Florence Roberts

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(b. New York, 16/03/1864 - d. Hollywood, 06/06/1940). American stage and film actress.


According to the American Census, in 1880 16-year-old Florence Margaret Adelaide Roberts was still living with her parents in New York, but she was already an actress. She left school to begin her stage career with the Denman Thompson Company when she acted first in the rural drama Joshua Whitcomb and then in its sequel, the hugely popular The Old Homestead. This is where she met her husband-to-be, English-born Walter Gale, who was also a member of the company. Subsequently she joined M.B. Curtis for two seasons. Most of her early working life was spent in stock companies and at one stage she headed the Forepaugh Stock Company operating out of Philadelphia.

In March 1917 she was one of the members of the American Dramatic Company that sailed for a tour of South Africa, arriving in Cape Town on Easter Sunday. For the African Theatres Trust she acted in Kick In, The Heart of Wetano, Help Wanted and The Easiest Way, all at His Majesty's Theatre, appearing with the likes of Richard Scott and Edward Donnelly, who had come over with her. The company subsequently went on tour and this was followed by appearances in productions like The Cinderella Man, Nothing But the Truth and Palace, Bedroom and Bath, the latter with Edith Cartwright, Cecil Kellaway, Elise Hamilton, Hilda Attenboro and Harcourt Collett. Thereafter she joined the Allen Doone Company and appeared in plays like The Burglar and the Lady and Tom Moore, acting with Richard Scott, J.B. Rowe, Yvon Saxby and Edna Keeley at the Standard Theatre. While in South Africa, she took small roles in three films produced by African Film Productions: Allan Quatermain (H. Lisle Lucoque/1919), The Man Who Was Afraid (Joseph Albrecht/1920) and The Vulture’s Prey (Dick Cruikshanks & William Bowden/1922). In March 1918 it was announced that she would be returning to the United States via the Far East and Australia, but soon afterwards she was placed under an indefinite contract with the African Theatres Trust, which induced her to postpone her departure. When, in October 1920, she finally decided to return home, the S.A. Pictorial commented: “She has, with her clever acting and lovable personality, endeared herself to playgoers all over the country”.

She only arrived back in New York via England in December 1920. Her film career started in earnest in 1930, when she appeared in The Eyes of the World for Henry King. Though usually in small roles and frequently uncredited, she was gainfully employed until her death in 1940, appearing in such prestigious productions as The Life of Emile Zola (1937) and Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940). She became particularly well known for her role as Grandma in the multiple-part low-budget comedy series featuring the Jones family for 20th Century Fox. (FO)

(Note: Though practically every source gives her birthdate as 16 March 1861 - taken from the California Death Index - according to the 1880 U.S. Census she was born in 1864 and this is also the date she provided for her three passport applications. It is difficult to establish an accurate overview of her early stage appearances as her career coincides with that of a contemporary namesake who lived from 1871 to 1927.)

Stage appearances

Stage appearances in South Africa include: Kick in, The Heart of Wetano, Help Wanted, The Easiest Way, The House of Glass, The Dummy, General Post, Daddy Long-Legs, Turn to the Right, The Cinderella Man, Nothing But the Truth, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, The Thirteenth Chair, The Silent Witness, Sunday, Romance, Seven Days’ Leave, The Little Brother, Twin Beds, Palace, Bedroom and Bath, The Burglar and the Lady, Tom Moore, Barry of Ballymore, Molly Bawn, Old Donegal, The Bold Sojer Boy.


The New York Clipper, 21 March 1917

Stage & Cinema, 14 April 1917

The Dramatic Mirror, 6 April 1918

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

Storms, A.D. - The Players' Blue Book




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