The unfortunate fate of the Brooklyn actresses of the Flugrath family

The first film is considered to be the Lumiere brothers’ The Arrival of a Train. Millions of people around the world went to movie theaters again and again to see this innovation. When the first longer films appeared, they aroused even more admiration.

Silent movies even had their own stars. And the list is not restricted to Charlie Chaplin. The Flugrath sisters etched their names into the history of American silent cinema. Read more on

Edna Flugrath

Edna was the eldest of the Flugrath sisters and the only one who starred in movies under her real name. She was born in 1892 in Brooklyn, like all her sisters. But the family did not live there for long. As the girls’ popularity grew, they relocated to the West Coast. That was where the girls’ parents lived for the rest of their lives. The mother died in 1922 and the father in 1941.

Edna was the first of her sisters to try the acting path. Since childhood, she has performed in different shows and traveled with the ballet. At the age of 20, Edna has been touring for many years. Tiredness from regular traveling made her think about working in the cinema. Although Edna’s first works were the main ones, they were ordinary for that time. She failed to stand out among the many actresses of the silent cinema of those days. While working on a movie, she met Harold Shaw. Having spun an affair with him, she went to England to follow her lover.

Flugrath was not lucky in America, whereas in England, her collaborations with Shaw led to success. When Edna and Harold got married, she left her acting career. The break lasted three years. After such a long vacation, Edna attempted to return to the acting world, but she was not welcome there. Failures in England forced Flugrath to come back to America and give up acting forever. Edna opened a beauty salon in Hollywood. Her husband died in a car accident shortly after returning to America. Edna became the first of her sisters to launch a series of first-man deaths in the family. Her second husband was a broker from Dallas, Halliburton Houghton. Thus, she finished with the world of cinema once and for all. For some unknown reason, the older sister practically stopped communicating with her younger sisters. Perhaps the reason was that Edna left the cinema, and the sisters managed to build a prosperous career until the disappearance of silent movies. Edna Flugrath died in San Diego in 1966.

Virginia Flugrath

Virginia was born in 1897 in Brooklyn. She was the middle sister in a trio of daughters in the Flugrath family. The girl was very creative from an early age. This is not surprising. It could not be otherwise in such a family. From her first roles, Virginia chose the pseudonym Viola Dana.

Her first roles were in the theater. The most famous appearance was in the performance of Poor Little Rich Girl. Viola was about ten years old then. She not only made herself popular but also the performance itself. After all, it was because of her success that the play was filmed in 1917 with the renowned Mary Pickford, an Oscar-winning legend of silent cinema.

The girl received her first movie role when she was 13 years old. It was a small cameo role. At the same time, Viola contracted with the American company Edison Studios. In 1910, the classic work A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was filmed, where she played a small role.

The future star’s real popularity started in 1914 with the movie Molly the Drummer Boy. Her first starring role helped Viola gain the desired reputation as a serious young actress and also meet her future husband. John Collins was one of the leading directors at Edison Studios. They got married when Viola was only 18 years old.

The actress’s first marriage did not last long. Her husband died of pneumonia three years after the wedding. They never had children together. However, in this short time, the director filmed his beloved in 26 films. Silent films were short in duration. Therefore, it was quite possible to star in eight films in a year.

Acting under the direction of her husband, Viola became a part of the movies Children of Eve, The Cossack Whip and Blue Jeans. These movies were the most successful of their collaborations.

Viola Dan’s personal life is filled with tragedies. After the death of her first husband, Viola started an affair with actor Ormer Locklear. But their romance didn’t continue for long either. In 1920, he died during the filming. They were shooting an episode in an airplane, and it crashed.

Viola Dan’s career lasted almost 20 years. During this time, she could declare herself as a highly professional actress who appeared in more than 100 films. Most of which were shot at Metro Pictures. She turned out to be probably one of the most prosperous Flugrath sisters.

The glory of almost all silent movie stars rolled away with the arrival of sound cinema. Only a few people managed to adapt to the new realities. The directors admitted that Viola’s voice did not match her appearance, and people wouldn’t go to watch or listen to her in a movie. After the end of her film career, the actress appeared on television for some time with various interviews. Nevertheless, she had no new roles.

Viola Dan died in 1987 from a heart attack. She was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame for her contribution to silent cinema.

Leonie Flugrath

Leonie was the younger sister. She was born in 1900. Following the example of her older sisters, Leonie started acting in movies. Her first film debut was in the company of her older sister Virginia (Viola Dana) in the movie A Christmas Carol. Being a child, Leonie didn’t have much success in the cinema. Although she continued to film. At the age of 15, she gained her first lead role, which got her noticed. Vanity Fair in 1915 became her springboard into big movies. After that, she had more work. Over the next two years, she acted in thirteen films. The lead role in the film The Awakening of Ruth. This role provided her with stable work until 1929. She played many leading roles. In 1929, when she made her career a success, her filmography had 109 movies. In the world of silent cinema, she was known under her pseudonym, Shirley Mason.

Shirley, like her sisters, worked with Edison Studios. She got married earlier than all of her sisters, at the age of 16. Her husband was the actor and director Bernard Durning. He was eight years older than Shirley. Like with their older sisters, their marriage did not last long. When Shirley was 22, she was widowed. Bernard died from typhoid fever. But Shirley’s second marriage was more fortunate. In 1927, she remarried the director Sidney Lanfield. In 1972, Lanfield died from a heart attack.

The curse of the Flugrath sisters

Edna, Virginia and Leonie were “victims” of their mother’s ambitions.  It is unknown what the girls wanted since childhood, as she decided everything for them. The girls came from an ordinary family. Their father was a Polish-German immigrant who worked as a printer and their mother was an American native. Despite living a simple life, Maria Flugrath, the girls’ mother, always dreamed of the stage. That’s why she sent all her daughters to dance from an early age. The daughters’ whole childhood was spent on the road and touring Coney Island.

It can be said that the girls had no childhood. In spite of their common cause, the sisters were different. They did not even communicate with their older sister sufficiently that Virginia and Leonie learned about Edna’s death from reporters. At some point, their fates parted ways.

In addition to their work, they were united by another strange fact: the sisters’ first marriages resulted in the deaths of their husbands. All of the Flugrath sisters became young widows. Some would say that this was a usual thing at the time. After all, medicine was at the proper level then. Or maybe there was some mysticism in it. Indeed, the coincidence is rather strange.