Sunday, February 19, 2012

Houdini's leading ladies: Rosemary Theby

The most overlooked of all Houdini's leading ladies (for reasons I will explain below) is Rosemary Theby, who was born Rose Masing on April 8, 1892, in St. Louis, Missouri. Theby played Stella Mourdant, wife of the villainous Guy Mordaunt (described as being "no better than her better-half"), in Houdini's second feature for Famous Players-Lasky, Terror Island.

Here is her biography from Fandango:

Slender, sad-eyed leading lady Rosemary Theby made her film debut in 1912, and that same year starred as Celia in a greatly abbreviated film version of Shakespeare's As You Like It. In her heyday (1915-1922), Theby often co-starred with her husband, actor/director Harry C. Meyers; among other roles, she played Morgan Le Fey in Meyers' lavish version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1921).
Professional and financial reverses forced both Theby and her husband into bit parts and extra roles during the talkie era. Several of Theby's 1930s assignments were obtained through the kindness of comedian Oliver Hardy, who'd been a minor player in some of the actress' pre-WWI vehicles. Rosemary Theby's best talkie role was the laconic Mrs. Snavely in the classic W.C. Fields two-reeler The Fatal Glass of Beer (1932). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Theby is present throughout Terror Island, and even has the distinction of being the only Houdini leading lady to die onscreen (she's shot on the sinking submarine -- blink and you'll miss it). However, Theby's best scene, in which she vamps Houdini's Harry Harper in an attempt to get a map from him, is contained on one of the two reels that are missing from the only known print of the film. There isn't even a description of this scene on the explanatory cards that summarize the missing action on the DVD. All we have of Theby's performance here are a few stills, including a lobby card that reads: "Are you crazy, madam?".

This may be why she is often forgotten among the pantheon of Houdini's leading ladies. In fact, poor Theby's photo in The Secret Life of Houdini is misidentified as being Nita Naldi in The Man From Beyond (wrong vamp, wrong film).

Rosemary Theby died on June 10, 1973 at the Virgil Convalescent Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Rosemary Theby and Houdini in their lost scene from Terror Island.


  1. This is a fun series. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks, Dean. It fun to get the backstories of these actresses, isn't it? Like I've said, by in large they don't even get a mention in the major Houdini bios.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I am enjoying this series. It is a bummer that we may never get to see parts 3 and 4 of Terror Island; the description of these missing reels on the DVD explanatory cards is pretty sparse.

    1. You're right, Joe. I actually fret more about these missing reels than I do about The Grim Game. At least we know there's a way to see that, but I don't know if there is any way we will ever see these. I have read the missing sections in the screenplay and it's great stuff, including two escapes. Some of the best moments in the movie are on these missing reels.

  3. Yeah, it's so frustrating to watch these films with all the missing reels.

    Then again, I'm thankful we have even bits and pieces of them. They could all have been so easily lost forever and ever, like, what, 80 or 90% of all silent films that were every made? *sigh*