Volume 3: Biographies


CHESTER, Lila **

Actress (1912-1915)


Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Lila Chester appeared in many Thanhouser films from 1912 to 1915.

Biographical Notes: Lila Hayward Chester was born in Richmond, Virginia, and was educated at the University of California. She followed a career in stock and vaudeville on the stage. Her middle name was rarely used in publicity. She worked with P.A. Powers in 1911 and January 1912. Around the same time she also was an actress with Gaumont and Edison. Early in 1912 Lila Chester moved to Thanhouser, for whom she played in many films through 1915.

In 1913 The New York Times named her as "one of the prettiest girls of today," in a contest judged by artists who specialized in the so-called "American girl," including James Montgomery Flagg, C. Allen Gilbert, Clarence F. Underwood, and Penrhyn Stanlaws. In the same year, by arrangement with Thanhouser, she was seen in Sapho, a Majestic film starring Florence Roberts and Shelley Hull, produced in Los Angeles for release on the Mutual Program.

A publicist for Thanhouser, quoted in The Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1914, stated that by that time she had appeared in over 400 films. If most of these bore the Thanhouser label, then she must have played hundreds of minor roles, for Lila Chester appeared in relatively few film credits or publicity notices. Her most important role with Thanhouser was as Susan Farlow, companion to Florence LaBadie, in the extremely successful serial, The Million Dollar Mystery.

The Photoplay Magazine, July 1915, carried this item: "Lila Chester (Thanhouser) came to the Thanhouser studios after a long experience on the legitimate stage, and the knowledge thus gained is frequently used to advantage in getting over' the various emotions which Miss Chester is called upon to portray. Her fellow players like her, the directors give her talents more and more opportunity of expressing themselves, and the public has grown to watch for her appearances, and her success seems, therefore, assured beyond all question."

While she was working for Thanhouser in New Rochelle, she made her home in the same city. In August 1914 local newspapers reported she enlisted the help of local police to find Bayard Johnson, who was said to be her brother but who was really her husband from an undivulged marriage. The New Rochelle Evening Standard, August 17, 1914, carried this item: "Miss Lila Chester, a local movie actress, complained to the police this morning that her husband, Barry [Bayard] E. Johnson, has gone to Canada with jewelry and clothing of hers which she values at $933. Not satisfied with taking the jewelry, he is said to have taken her pet Maltese terrier which she values at $125. She is making an effort to recover her property, especially the dog. Her husband, she says, is also known as Barry Ellerslie and Edmund Prat. It was said this morning that Johnson told certain persons he wanted his wife to make a demand for her property. Acting City Judge Gregory Dillon, who represented him recently, would neither affirm nor deny that Mr. Johnson had said it, but stated that the jewelry is Miss Chester's. She need not worry about it.'" (More information concerning the couple's problems can be found in the book, Muriel Ostriche: Princess of Silent Films, pages 50-52.) At the time she was living in New Rochelle in an apartment at 9 Rhodes Street, Stephenson Park.

Miss Chester left Thanhouser toward the end of 1914. The New Rochelle Pioneer, June 19, 1915, reported: "Lila Chester has returned to the studio to work in screenplays." However, her stay there was brief, and soon she again departed. By 1916 she had moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey, where she appeared in the August 1916 film, Miss Petticoats, produced by Peerless for World. She remained with World, and by 1918 had played roles in Sins of Society, The Unpardonable Sin, The Page Mystery, and A Self-Made Widow.

A 1918 directory noted that she was 5'5" tall, weighed 123 pounds, and had a fair complexion, titian hair, and blue eyes. Her home address at the time was 118 West 72nd Street, New York City, and she worked with the World Film Corporation in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Her hobby was clothesmaking, embroidery, knitting, and other needlework.

Thanhouser Filmography:

1912: The Cry of the Children (4-30-1912), The Professor's Son (6-28-1912), Cousins (7-28-1912)

1913: Just a Shabby Doll (3-11-1913), Babies Prohibited (3-16-1913), The Heart of a Child (3-18-1913), The Wax Lady (3-30-1913), Moths (Mutual 9-1913), Flood Tide (9-13-1913), The Children's Hour (11-14-1913), Baby's Joy Ride (11-18-1913), The Legend of Provence (12-1-1913), Uncle's Namesake (12-12-1913), Peggy's Invitation (12-16-1913)

1914: Frou Frou (1-1-1914), The Runaway Princess (1-9-1914), Adrift in a Great City (1-13-1914), Coals of Fire (1-16-1914), Joseph in the Land of Egypt (2-1-1914), The Success of Selfishness (2-6-1914), Cardinal Richelieu's Ward (3-1-1914), The Eugenic Boy (3-15-1914), Their Cousin From England (3-22-1914), When Sorrow Fades (3-29-1914), The Tin Soldier and the Dolls (4-5-1914), The Musician's Daughter (4-14-1914), The Girl Across the Hall (6-14-1914), The Terror of Anger (11-10-1914)

1914-1915 Serial: The Million Dollar Mystery

1915: A Plugged Nickel (Falstaff 8-6-1915)

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Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.