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 Tiger's Shadow"; Pathe 1929

Nepotism has haunted the history of Hollywood since it early days up to today. There is the extreme of Universal during it’s horror heyday being staffed with so many people named Laemmle, from security guards to character actors, that close to two thirds of the company was apparently related in some way to the studio head; contrasted with Creighton Chaney having to change his name to Lon Chaney, Jr. just to find work in the industry, the act of having a relative in the business is a blessing and a curse (Just ask Nicholas Cage who had to change his name from Coppola so he could be taken as a serious actor, while his cousin Sofia was so bludgeoned by film critics after her film debut that she dropped out of acting altogether).

The same was true for serials. Take the case of actress Gladys McConnell. She got her start in film during the silent era thanks in part to her father, Fred McConnell, being a Poverty Row Producer at the time. Starting out with such low budget action pictures as “Flying Horseman” (1926) and “The Devil Horse” (1926), she eventually moved up to bigger things and is best remembered today for her two starring roles opposite popular comedian Harry Langdon in “Three’s a Crowd” (1927) and “The Chaser” (1928).

But like Langdon, her time as a star wouldn’t be for long and she was back to doing low budget films like “Code of the Scarlet” (1928). This eventually led McConnell to Pathe Studios, where she received her final roles as a headliner in two of their last serials, playing opposite Hugh Allan and menaced by Frank Lackteen in “The Tiger’s Shadow” (1929) and “The Fire Detective” (1929).

The final blow to McConnell’s career came with the invention of sound. Always a limited actress she found that like so many before her, she couldn’t tone down her performance from the over exaggerated gestures necessary for silent film acting to the more subtle realism needed for the new medium. Calling it quits after “Parade of the West” (1930), McConnell married publicist Arthur Hagerman and retired from acting altogether.

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