Volume 3: Biographies

 

BENHAM, Leland **

Actor (1912-1915)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Leland Benham appeared in many child's parts in Thanhouser films circa 1912-1915.

Biographical Notes: Born on September 10, 1905 (per correspondence from Harry Benham preserved in the Thayer Collection at Harvard) in Boston, Massachusetts, F. Leland Benham (his first initial was omitted from publicity) was the son of Harry Benham and Ethyle Cooke, both of whom later became Thanhouser players. As was his sister Dorothy, Leland Benham was a child player for Thanhouser for several years. In a number of Thanhouser films, such as A Gentleman for a Day, Little Bobby, and Nursie and the Knight he played opposite Helen Badgley, who was known as the Thanhouser Kidlet. Leland Benham also played opposite Helen Badgley in Just Kids, a film made at the Thanhouser studio and released by Mutual under the Reliance label in 1915.

A 1914 Sketch: The New Rochelle Pioneer, November 7, 1914, printed the following item, by John William Kellette: "[Leland has been in so many films] that the writer will not attempt to tab statistics upon him. He will mention, however, that for comedy roles Leland has any other youngster he ever saw beaten from the ace to the king in putting the stuff over. Leland is a genuine cut-up. Surged to the toes with comedy it keeps oozing out at no matter what hour. But when a director gives the signal Leland forgets Leland and simply remembers that he has certain work to do and he never forgets.

"His facial play is wonderful. He gives an excellent characterization of the average 'American kid' caught with the goods, and with those eyes and that pout that he often employs, he should have an excellent future in pictures. He likes comedy best, yet has appeared as the pivot in a great many dramas. If left to his own resources, he'd rather be climbing the ridge pole in the studio, or some lofty perch where he could drop things upon some offending head, safe in the knowledge that he can climb faster and higher than the one he is tormenting. Yet Leland is a whole-souled chap; full of fun we'll grant you, but not at all vicious in the deliverance of the Keystone stuff.

"Like all boys who have excellent mothers he is 'the best boy in the world,' and at the same time Mrs. Benham will tell you he's the trial of her life. He stages comedies with Dorothy, sometimes compelling her to climb to the top of the piano and jumping from the sixth story (the roof of the piano) into the fire net (which, in this case, happens to be an upholstered chair) to freedom. But both have their quiet moments - the time for study and rest; Dot must have her nap, and Leland must forget all else and delve into books, and even at the studio he's studying human nature and storing away the information."

A Summer Request: An unattributed article in the Robinson Locke Collection, datelined June 1915, is a typical filler item: "'I want to come and visit you for a while this summer and bring my tutor along with me. I promise to pay liberally for our maintenance at your home if you will grant my request,' was the text of a letter recently received by seven-year-old Leland Benham, the Thanhouser (Mutual) juvenile player. The letter was written by a little admirer in England, who, although he had never seen Leland in person, became his fast friend through watching him in the various screen productions he had appeared in.

"Leland immediately wrote his enthusiastic little friend stating that he was delighted at the chance to act as his host. If present arrangements do not fall through, the little Britisher will reach this country about the middle of July, when Leland's vacation begins. 'I'm going to take him to one of the summer resorts, after showing him New York, and give him the greatest time he ever had in his life,' declared Leland, as he mailed the letter to his unknown friend. 'But I don't know what I'll do with the tutor.'"

Like most other Thanhouser child players, the young actor received his early education from tutors in New Rochelle, in between acting commitments. Young Leland was a playful little boy, and his antics amused and delighted others at the studio. His "getting into mischief" provided fodder for fan magazine articles.

After Thanhouser: August 7, 1915 was the last day Leland's father, Harry Benham, spent at the Thanhouser studio. Immediately afterward, he went Famous Players. However, this arrangement did not work out as hoped, and the Benhams transferred to the Universal studio in Coytesville, New Jersey, where Harry and his two children acted in the January 13, 1916 Universal release, The Path of Happiness, produced in 1915, and other films.

The Moving Picture World, December 8, 1917, told of a post-Thanhouser film endeavor involving the Benham family, including Leland: "The Atlas Film Corporation of Boston, Providence and Newton, Mass., will begin work on December 1 on a series of Modern Peck's Bad Boy stories. Leon E. Dadman, a man favorably known to the film trade in the Bay State, is president and general manager of the producing company, with offices at 1 Washington Street, Boston. Mr. Dadman for a long time has conducted a commercial still and motion picture business at this address. The vice president is Frank J. Howard. Mr. Howard needs no introduction to film men - he was one of the earliest in the motion picture business as an exchangeman and exhibitor. Clifford Mason is treasurer.

