On This Day – January 13

Herbert BrenonSilent film director/writer Herbert Brenon was born on this day in 1880. While his name is probably not as well known to you as say, D.W. Griffith or Cecil B. DeMille, his movies probably are. Brenon directed some of the great silents of the twenties, such as The Street of Forgotten Men (Louise Brooks’ film debut), Peter Pan (with Betty Bronson), The Spanish Dancer (a Pola Negri epic), Dancing Mothers (with Clara Bow), The Great Gatsby (with Warner Baxter), Beau Geste (with Ronald Colman), Sorrell and Son (for which he was nominated for Best Director in the first Academy Awards) and Laugh Clown Laugh (with Lon Chaney, Sr.)

He was born Herbert Alexander Charles Reginald St. John Brenon in Dublin, Ireland. He left Ireland for England in 1883 and attended school in London. He immigrated to the United States on the 4th of July, 1896. He married actress Helen Violette Oberg (1885-1955) on 18 February 1904.  They had one son, Herbert Cyril Edward Brenon, whom they called Cyril (1906-1981), born while they were abroad in London. Brenon became a naturalized citizen in New York in 1918.

He got a job as a call boy for Augustin Daly’s Theater Company in New York in 1896. He traveled and played in stock companies for seven years before teaming up with his wife (who sometimes appeared under the stage name Helen Downing) and performing in vaudeville on the Orpheum and other circuits.

His foray into the moving picture business began when he got a job as a scenario writer for The Old Imperial Company, affectionately called “The Old Imp”. Carl Laemmle gave him his first directing opportunity in 1909 with a film called, All For Her. Brenon went on to direct films for Selig, Lubin, Vitagraph, Kalem, Fox, Famous Players-Lasky, United Artists and British Studios . He is credited with “discovering” Richard Barthelmess, Bert Lytell, Mary Brian and Esther Ralston.

He continued to write many of the scenarios for the films that he directed. Although initially outspoken about his opposition to sound films, he made the transition to talkies and directed films up until 1940.

He passed away at the age of 78 in Los Angeles on 21 June, 1958 of a heart ailment. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.