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Birds, Pigs and Silent VIP’s

It has become a tragic fact that every year the flu season brings an immense burden on health care services and now has dozens of subtypes cataloged, from ‘swine flu’ to ‘bird flu’ to ‘Asian flu’ and beyond. Typically, between late Fall and early Spring, over the last ten years, the United States alone has suffered hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths across all ages [1]. But shortly after the turn of the century the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918 to 1920 was different in the extreme, and like every disease or virus did not discriminate on age, gender, race, even species, or, indeed, fame.

This year makes the centennial anniversary of the pandemics end so along with the estimated 50 million deaths let us remember how we are all equal in the face of such viruses.

Rose Cleveland – sister of President Grover Cleveland, who acted as ‘first lady’ to her bachelor brother – was one of approximately 150 famous people that perished in the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic. Perhaps the best-known victims at the time were Francisco Rodrigues Alves (Brazilian President-Elect) and Louis Botha (President of South Africa), but no less than ten shining stars of the silent movie era are known to have also died during the deadly outbreak.

True Boardman, who appeared in 137 films in just an 8-year career and his son (also named True Boardman) went on to co-star in films with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

William Courtleigh, Jr. who passed at only 26 years of age, after co-starring with Lillian Lorraine and Ann Pennington.

Dark Cloud (Elijah Tahamont), a Canadian Indian and chief of the Abenaki. During his 8 year career, he got to work with Francis Ford and Mary Pickford, appearing in 34 movies.

Myrtle Gonzalez, who is regarded as Hollywood’s first Latin and Hispanic star. She starred in some 78 movies, alongside the likes of William Desmond Taylor and Jean Hersholt.

Shelly Hull, brother of actor Henry Hull who was only just breaking into motion pictures following his success on Broadway, where he starred in plays such as The Amazons, The Cinderella Man and The Land of Promise.

Joseph Kaufman, both an actor and director with over 30 credits in each discipline. He married fellow silent film star Ethel Clayton who went on to star in as many as 180 movies.

Vera Kholodnaya, was the first Russian star of Silent Movies. Unfortunately, most of her films have been lost. Her first film was Anna Karenina and she went on to star in A Life for a Life, The Last Tango and some reported 50 other films. She also has a life-size bronze statue of herself in Odesa, Ukraine.

Julian L’Estrange, husband of Constance Collier, who starred in stage and movie productions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Harold A. Lockwood, was an actor, director, and producer who starred alongside May Allison no less than 23 films and also shared the screen with Mary Pickford (a repeating theme!).

Wayland Trask, Jr., a member of Mack Sennett’s company of actors, and a star of no less than 45 comedies.

Even prior to the recent outbreak, influenza has long contributed to thousands upon thousands of deaths across the globe, naturally including a number of famous names: Juan Peron (Argentina), Francesco Nitti and Paolo Boselli (Italy); performers Angela Baddeley, Lillie Langtree, Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Harlow, and Trevor Howard; baseball legends Dick Bertell and Hack Wilson; movie directors Jules Dassin and Luchino Visconti; and philosopher Bertrand Russell. In fact, three additional Silent Movie stars managed to join the famous-flu-deaths list – 2 shortly after the Spanish flu with Edward J. Connelly (1928) and Henry B. Walthall (1936); and the other as recent as 2018, with the passing of Lassie Lou Ahern, who had a career spanning over 50 years, starring in no less than 30 films including many from the ‘Our Gang’ films.

These lists are abstracted from the hobby of our founder and medical advisor, Dr. Steve Berger, who maintains an extensive database at www.VIPatients.com. The site is completely free to use, allowing you to explore and search the medical file of over 20,000 VIPs. Who will you look up?

[1] Figures taken from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2010-2011.html

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