Volume III: Biographies


BOURKE, Fan **

Actress (1913-1915)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Fan Bourke appeared in various Thanhouser films during the 1913-1915 years.

Biographical Notes: Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1886, Fan Bourke was on the stage and vaudeville early in her career. A notice in the March 21, 1914 issue of Reel Life discussed her activities before coming to Thanhouser: "Miss Bourke's exceptional talents in humorous vein have been exploited by Charles Dillingham, Cecil DeMille, and the late Henry B. Harris. One of her biggest hits was in Augustus Thomas' Mere Man - and it was no fault of hers that the play did not go. She has a reputation on the vaudeville stage all over the world, as a pianist and a dancer - although her speciality is dialect songs. She has sung in every known dialect, and impersonated every possible nationality."

A Thanhouser Actress: In 1914 and 1915, she was a frequently-seen Thanhouser actress, having joined the Thanhouser stock players in late 1913 (a belated notice of her joining was published in the issue of Reel Life just mentioned). She played character and supporting roles.

Reel Life, June 27, 1914, told of the Thanhouser actress' personality and career: "Her magnetic presence drew my gaze before I was aware she had spoken my name. She was standing, a tall figure, radiant in a summer frock of Japanese blue. Under the broad brim of her very becoming hat a pair of clear, brown eyes with amber lights in them met mine. They were the exact shade of brown nature intended to accompany that particular shade of corn-yellow hair and that ivory-tinted complexion with the warm flush over-spreading cheek and neck. We shook hands.

"'You are Miss Bourke, aren't you?' And almost in one action she nodded assent, sat down, and made herself comfortable. Her every movement was energetic. She was earnest; she was interested. Her strong mentality - which even a perceptible diffidence in her manner could not obscure - her nervous, eager temperament enchanted me. Then she exclaimed: 'This being interviewed is as bad as the third degree!'

"We both laughed. The slight tension was broken, and she announced as her first important statement: 'I was born in Brooklyn. That does not make a very brilliant beginning,' she hurried on, 'though people beg me to remember Henry Ward Beecher. They forget that Walt Whitman was a native of Brooklyn, and his lines on Brooklyn Bridge form one of the great poems of America. When I was old enough I was sent to Loretta Convent, Niagara Falls, Canada. Margaret Anglin went there as did Richard Golden's daughter, Bernice. The nuns were English and wonderfully educated. It was a very modern convent. I was editor of our school paper, The Rainbow. When I finished, my one ambition was to travel. I had no money, and the only solution was to go on the road with a theatrical company.

"'You see, I wasn't stage-struck; I had wanderlust. But the atmosphere of the stage does one of two things to a girl: Either it frightens and repels her or it gets into her blood like a drug. Well, when I woke up to find how tremendously it had taken hold of me, I saw too that I had a chance. I really had talent. My first engagement was with Fritzi Scheff. We all traveled in luxury. I didn't realize then how lucky I was, though afterwards I had to take plenty of hard knocks. The second season I was with Nance O'Neill, and McKee Rankin, her manager, took a great interest in my work. But I had gone with both these companies chiefly because they had expected to make the Coast - and neither of them got there. When everybody else was weeping with joy to be going back to New York I was having hysterics from disappointment. At last, my third engagement, a vaudeville act of a well-known producer, took me to the Pacific.

"'The act, The Pianophiends, was a great success. When it closed I was determined to stay West. One of the other girls and myself decided to tour in a stunt of our own, The Brinkley Girls at the Piano. Afterwards we joined a dog and pony traveling act as an opportunity to see Texas. We had absolutely no advance advertising, and not a soul in Texas was expecting us. In the small places the people were in the fields all day, and we paraded the streets with no one to see us but the horse and cattle. Night after night we performed to empty houses, but we paid expenses - and I saw the country. When I got back East, Augustus Thomas was putting on Mere Man. He gave me a wonderful Irish part, and I made a big hit. It meant a lot to me, for it was an all-star cast and I was the only outsider. If that play had succeeded, I should have been made.'

"'Do you believe in equal suffrage?'

"'Yes I do. Though I'm not in favor of smashing windows and blowing up Westminster Abbey. However, I've never had an English husband!'

"'How did you happen to enter the movies?'

"'I knew James Cruze in vaudeville, and through him and Marguerite Snow I went to Thanhouser. Motion picture life is more congenial than the stage. I've only one grudge against Thanhouser. They think because I'm thin I can't do serious, dramatic work. Character and comedy parts, they tell me, I'm just cut out for. So, while I'm pining to play 'Juliet,' I'm obliged to go on being a Sis Hopkins! But there's one compensation which I almost forgot to mention. My roommate is little Helen Badgley, the Thanhouser Kidlet.'"

