Norma Talmadge home

From Who's Who on the Screen
edited by Charles Donald Fox and Milton L. Silver
(New York: Ross Publishing Co., 1920): p. 101-104

Those Three Talmadge Girls! A comedy of school days

There is a scanned version of this article on the Internet Archive

[Picture omitted: drawing of two little girls sticking out their tongues at each other while the third wears a top hat and beats on a pot with spoons]

When Norma, Constance and Natalie Talmadge were tiny mites of girls and were going to school in Brooklyn, the first thing they would do after school was to rush to the cellar of their home. There, packed away in numerous trunks were odds and ends of clothing of other generations. As school children, both Norma and Constance evinced a great interest in stories depicting historical events and when their natural bent towards things theatrical loosened itself, Norma as the director, would, in her even then serious frame of mind, attempt to stage the historical events about which they had studied in school. Such enthusiasm! They would dig into the trunks and bring forth various gowns that had once known better days, and though, at first, "Ma" Talmadge ventured to protest, she wisely decided that such play had an educational value and entered into the spirit of the thing with them, helping to cut and sew Greek togas and Egyptian head-dresses.

The orchestra they had! Bells, drums and frying-pans! One can imagine the din of it.

Boxes and old kitchen chairs served as the stage "props" and "Ma" Talmadge, speaking reminiscently of those times, says "I can remember taking a hand at painting furniture which really was nothing more than a lot of boxes and old kitchen chairs for a ball-room scene, little thinking that some day in the future my girls would be acting with sets that cost thousands of dollars."

There was one thing that the "Talmadge Mater" did draw the line at, and that was the girl's dramatic School of Animals. Every time "Peg," as the girls affectionately call their mother, put her foot in the cellar she went safeguarded with a candle as there was no telling when a bulging-eyed hoptoad, or a squirming salamander, or a slimy-turtle would suddenly dart out of some dark corner and nonchalantly fasten itself to the hem of her dress. The girls had a funny hobby of collecting angleworms. Natalie, who was always the domestic and more practical member of the family, wanted to turn the cellar into a hospital for wounded dolls and decrepit animals. The "school" harbored bowls of gold fish, with tadpoles and eels, living on the co-operative plan with the fish; half a dozen cats and dogs, a three legged rabbit, and hundreds of those terrible angleworms of all shapes and sizes. Often when the Muse refused to work and Norma could not get a new play done in time for Saturday, the girls would put on a miniature three-ring circus instead, and all the animals would be brought into action.

Constance was the envy of the other two girls because she could hang from a trapeze with her toes, but Norma always showed the most marked ability when it came to acting. Norma was a great reader and every time she read a book she liked she wanted to dramatize it. The fact that she liked to make herself the leading lady did not always please Connie and Natalie. Though the girls often quarreled about the "star" system, there was no question about the manager. To "Peg" fell that little task. All their lives, the Talmadge trio loved to play-act and dress up and characterize. It remained for the mother to guide them by being almost one of them, and for that reason she encouraged the use of the name "Peg" instead of the conventional "Mother" as it seemed to bring her closer to her girls. In fact, they have always regarded her as a fourth sister "I confess that I liked it," says Mrs. Talmadge. "I always encouraged their efforts at self-expression and never thwarted them. As they grew up and their interests changed, I continued in close sympathy with their youthful activities, and I always kept the guiding hand by being one of them."

[Picture omitted: drawing of a little girl hanging by her toes from a trapeze]

One day Norma announced that she would like to act in pictures. Finding no opposition at home, she applied for a position at the Vitagraph studio and was immediately accepted for small parts, and in a short time she rose from bits to leads. Norma gives a great deal of credit to her Mother for the success she has attained on the screen as she says "There was not much of a chance for me to get into a rut with 'Peg' always around. She encouraged me to study French, she accompanied me to the studio where I was taking vocal lessons. She kept the idea always before me that I must be developing, and constantly improving myself. Even now, Constance and I are taking up Russian Ballet dancing at the studio of Adolph Boim and Mother is always with us during these sessions."