"The company has a fine studio and laboratory in Newton, built many months ago. Newton is a suburb of Boston, and is surrounded with rural scenery in abundance. The financial department of Atlas is at 171 Westminster Street, Providence, Rhode Island. Martin Kaufer is fiscal agent. As leading child players the company has engaged Leland and Dorothy Benham, the children of Harry Benham and Ethyle Cooke. Father and mother are known to the photoplay-going public as artists of ability. Mrs. Benham is a native of Boston. In the past six years she has played in productions of Thanhouser, Pathé, Metro, Fox and others. Much of Mr. Benham's screen work has been with Thanhouser. The actor is known to his intimates as the possessor of a fine singing voice....

"Young Leland has played in these Thanhouser subjects: Little Captain of the Scouts, Four Seasons [working title for Milestones of Life], The Clothesline Quarrel, Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk, and A Perplexing Pickle Problem. Others in which he has appeared are Path of Happiness, Bluebird; Over the Hills, Pathé, The Victim, states rights, and Papa by Proxy, Metro. Little Miss Dorothy, who will act in support of her brother, also has had much screen experience. She is a member of the professional branch of the Red Cross League, and in spite of her diminutive size is knitting for the soldiers between scenes and in time not devoted to play and study. She has been seen in an Edward Warren production and in The Whispered Word and The Commuted Sentence, Thanhouser; The Fugitive, Thanhouser, in support of Florence LaBadie, and Path of Happiness, Bluebird. Further plans of the Atlas Film Corporation will be made known to our readers at an early date."

Later in life, Leland Benham joined the United States Army and served in the Hawaiian Islands. His wife was Florence H. Benham. In the late 1960s he lived at J-29, Briny Breezes Club, Delray Beach, Florida. He died of cardiac arrest in Boynton Beach, Florida, on September 26, 1976.

Note: His name was curiously given as "Lillian Banham" in an article in The New York Dramatic Mirror, December 31, 1913.

Thanhouser Filmography:

1912: On Probation (2-2-1912), Nursie and the Knight (7-12-1912), But the Greatest of These is Charity (9-27-1912), In a Garden (10-25-1912), The Ladder of Life (11-5-1912), Cross Your Heart (11-22-1912)

1913: The Heart of a Child (3-18-1913), The Children's Conspiracy (4-20-1913), An American in the Making (4-22-1913), A Pullman Nightmare (5-25-1913), King René's Daughter (7-1-1913), Little Brother (11-7-1913), Their Great Big Beautiful Doll (11-23-1913), Jack and the Beanstalk (12-19-1913)

1914: Coals of Fire (1-16-1914), Her Love Letters (1-20-1914), The Success of Selfishness (2-6-1914), The Skating Master (2-15-1914), The Desert Tribesman (3-3-1914), Guilty or Not Guilty (3-8-1914), Beautiful Snow (Princess 3-27-1914), His Reward (Princess 4-24-1914), The Strategy of Conductor 786 (4-26-1914), A Mohammedan Conspiracy (5-12-1914), A Gentleman for a Day (7-17-1914), The Butterfly Bug (8-2-1914), In Peril's Path (8-14-1914), A Dog's Good Deed (8-23-1914), The Terror of Anger (11-10-1914), Sid Nee's Finish (12-20-1914)

1915: The Volunteer Fireman (1-29-1915), Helen Intervenes (1-31-1915), His Sister's Kiddies (2-21-1915), Do Unto Others (Princess 3-12-1915), Little Bobby (3-14-1915), Just Kids (Princess 4-9-1915), Big Brother Bill (4-18-1915), The Refugee (5-21-1915), The Six-Cent Loaf (6-8-1915), Through Edith's Looking Glass (6-13-1915), Bud Blossom (6-13-1915), The Two Cent Mystery (6-20-1915), Which Shall It Be? (6-22-1915), The Stolen Anthurium (Falstaff 6-25-1915), Milestones of Life (7-29-1915), A Plugged Nickel (Falstaff 8-6-1915), The Crogmere Ruby (8-15-1915), Snapshots (8-24-1915), A Perplexing Pickle Puzzle (Falstaff 9-30-1915), The Spirit of Audubon (10-19-1915), The Little Captain of the Scouts (11-9-1915)

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