The New Rochelle Pioneer, October 24, 1914, printed the following: "Fanny Bourke is a 'riot.' As a comedienne, merely, please understand that - because the Thanhouser star is one of the finest little 'gals' in the business and she's heart whole and fancy free, so some of you New Rochelleans give Fanny the 'once over' and plan to make her stay with us for keeps. As a matter of fact Miss Bourke is almost one of us now, but her memory goes a glimmering occasionally and she pines for Wallabout in Brooklyn, in which city she first saw the little light that seeped through the strands of the Brooklyn Bridge. To see 'Fan' Bourke as she really is in real, not 'reel' life, is to meet a charming young lady, accomplished and witty, capable of talking learnedly upon any subject under the sun, and her attainments even go beyond the ordinary. She can pronounce 'Przemysl.' Ye-ah! If you don't believe it, ask her...."

An article in The Moving Picture World, March 6, 1915, told more about her life: "Fan Bourke is that ideal rarity in the theatrical and motion picture circles, a good comedienne who can play heavy emotional parts as well. She is both Irish and American, and is gifted with the whimsical and the tragic majesty that mark children of the Emerald Isle.... There's a bit of a will behind those Irish brown eyes. [In her early career] Miss Bourke yearned to travel; she had gone on the stage to travel; ergo, travel was what she would have. She realized her ambition by joining Lasky's vaudeville operetta, The Pianophiends, which toured the country for two years. Then, after an illness in San Francisco that necessitated her leaving the Lasky company, Miss Bourke and another girl toured the South in an act of their own, The Brinkley Girls at the Piano.

"In this Southern tour Miss Bourke met Marguerite Snow and James Cruze, who were destined shortly to go to the Thanhouser Company, from which they sent for Miss Bourke. But she was out in Augustus Thomas' Mere Man and, for a time, travel still appealed to her more than the studio. Once she had taken the plunge into pictures, however, all the call to adventure and excitement in her veins was answered. After a few weeks in the Thanhouser studios she settled down. The wanderlust left her, expelled by this newer and greater interest.

"At first the directors cast her only for comedy parts. But recently her native and acquired emotional ability won recognition. Her handling of heavy roles put her in a new light. And now, only a year after entering the picture field. Fan Bourke is balancing herself on the twin pedestals of Comedy and Tragedy with a skill that has made her famous."

After Thanhouser: Fan Bourke left Thanhouser early in 1915, although she continued to live in the New Rochelle area. Soon she was working with Arrow, and in August of the same year was seen with Mike Donlin, formerly of the New York Giants baseball team, in the five-reel feature, Right Off the Bat.

An article in Reel Life, January 8, 1916, told of another of Miss Bourke's activities after she left Thanhouser: "Miss Fan Bourke, who will be remembered by Mutual fans as a particularly attractive member of the Thanhouser stock company, has changed her vocation. She is now running a 'votes for women' motion picture theatre in New Rochelle, N.Y., in which Mutual pictures, aided by Miss Bourke's own attractive personality and determination to prove that a woman, as well as a man, may successfully manage such an undertaking, is making the inhabitants sit up and take notice.

"A few months ago, the owner of the Princess Theatre in New Rochelle was going to close up because he couldn't 'get people coming.' There was nothing the matter with the theatre itself. It had been very prettily equipped and possessed all the scenery necessary for stock performances. But it seemed to be situated out of the beaten path. People wouldn't get in the habit of coming that way. He told Miss Bourke about it one day. 'Let me see what I can do,' she said. He turned over the key to her, and she became a bona fide motion picture exhibitor.

"New Rochelle is a neighborhood, with neighborhood feeling and interests, so Miss Bourke decided that she would run a neighborhood theatre. She was well known in the town because she had played there in Thanhouser stock for two years. The local newspaper took a personal interest and gave her a good send off, predicting that now 'everybody would become a 'Fan' fan.' The slogan was taken up by the school children, and by every one interested in good pictures, and so far she at least had people thinking and talking about her theatre.

"First, Miss Bourke installed Mutual pictures because she knew that she could trust the Mutual to give her a carefully chosen, well-balanced selection of widely varied subjects. She inquired around and found out that her patrons did not want anything sensational. They were quiet, well bred, well educated people, who wanted just the sort of high-class entertainment that she herself liked. She gave them what they wanted. Miss Bourke found that Wednesday was a good night, so she decided to give some sort of a special attraction on that evening. At first she ran Thanhouser pictures in which she herself appeared, and which greatly pleased her guests, since they could see her both in person and on the screen. But she finally reached the end of these pictures.

