Norma Talmadge was born May 26, 1897, in Jersey City, NJ, the
eldest of three daughters. Sisters Natalie and Constance also
became actresses, but Natalie's career was far less distinguished
than her sisters'. The girls' mother, Peg, encouraged their acting
careers. Their father left home while they were very young. The
family moved to Brooklyn where the girls attended public school.
By the time she was in her teens, Norma was posing for music slides
and magazine covers in New York City. She was only a teenager
when she began cutting school to visit the Vitagraph studio in
Brooklyn where she soon was working in one-reelers, requiring
her to drop out of school entirely. Her first role of note was
with Maurice Costello in "A Tale of Two Cities" (1911).
By the time she got her first starring role in "The Battle
Cry of Peace" (1915), she was one of the most popular stars
on the Vitagraph lot. That same year, she went to California to
work for West Coast National Pictures, but the company folded
after only one picture. She and sister Constance then went to
work for the Fine Arts-Triangle company. She married producer
Joseph Schenck Oct. 20, 1916, assuring a competent overseeing
of her career from then on. With her marriage to Schenck, she
began working for First National making some of her most memorable
films "Smilin' Through" (1922), "Secrets"
(1924), "Kiki" (1926), and "Camille" (1927).
At the height of her fame, Norma was making $7,500 a week and
receiving 3,000 fan letters a week. She was the third star behind
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford to have her hand and footprints
put in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. She made two talkies
before retiring "New York Nights" (1930) and "DuBarry,
Woman of Passion" (1930), neither a success. She divorced
Schenck in 1934 and married George Jessel with whom she had toured
in vaudeville after leaving films. She divorced Jessel in 1937
and waited nine years before remarrying, this time to Dr. Carvel
James in 1946. The marriage lasted the rest of her life. Although
she was wealthy, she was plagued by health problems during the
final years of her life suffering from arthritis which confined
her to a wheelchair by the early 1950's. After a series of strokes
and contracting pneumonia, she died Dec. 24, 1957.
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