[Picture omitted: Oval photograph of the three Talmadge sisters]

Three years after Norma had gone into the Movies, Constance demanded that she, too, be allowed to follow her favorite pursuit, acting. She was not dissuaded and soon both of the girls were bringing home salary checks of four figures every weekend. It was but natural that the mother should hope that Natalie, too, would take up a profession that had been so good to her sisters. But, on the contrary, Natalie declared most emphatically that there was already enough Movie atmosphere around their home, and that she never wanted to see a motion picture again, much less act in one. Following her own inclination, she studied shorthand, typewriting and book keeping, declaring that she was going to fit herself to become a secretary to some big man. And this she did, only, after all, she was unable to break away from the Movie atmosphere entirely, as she became the private secretary to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. As his secretary she was right in the midst of movie making and soon, she too caught the fever. Perhaps it was because she could not help but notice the difference between the salary of a Movie star and that of a secretary! Perhaps it was because of the natural ability for acting that seems to have been part of the birth right of "those Talmadge girls'." At any rate despite her former prejudices, she finally made her screen debut in the "Isle of Conquest" in support of sister Norma. She has appeared with Constance in the "Love Expert," and now comes her third picture, "Yes or No' with Norma.

Speaking about her girls "Ma" Talmadge says: "People have often asked my daughters if they inherited their histrionic ability. Mr. Talmadge shakes his head emphatically as far as it concerns him. When he was at Wesleyan University nothing could drive him into college dramatics. He was much more interested in football. But as for me--well, maybe I am guilty of passing the strain on to them.

"When I was young I was a member of the Old Amaranth Dramatic Society of Brooklyn. Robert Hilliard, Edith Kingdon, Percy Williams and some others now in the limelight were amateurs then along with me. My aspirations were high.

"I had seven words to speak in the Amaranth performance of 'Turned Up.' But at the crucial moment at the first performance, so interested was I in the spectacle around me, I forgot to say them! Then I was utterly and ignominiously 'turned down' by the coach.

"That was 'Ma Talmadge's" and only attempt at public performance. I married and the girls came.

"I have been busy ever since helping them to live their own lives in their own individual ways. It is the only way to happiness and success.

When a girl sets her heart on following some profession, when she has unbreakable confidence in her ability to make good in it, the wise parent will tell her to go ahead. Let her develop her talents, make use of them for the benefit of others.

"The free and untrammeled unfolding of my daughters' love for acting in their youth has been the foundation of their success, my girls believe. Down there in the cellar in our Brooklyn home they were educating themselves for their present activities. And they still work with the same enthusiasm and eager spirit as when they played in their tomboy days.

"It is a girl's right to be a tomboy and to enjoy outdoor sports, I have always held 'Don't do that! Please be a lady!' hurled verbally at a girl's head continuously during childhood has disastrous results on her development, physical, mental and moral."

"My girls are all fond of outdoor play, especially swimming. Constance is so accomplished that she once had the opportunity of being an aquatic star. She swims the trudgeon crawl and high dives with perfect ease--the result of professional coaching at Brighton Beach when she was just a slip of a child. You should see her do the jackknife flip!

"Constance has always excelled the other girls in athletics--even back in the old circus days in the cellar when Norma and Natalie would watch her wide-eyed as she hung by her knees and her toes from the trapeze and attempted all sorts of perilous acrobatic stunts. Many a time I bathed Constance's bumped head after those Saturday circuses.

"The girls have always kept up their interest in correct costuming. Today they are just as anxious to plan their own clothes for their screen work as they were to finish up the Roman togas when they played "Julius Caesar."

Quite naturally, all their interests today are outgrowths of their favorite ways of amusing themselves as children--acting, costuming, music, singing, dancing, reading, sports and pets.

"Now all that my girls dreamed is a reality. And I like to think that I have helped it come true by entering into the dream with them, heart and soul, playing and working together until the dream became a hope, and the hope an actuality."

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Last revised, November 2, 2011