wanting to know why he wasn't getting better. He lived through the noon hour, and at 1:03 p.m., he lapsed into unconsciousness, passing away at 1:10 p.m. 

There are several conflicting reports of his age at the time of his death. Internet reports state his age at 31, but newspaper reports consistently give his age to be 29 at the time of his death. 

Lockwood and his wife were divorced a year before the star's death, but it was said that they had corresponded days before his passing. The marriage produced one son, Billy, who was ten at the time of his father's death. He was attending school at a local military academy. 

In Pal's First, Lockwood's last film, released after his death, Lockwood plays the part of one returned from the dead. His role is that of a nonchalant happy-go-lucky crook with manners. 

"As Danny Rowland, the hero, Lockwood does the best work of his brilliant career. Only an actor of the most finished abilities could have essayed this light, spirited romantic role of a rogue and a gentleman and kept his audience in sympathy with the character. His sense of comedy is equal to the finest in the history of the screen. A talent, which, coupled with his romantic gifts, places him far above the run of most stars," said a review in the Napa Daily Journal. 

Lockwood was filming The Yellow Dove and was half complete when he was stricken with Influenza. The film was recast. 

"He was one of the finest young men in the industry," said Fred Balshofer, prominent film magnate, and former manager of Lockwood. "He was an American, and he believed in the outdoor life. He never forgot a friend, and he numbered his enemies on one hand. The film world has lost one of its brightest stars in the death of Harold Lockwood."

Lockwood's New York funeral was reported to have been attended by ten thousand people and was held at the Campbell Funeral Church, Sixty-sixth Street, and Broadway. Members of the Metro-Company attended the funeral, and offices were closed for the day. 

Mrs. Alma Lockwood, the former wife of Harold Lockwood, claimed to be excluded from any share of the estate left behind from her former husband. She said she couldn't understand the action's made in not leaving some provisions for her in his will. "Two days previous to his death, I received the most friendly letter from him," she said. "He told me to take good care of myself and little Harold. Up until the time of his death, Mr. Lockwood provided for me most generously. He did this of his own free will, as there was no court order to that effect." 

Lockwood's son was left $10,000 by his father's will. Mrs. Lockwood stated that her late ex-husband expressed opposition to his son ever working in motion pictures. "I am planning Harold's future in accordance with his wishes and 'my own judgment.'" She stated that she had been advised to contest her husband's will, but had not made any decision. "I hold no resentment. Mr. Lockwood and I were the best of friends. I cannot understand why he made no reference to me in his will. I do not believe he fully realized the situation or the consequences when he made his will. He was ill, very, very ill, at the time. We were divorced to benefit his career. I was given complete custody of our child." Lockwood left an estate of $45,000. If that sum, $20,000 was divided between his mother and his son. The remaining was split between his mother, son, the city, and a friend. The Lockwood’s were divorced in 1917. 

Lockwood's widow married 'Spike' Robinson, former prize ring celebrity and "one of the film colony," in July 1919.


You can watch Harold in Tess of Storm Country HERE: 


Lockwood also had a column in Motion Picture Magazine that you can find and read for free. It’s called Funny Happenings in the Studio and on Location. Its really sweet and endearing and I beg of you to find it and read it in your spare time. 



(Los Angeles Evening Express, Friday November 1, 1918)

(Los Angeles Sunday Express, October 20, 1918)

(Los Angeles Evening Express, Wednesday, June 9, 1919)

(Oakland Tribune, Sunday, May 26, 1918)

(Visalia Morning Delta, Friday May 9, 1919)

(The Montclair Times, Saturday October 26, 1918)

(Fall River Daily Evening News, Monday, October 21, 1918)

(Motion Picture Magazine, May 1917)

(Los Angeles Herald, December 12, 1918)


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