Academic Commons

Essays

Helen Holmes

Mahar, Karen Ward

Helen Holmes became a star playing the part of the fearless railroad telegrapher “Helen” in the Kalem Company’s long-running, stunt-driven serial The Hazards of Helen (1914–1917), and continued to make action films through the decade as an independent writer and producer. Not only were her films successful at the box office, but they featured some of the most heroic female images in silent cinema as she leapt to the top of speeding trains and handled pistols with ease. Did these images—at least some of them—originate with Holmes? Certainly Helen Holmes needs to be situated within a tradition that included the American branch of Pathé Frères Company’s Pearl White, Selig Polyscope Company’s Kathlyn Williams, and Universal Film Manufacturing Company’s Grace Cunard. Some would argue that Holmes carried on at Kalem in the tradition of Gene Gauntier, who had physically risked so much in the Girl Spy series. But Gauntier ’s memoir gives far more information about how she wrote scenarios and set up stunts for her character while at Kalem. With few sources other than extant films and popular and trade magazine discourse, it is difficult to discern the exact role Helen Holmes played behind the camera.

Files

More About This Work

Academic Units
Film
Libraries
Series
Women Film Pioneers Project
Published Here
October 15, 2019