Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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"The Hazards of Helen"; Kalem, 1914.

Helen Holmes started her career as a model and stage actress. It was while she was appearing on Broadway in “The City” that famed comedienne Mabel Norman persuaded Holmes to accompany her to Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio. Though Norman would become a big star with Sennett, Holmes time at the preeminent comedy studio would be short lived.

She signed with Kalem and starred in “The Hazards of Helen” (1914-1917) to compete with Pathe’s Pearl White serials. There is still some debate about whether “Hazards of Helen” was a serial or series. Though they were two reel adventures that appeared weekly and featured the same cast of characters (cliffhanger endings didn’t become the norm until later in the decade so all serial episodes were self contained), which would make it seem like a serial. But the number of episodes reached 119 over a two year period and Helen Holmes only appeared in the first 48, which would make it a series in my mind.

After her time at Kalem, Holmes and her husband, director J. P. McGowan, started their own film company, Signal, which released serials through Mutual Pictures. The two years of Signal’s existence saw Holmes starring in “The Girl and the Game”(1915), “Lass of the Lumberlands” (1916), “The Railroad Raiders” (1917), and “The Lost Express” (1917). After her own company folded, Holmes moved over to the SLK Serial Corp where she made “The Fatal Fortune” (1919). Her final serial was “The Tiger Band” (1920), another self produced effort for her even shorter lived company, Holmes.

The rest of the twenties was spent appearing in feature films with western stars like Hoot Gibson in “40 Horse Hawkins” (1924) and Jack Hoaxie in “Fighting Fury” (1924) and “Sign of the Cactus” (1925). Her film career essentially ended with “Crossed Signals” (1926), ironically just like her “Hazards of Helen” series, it was a railroad adventure. Though she would attempt a comeback in the sound era with small roles in “The Gentleman From California” (1937), “Dude Cowboy” (1941), and “The More the Merrier” (1943), Holmes finally came to accept that her time in the spotlight had passed and she permanently retired from films to train dogs for acting jobs and run her antique store.

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