18 September 2013

Lilian Hall-Davis

Lilian Hall-Davis (1897-1933) was one of the brightest stars of the British silent cinema. For a while she was Hitchcock's Favourite Actress. Failing to make the transition to the talkies, she committed suicide.

Lilian Hall-Davis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1370/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Balázs, Berlin.

Sexual Health Manual

Lilian (sometimes written as Lillian) Hall-Davis was born in London, England, in 1897. She was the daughter of an East End taxi driver. For publicity purposes, she reported her birthplace as the more fashionable Hampstead, London.

She started to work in film in 1917, first in the French film La p'tite du sixième (René Hervil, Louis Mercanton, 1917), opposite Charles Vanel whom she would meet more often on film sets. Soon films followed like the comedy The Admirable Crichton (G.B. Samuelson, 1918), based on J.M. Barrie, and the war comedy The Better 'ole (George Pearson, 1919).

Hall-Davis became one of the leading actresses of the British silent cinema in the 1920s, playing in one film after another. She featured in Maisie's Marriage/Married Love (Alexander Butler, 1923), a controversial adaptation of Marie Stopes' sexual health manual Married Love. It was a key title in the establishment of British censorship.

Lilian Hall-Davis
British postcard by Rotary Postcards E.C.

Lillian Hall-Davis
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag no. 5448. Photo: Lux Film Verleih.

Hitchcock Favourite Actress

Lilian Hall-Davis also played in a part-colour version of I Pagliacci (G.B. Samuelson, S.W. Smith, 1923) opposite Adelqui Migliar; Blighty (Adrian Brunel 1927) about the impact of the First World War on a rich family; Roses of Picardy (Maurice Elvey, 1927) with John Stuart; and Tommy Atkins (Norman Walker, 1928) about a love triangle, partly set in Egypt.

In the late 1920s, she was Alfred Hitchcock's favourite actress for a while. In The Ring (1927) she gave a fine performance as a simple fairground girl corrupted by a taste of the high life when her boyfriend (Carl Brisson) has success in the boxing ring. In The Farmer's Wife (1928) she is convincing as the housekeeper quietly waiting for her widowed master (Jameson Thomas) whom she has set her eyes on.

Lillian Hall-Davis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1370/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Balàsz, Berlin.

Lillian Hall-Davis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1479/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa.

Warmth and Natural Presence

Lilian Hall-Davis' warmth and natural presence were also felt in her roles in foreign films. In Italy she played in the Italo-German super-production Quo vadis? (Gabriellino D'Annunzio, Georg Jacoby, 1924) as the virtuous Lygia opposite the perverse Nero (Emil Jannings).

In Germany, she starred in the comedies Liebe macht blind/Love Makes Blind (Lothar Mendes, 1925) with Lil Dagover, Der Farmer aus Texas/The Texas Farmer (Joe May, 1925) with Mady Christians, and Blitzzug der Liebe/Love Express (Johannes Guter, 1925) with Ossi Oswalda and Willi Fritsch, but she appeared also in such dramas as Die drei Kuckucksuhren/Adventure Mad (Lothar Mendes, 1926) with Nils Asther, and Wolga Wolga/Volga Volga (Viktor Tourjansky, 1928).

In France, Hall-Davis played in Nitchevo (Jacques de Baroncelli, 1925) and La proie du vent/The Prey of the Wind (René Clair, 1925), both with Charles Vanel.

Lilian Hall-Davis in Quo vadis?
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no.651. Lilian Hall-Davis as Licia/Lygia in Quo vadis? (Gabriellino D'Annunzio, Georg Jacoby, 1924), a production of UCI (Unione Cinematografica Italiana).

Alphons Fryland and Lilian Hall-Davis in Quo vadis? (1924)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 699/3,1919-1924. Photo: Filmhaus Bruckmann. Publicity still for Quo vadis? (Gabriellino D'Annunzio, Georg Jacoby, 1924), with Alphons Fryland.

Depressions and Nervous Breakdowns

In 1927 Lilian Hall-Davis played in a sound experiment, the short comedy As We Lie, shot by Miles Mander in the DeForest Phonofilm system. Hall-Davis, however, failed to make it into the talkies.

Her last role was a minor part in the sound film Her Reputation (Sidney Morgan, 1931). By 1933 her career was over. She suffered from depressions and nervous breakdowns.

She killed herself in her home in Golders Green by turning on the gas and cutting her throat. Her 14-year old son Grosvenor found her suicide note, summoned for help, but it was too late. Lilian Hall-Davis died at the age of 34. She was married to the British stage actor Walter Pemberton and according to IMDb she played in a total of 44 films.

Lilian Hall-Davis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1120/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa.

Lilian Hall-Davis
British hand-coloured postcard, no. 1120/2. Photo: Ufa.

Sources: Simon McCallum (BFI Screen Online), The Times, Silents Fan (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.


Anonymous said...


Bunched Undies said...

Gas AND throat-cutting...guess it wasn't an accident. Interesting story Bob

Bob of Holland said...

To 淑慧: