100 years ago the most famous and popular man in the silent films was George "Jack" Warren Kerrigan ( born July 25. 1879 died June 9, 1947 ) so said the magazines Motion Picture and Photoplay, as Motion Picture magazine had said the previous year when it first took a survey to find out who was the most popular actor of the silver screen. This was a title that he would hold until the United States in 1917 entered the war raging in Europe. Kerrigan was the very first true movie star, he set the stage for everyone who came afterwards.
It was in Denver where after a whirlwind personal appearance tour (the first one of it's kind where the public could come and meet the star and shake hands) that had seen the actor traveling from Texas, to New Orleans, Atlanta, all along the Eastern seashore, up into Canada and across the Midwest, that in May 1917, just a month after President Wilson had brought the US into World War I, the tired and grumpy man the press had dubbed The Great God Kerrigan was asked, "Are you going to join the War?" Just one month earlier Kerrigan had again been voted the most popular actor on the silver screen, but his popularity began to plummet when he answered
"I am not going to war. I will go, of course, if my country needs me, but I think that first they should take the great mass of men who aren't good for anything else, or are only good for the lower grades of work. Actors, musicians, great writers, artists of every kind--isn't it a pity when people are sacrificed who are capable of such things--of adding to the beauty of the world."
In the William J Mann book Behind The Screen (How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910 - 1969) the story is told of director Allan Dwan barely containing his mirth and merriment as the villain in the little one reel movie The Poisoned Flume held Jack's head underwater prolonging the scene for the enjoyment of the crew as their effeminate peacock star struggled to break free.
Such was the life of the pampered mommas boy in the rough and tumble wild west that was the new home for the burgeoning movie industry. Having moved to southern California for the weather, where even in January they could film outside, and even more importantly to escape the bounty on them from Thomas Edison who felt they were all infringing upon his intellectual property of movie making. It was an atmosphere wherein they had honest to goodness cowboys with rifles for protection from mountain lions and Edison's goons. They also came in handy as extras for their films. This ragged band didn't much care for Jack, so he was bullied constantly by them. Dwan and his crew who had gotten a well deserved reputation as being fierce and tough, quick to draw down with their Winchester rifles. This was early Hollywood where the divide between the sissies and the he-men was well entrenched and Jack was anything but a he-man. Effeminate, he lived with his mother, when not out on a shoot, and once said that he liked women best when "they leave me alone." But he made the production company a ton of money. Even though he wasn't a cowboy, he was not without resources and by 1912 he had enough star power to get his twin brother Wallace installed as business manager at American Film Company and to threaten to strike if they didn't get rid of Dwan. The sissy stayed.
In the silent era of the movies, being single was advantageous to one's career. It was often played up in the press that fans could fantasize that they might be one to steal the heart of the moving picture stars. It was felt that if fans of the great Francis X Bushman knew that he had a wife and children, then the dreams of millions would be dashed. It is therefore ironic that in those days it was man who had a room in his house for his "secretary" James Vincent
could get by telling the truth, but Francis X Bushman had to keep the lie and hide his wife and family away.
By 1917 he had left the Flying A as American Film Company was known, to form J Warren Kerrigan Feature Film Corporation to act and direct his own movies. It was to promote his new venture which had sent Kerrigan off on his four month long publicity tour and the beginning of the end of his popularity. By the time Motion Picture Magazine asked their question for 1918 Kerrigan had slipped to 9th place in the poll.
The end of WWI had also brought along a shift in the public's attitudes about their film stars. They wanted their stars to be more grounded and to have a family. And the press started to question the stars on marriage. Poor Jack never could give a satisfactory answer to the public as to his bachelorhood after his mother died. By 1924 he had starred in well over 300 movies but his days as a leading man were over following his roll in Captain Blood which he had only gotten after John Barrymore had bowed out of the film. By 1925 he was appearing in print advertisements selling Turkish Cigarettes and he purchased an ad himself in Motion Picture Magazine of an open letter to the industry under his photograph
From the time I was 13, I had the support of a family on my hands, Later, my mother and I were so very close that I didn't feel the need of any other companion. It is only since I have been alone that I have had time and opportunity to think of marriage and - so far - I haven't found any girl who would think about it
But I will fool 'em! I'm going to catch one, one of these days --- you'll see!
J. Warren Kerrigan
He never did catch one. He continued to live in his home in Hollywood with James Vincent who was an actor and director himself. In 1930 a reporter by the name of Rosiland Shaffer asked him the marriage question, which had become standard practise; he thought for a moment looking back on his glory days and responded, "I never did because all the girls seemed to get wise to me."
George "Jack" Warren Kerrigan died, all but forgotten, on June 9, 1947 at the age of 67 from pneumonia, with James Vincent by his side, as he had been for 36 years.