Norma Talmadge was an American actress and film producer of the silent era. A major box office draw for more than a decade, her career reached a peak in the early 1920s, when she ranked among the most popular idols of the American screen.
Her most famous film was Smilin? Through, but she also scored artistic triumphs teamed with director Frank Borzage in Secrets and The Lady. Her younger sisters Constance Talmadge and Natalie Talmadge were also movie stars. Talmadge married millionaire and film producer Joseph Schenck and they successfully created their own production company. After reaching fame in the film studios on the East Coast, she moved to Hollywood in 1922.
A specialist in melodrama, Talmadge was one of the most elegant and glamorous film stars of the roaring twenties. By the end of the silent film period her popularity with audiences had waned. After her two talkies proved disappointing at the box office, she retired a very wealthy woman. Of all the silent stars whose reputation collapsed with the coming of sound, Norma Talmadge was the most important. She is little remembered, since her films are seldom revived today, yet in her day she was hugely popular and the epitome of stardom.
Talmadge was born on May 26, 1893 in Jersey City, New Jersey, although it has been widely believed she was born in Niagara Falls, New York. After achieving stardom, she admitted that she and her mother provided the more scenic setting of Niagara Falls to fan magazines to be more romantic. Talmadge was the eldest daughter of Fred Talmadge, a chronic unemployed alcoholic, and Margaret “Peg” Talmadge, a witty and indomitable woman. Talmadge’s childhood was marked by poverty. One Christmas morning Fred Talmadge left the house to buy food and never came back, leaving his wife to raise their three little daughters. Peg took in laundry, sold cosmetics, taught painting classes, and rented out rooms, raising her daughters in Brooklyn, New York.