A while back, we featured an extensive look at all of the remaining silent film actors. Only a handful remain, and almost all of them are child stars. But there is some further exploration that can be done. Namely, the beacon of information known as Wikipedia lists one other confirmed living person who was in silents, and several cases of people who are possibly alive. So, let’s delve a little deeper into whether or not these other people are living silent film actors.
The person who is definitely alive is Shep Houghton. Houghton has appeared in minor and insignificant roles in a number of major pictures, most notably The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. IMDB gives him credit for three silent films: Underworld, The Last Command and Ramona. But was he actually in those three films? That is where the issue gets a little trickier. Houghton’s roles are all listed as uncredited, which should come as no surprise. Silent films are notoriously bad at giving full cast lists in credits. Anyone outside of the main stars usually didn’t get a mention. The kinds of roles Houghton is listed as playing (strangely, both a Russian and a Mexican youth) never would usually get a screen credit.
At the very least, there is further confirmation that he appeared in the latter two films. Houghton was interviewed in an article about his hundredth birthday earlier this year. The article references both The Last Command and Ramona as early film roles. As that article was compiled from interviews with him and from an unreleased manuscript, those roles can pretty much be confirmed. Houghton is another silent film actor still living.
The people that follow are the ones who are listed as possibly living.
Phelps only appeared in two films, both in 1922. Although her exact age at the time isn’t known, she played a baby in one of her two roles despite passing for a little girl in her other role. She worked on stage for a couple of years afterwards, after which point she disappeared from the public eye. Despite the claims that she is possibly living, records show that Phelps passed away in 2004.
For a four year period starting in 1922, Priscilla Moran was a major child star. Her debut, The Toll of the Sea, was one of the first technicolor features, and 1926 saw her star in her first and only leading role. Her time in the spotlight was short-lived due to no fault of her own. A custody battle that lasted for years pulled her from various homes and left her unable to appear in films. Long after the dust settled in that regard, she played several bit parts in 1937.
Moran is likely still alive at the age of 96. There are no death records for anyone with her date of birth, and Young Hollywood Hall of Fame lists her as still living.
Sometimes known as Baby Helen Rowland, she appeared in a total of nine films over a span of five years. Despite being a few years old at the time, it looks like she may have played an actual baby in some of her films. Unfortunately, only two of her films survive, so there is very little footage of her around. Not much information about her outside of these films are available.
Rowland may be alive. Multiple sources list her birthdate as October 23, 1919. The Social Security Death Index does show a Helen Rowland who passed away, with a birthdate that is six days off. It does seem likely that this is a different person. This other woman is listed as having died in Ohio, which connects with a woman of the same name in Ohio in 1940 census records. An Ohio news article from 1938 discusses a highly successful local decorator of the same name.
Given that the actress Helen Rowland was born in New York, it looks like she is more than likely still alive. If that is correct, she is 94.
Marshall’s acting career also didn’t last long, but she was a lot more active than the others in her brief time. Over a span of five years, she appeared in 18 films. Some of these were major films: The Younger Generation (an early Frank Capra film), Flesh and the Devil and several Tom Mix westerns.
Even though she had a more notable career than the previous people mentioned, there is significantly less known about her. She was born some time around 1919, but it can’t be narrowed down any more than that. There were dozens of people with the same name born around that time, so whether or not she is alive cannot be determined.
Even less is known about Calloway. She did appear in a few films in the Philippines, but beyond that it’s not known if she did any other work. An article about early films in the Phillippines notes that she was one of the first major film stars in the country. Aside from that, there is almost no information about her, including when she born. There is almost no way to find it if she is still alive with so little information.
With all of that information, it can safely be said that there are likely three additional living silent film actors, which brings the total up to 15.
An updated list of all the living silent film actors:
Manoel de Oliveria (105)
Mary Carlisle (100)
Shep Houghton (100)
Fay McKenzie (96)
Priscilla Moran (96)
Diana Serra Cary (95)
Dorothy Morrison (95)
Helen Rowland (94)
Louise Watson (94)
Lassie Lou Ahern (94)
Jean Darling (92)
Billy Watson (90)
Kathleen O’Malley (90)
Dickie Moore (89)
Mildred Kornman (89)