"It seemed a good thing to foster the personal interest the neighbors had taken in her so Miss Bourke decided to perform in person every Wednesday night. She had been in vaudeville for several years, so she got out some of her sketches and polished them up, and rehearsed a lot of new songs. There is good music at every performance. Miss Julia Miller, also a former Thanhouser actress, is the pianist at the Princess. The interest of suffragists was won by the theatre at election time. Miss Bourke had the lobby of her theatre hung in suffrage colors and banners.

"The women realize that in her they have another one of themselves, who will understand their objects and aims. One day recently she had a special performance for the women's clubs. It is her hope to co-operate with the schools and educational societies in the maintenance of a special weekly children's matinee. These things, Miss Bourke feels, will all come in time. It is gratifying to her, to know that in two months' time she has worked the Princess up from a house about to be closed to one in which the 500 seats are filled every evening.

"'I think that a woman is as well qualified, if not better qualified, to run a neighborhood motion picture theatre, than a man,' says Miss Bourke. 'The most constant patrons of the picture theatres are the women and children. If they are sufficiently fond of pictures, they will go to any picture theatre which has the sort of pictures they like. But they will make it a special point to go to the theatre run by a woman who makes them feel at home. Women's and other neighborhood organizations like to feel that they are being especially catered to. A woman can become a factor in that part of her neighborhood more easily than a man, if she is an intelligent woman, and has the real interests of her patrons, as well as of her theatre, at heart.

"'Everyone wants recreation and entertainment. People will always buy it some place and in some form. Men are more willing to spend money for that form of amusement which they think will be non-injurious to their families, and therefore they are willing to trust it to the theatre of a woman exhibitor whom they feel is using discrimination in the choice of her pictures.'"

The New Rochelle Evening Standard, May 2, 1916, carried this item: "It has been disclosed that Halbert Brown and Charles Mather [formerly an actor with Thanhouser - Ed.], members of the Frank Wilcox Stock Company at the Little Playhouse, Mount Vernon, have joined the Benedict ranks. It became publicly known Wednesday night when Mr. Brown and Mr. Mather was showered with congratulations and confetti and presented with gifts of silverware with the best wishes of the members of the company.... Mr. Mather was united in marriage to Miss Fannie Bourke, who is in the theatrical profession, in New York Wednesday afternoon. The wedding was of a quiet nature and only a few friends were present. The bride has been appearing in vaudeville and in films. Mr. Mather is a well known and popular player. He has been with the Frank Wilcox Company throughout the season and previously played in Mount Vernon.... Both newly married couples are residing in Mount Vernon."

Fan Bourke later acted for a number of different film studios through at least the early 1930s (including the 1930 release of Lummox) and was a screenwriter. She died in Norwalk, Connecticut on March 9, 1959.

Note: In many notices her first name was listed as "Fana." Her surname was frequently misspelled as "Burke."

Thanhouser Filmography:

1914: The Purse and the Girl (Princess 1-30-1914), Percy's First Holiday (2-8-1914), The Tangled Cat (Princess 2-13-1914), The Skating Master (2-15-1914), Billy's Ruse (Princess 3-13-1914), The Grand Passion (Princess 3-20-1914), When Sorrow Fades (3-29-1914), The Infant Heart Snatcher (4-19-1914), The Strike (4-21-1914), A Woman's Loyalty (5-5-1914), The Scrub Lady (6-7-1914), Beating Back (Direct-From-Broadway Features 6-9-1914), The Butterfly Bug (8-2-1914), Stronger Than Death (8-11-1914), A Dog's Good Deed (8-23-1914), Arty the Artist (8-30-1914), The Final Test (Princess 9-25-1914), A Dog's Love (10-4-1914), The Cripple (10-6-1914), The Benevolence of Conductor 786 (10-9-1914), Mr. Cinderella (10-25-1914), Mrs. Van Ruyter's Stratagem (11-24-1914), Sid Nee's Finish (12-20-1914), A Hatful of Trouble (12-27-1914)

1915: The Dog Catcher's Bride (1-24-1915), His Sister's Kiddies (2-21-1915), Little Bobby (3-14-1915), The Master's Model (3-16-1915), The Moment of Sacrifice (4-13-1915)

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