Helen Lowell, born Helen Lowell Robb on June 2, 1866 in New York, NY. Died June 28, 1937 in Los Angeles, CA.
A 1930s delight, mostly at Warner Bros., specializing in cranky, nosy, busybody old ladies, aligned anywhere from the working class to high society. Lowell was also capable of playing a sweet grandmotherly type as she does in Snowed Under (1936), though that's a bit of a waste once you've seen her in less sympathetic parts. Both types are at work to great effect in Party Wire (1935), where Lowell is a crank with a heart of gold.
Helen Lowell played in a handful of silents, but was nearly 67-years old when she began her brief but busy career in the talkies. Lowell appeared in over two dozen films between 1934 and her death in 1937, none of them classics in the truest sense of the word, but nearly all entertaining. In 1934 alone she appeared in The Merry Frinks, Side Streets, Midnight Alibi, The Dragon Murder Case, The Case of the Howling Dog, Big Hearted Herbert, and Madame Du Barry. I could practically list all of her credits, but for the sake of brevity other notable titles include Living on Velvet, Page Miss Glory, Dr. Socrates (all 1935), and Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936).
Like so many older character actors of the period, Helen Lowell had a past, and, though largely forgotten today, she enjoyed her greatest fame during the first couple of decades of the 20th Century in a career that reaches back as far as 1882. Following are a handful of vintage newspaper clippings celebrating that Helen Lowell.
Helen Lowell is listed in the cast of Iolanthe at Brooklyn's Academy of Music in 1882. The clipping above appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 24, 1882, page 5.
According to Lowell in a 1912 interview with the New York Times, the above performance turned out to be a big break for her. After an aunt spotted Lowell at a small-town Ohio performance word of her acting reached her mother, who then helped secure Lowell a better role:
"Through some mysterious influence she had go me an engagement with the D'Oyley Carte Company that was playing Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Standard Theatre, New York. I was given a small part in a road company in Iolanthe, in which Richard Mansfield played the role of Lord Chancellor.
"When we got to Brooklyn, at the old Academy of Music, Miss Wentworth, who was playing the title role, was taken ill and I was sent on in the part with only a day's rehearsals. They allowed me to continue playing it until the end of the season and I was a real prima donna at last. What singing I could do was of the natural sort, for I had had very few lessons, and I never took a dancing lesson in my life."
Lowell says she next worked in some Hoyt farces, which allowed her to get familiar with character roles. Next, said Lowell, "came the first production of Little Lord Fauntleroy, and I was cast for Dearest. Very few people seem to remember that I played that part." Well, if she didn't originate it, the following December 22, 1889 Chicago Daily Tribune clipping (page 27), indicates that she very nearly did:
A photo of Helen Lowell from the time of Little Lord Fauntleroy is HERE.
More Helen Lowell articles and early images follow to provide additional background about the actress.
From Ohio's Sandusky Star-Journal, November 14, 1903, page 1:
From the Topeka Daily Capital (Kansas), December 10, 1903, page 5:
From The Courier of Harrisburg, PA, December 31, 1911, page 6:
From California's Woodland Daily Democrat, February 4, 1913, page 4:
From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 17, 1926, page 2E:
Finally, also from the Eagle, June 30, 1937, page 15:
Likely more fascinating to me than you, the 1910 U.S. Census places Helen Lowell in Huntington, New York, which is where I'm sitting while I type this. I clicked through to the actual file at Ancestry.com (paid subscription) and her occupation is listed as actress, so it's the same woman. She also, somewhat defiantly I imagine, refuses to divulge her age or her relationship to the homeowner, each column marked simply with an "X." I just wish I could make out her street address (the print is blurred).
If you want more, this last one will be a bit of an oddity: a blog post from earlier in 2015 about Helen Lowell's double row of teeth.