Nell Shipman


Nell Shipman
Nell Shipman
Born Helen Foster-Barham
October 25, 1892(1892-10-25)
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Died January 23, 1970(1970-01-23) (aged 77)
Cabazon, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress, screenwriter, director, producer, animal trainer
Years active 1910–1947
Spouse Bert Van Tuyle (?–?) (divorce)
Ernest Shipman (1910–1920) 1 Child
Charles Austin Ayers (1925–1964) (his death)

Nell Shipman (October 25, 1892 – January 23, 1970) was a Canadian actress, author and screenwriter, producer, director, and animal trainer. She was a Canadian pioneer in early Hollywood. She is best known for her work in James Oliver Curwood stories and for portraying strong, adventurous women. In 1919, she and her producer husband, Ernest Shipman, made the most successful silent film in Canadian history, Back to God's Country. She was one of the first women to do a nude scene on screen when she did so in that movie.[1]

Contents

Life and career

Shipman was born Helen Foster-Barham in Victoria, British Columbia. Her family moved to Seattle, Washington when Nell was 13 years old. Around the same time, Nell started stage acting and joined theatrical stock companies before working in film. When Nell was 18 years old, she met and married 39 years old theatrical entrepreneur, Ernest Shipman (December 17, 1871 – August 7, 1931).

After marrying, Ernest and Nell Shipman moved to Hollywood to start working in the film industry. During this time, Nell sold the rights of her book, Under the Crescent Moon to Universal Studios (they wanted to make a six film serial of the story). Nell also started acting in Universal, Selig & Vitagraph productions. Between 1915–1918, she played several leading roles including her big debut film God’s Country and the Woman (1915). In God’s Country and the Women, Nell Shipman directed, produced, and acted in the film based on James Oliver Curwood’s short story. Nell was one of the first directors to shoot her films almost entirely on location.

In 1918, Nell Shipman suffered from Spanish influenza and nearly died. During her recovery, she decided to create a production company called Shipman Curwood Producing Company. The first and only film the company would produce was major Canadian silent film hit Back to God’s Country (1919). This film was based on another short story written by Curwood and adapted to the screen by Nell herself. Nell also was the lead of the film and it featured a controversial nudity scene. Although the film was extremely successful (posting a 300% profit by grossing a million and a half dollars), Curwood was infuriated with Nell because she changed the scenario of his short story. She adapted the protagonist of the film from the Great Dane, Wapi to the female lead, Delores. Shipman also shaped her character into a heroine: she saved the male lead and in so doing created an independent character and feminist role model.[citation needed]

In 1920, Nell and Ernest Shipman were divorced. During this time, Nell moved back to Hollywood and created Nell Shipman Productions with Bert Van Tuyler as her co-director. She focused on the major themes she enjoyed: wild animals, nature, feminist heroes, and filming on location. When she was younger, she started to develop a respect toward animals, fought for animal rights in Hollywood, and spoke out against animal cruelty.[citation needed] The production company produced only four films. In 1921, the film The Girl From God’s Country was removed from Nell's control and was cut back from twelve reels to seven; when it released it was considered a box office failure.[citation needed]

When she was living in Spokane, Washington, Nell Shipman made a film called The Grub Stake, which costs around $180,000 to produce. Unfortunately, the film was never distributed. The American distributor went bankrupt and during subsequent litigation, the film got involved. During this time, Nell tried to maintain her production company by making several short films in Priest Lake, Idaho. However, because of the bankruptcy, Nell’s production company collapsed. In 1925, she was forced to send her animals to the San Diego Zoo because she was unable to afford the cost of maintaining them.

Shipman next moved across the country and traveled the world. Eventually, she started writing scripts and short stories. The most notable contribution at this time was the story which became the basis of Wings in the Dark starring Myrna Loy and Cary Grant (1934). Nell finally moved to the California desert and continued writing there for the rest of her life. Her last project was her autobiography, The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart. She died in Cabazon, California at the age of 77.

Nell Shipman lived for three years in what is known today as The Doctor's House Museum in Glendale, California, from 1917 to 1920. She described it as on a "tree lined dirt road, away from the hub bub of Hollywood". It was here that her mother died of the flu epidemic.

Cultural legacy

The Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock was commissioned to write a one act play about Shipman's life. It was performed in 1999 by the Theatre Junction Resident Company of Artists in Calgary, and was directed by Brian Richmond.

All of Nell Shipman's surviving films are available on DVD from Boise State University.[2]

Filmography

(Either or all: writer/director/producer/star)

  • The Ball of Yarn (1910)
  • Outwitted by Billy (1913)
  • One Hundred Years of Mormonism (1913)
  • God's Country and the Woman (1915)
  • The Pine's Revenge (1915)
  • Under the Crescent (1915)
  • The Pine's Revenge (1915)
  • The Fires of Conscience (1916)
  • Through the Wall (1916)
  • Baree, Son of Kazan (1917)
  • The Black Wolf (1917)
  • My Fighting Gentleman (1917)
  • The Girl From Beyond (1918)
  • The Home Trail (1918)
  • Cavanaugh of the Forest Rangers (1918)
  • The Wild Strain (1918)
  • Back to God's Country (1919)
  • Something New (1920)
  • The Girl from God's Country (1921)
  • A Bear, A Boy and A Dog (1921)
  • The Grub-Stake (1923)
  • The Light on Lookout (1924)
  • The Trail of the North Wind (1924)
  • White Water (1924)
  • Wolf's Brush (1924)
  • The Golden Yukon (1927)
  • Wings in the Dark (1935)
  • The Story of Mr. Hobbs (1947)

References

Bibliography

  • Armatage, Kay (2003). The girl from God's country: Nell Shipman and the silent cinema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-8542-3. 
  • Pollock, Sharon (2003). Sharon Pollock Three Plays: Moving Pictures. Toronto ON: Playwrights Canada Press. ISBN 0-887546-56-0. 
  • Shipman, Nell (1987). The silent screen & my talking heart: an autobiography. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University. ISBN 0-932129-04-8. 
  • Walker, Joseph (1993). The Light On Her Face. A S C Holding Corp. ISBN 0-932129-04-8. 

External links


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