Who the Hell is Joseph McDermott?

So I’ve mentioned that I have the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra 2012 silent film calendar. I hope you do too. If not, I pity the fool (who didn’t have the foresight to purchase one).

Everyday I wake up, sit down at the old Underwood HP Envy, and have a look see at what my amazing and informative calendar has to tell me. Well first, I admire the full page photo that’s at top. As it’s only March 6, I’ve yet to tire of this month’s still, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, and Luke the Dog from Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1918). Fatty has some food on a fork and Luke is staring at the food, but Fatty is all shaking a finger and saying “No, you can’t have it!” It’s hilarious, but I digress. When I’m done chuckling at Fatty and Luke, I check the current day to see what factoid I can share with my devoted readers. I admit, this has made me a bit of a lazy silent film blogger, but interesting none-the-less, right? Right?

Today the silent film calendar notes that on March 6, 1923, Joseph McDermott committed suicide. That sounds like a promising story. I dutifully fire up the Google search engine (I like to think of it as steam powered) and search “Joseph McDermott silent movie.” Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about our tragic hero:

Joseph McDermott (1890 – March 6, 1923), was an American actor of the silent era. He appeared in 76 films between 1912 and 1923.

He died in Los Angeles, California by committing suicide.[citation needed]

And that’s about it. Mr, McDermott’s impressive filmography is listed, and that’s all. I dig a little deeper into the interwebs, and that’s still all I got. Unlike the question, “Who the Hell is Elmo Lincoln?“, this question doesn’t really have an answer.

Turns out, sometimes that’s all these is to say. But of course, silent movies are not about saying, are they? They’re about doing, and Joseph McDermott, whoever he was and whatever tragic circumstances led him to commit suicide, still exists as a flickering shadow in those 76 films.

Need proof. Here he is, playing an Asylum Guard, in D.W. Griffith’s Biograph short, The House of Darkness. Joseph McDermott, we know ye not, yet we salute ye.

About prettycleverfilmgal

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films. I often watch, consider, and write about movies when I should really be doing other things.

Posted on March 6, 2012, in Genre, Miscellany, Silent Film and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Joseph McDermott appeared in 33 films directed or supervised by Griffith from1911 to 1914, including a lot of important films, but from what I’ve seen so far he mainly played background bits or small roles. The best early one is “The Sunbeam” from 1911, with Claire McDowell (if you say who the hell is Claire McDowell, I’ll have to annoy you even more than usual ), but he had only a small part as a policeman. The last one is intriguing: “Old Heidelberg” from 1914. He received sixth billing, apparently, but in the same film were: Wallace Reid, Dorothy Gish and — hold on to your prussian helmets — Erich von Stroheim!

    • I’m glad I was holding on to my prussian helmet! (And I do know who Clair McDowell is, thank you very much.) Any biographical info on our erstwhile hero, Joseph McDermott. I was surprised to find none, other than he made a lot of movies (bit parts, though they may be) and killed himself in Los Angeles. I’m looking for scandal, sensation, tragedy! That’s right, Pretty Clever Films is the US Weekly of the silent movie set. Or, at the least, I want some biographical gem like Nataha Rambova’s “became an Egyptologist” or Elmo Lincoln’s priceless “tried his hand at mining.”

      Anybody? Anything?

  2. Basically struck out on Ancestry.com, not overly surprising for an actor living a hundred years ago. No death record, no census records; only 2 sources cited under Biographical Citations, i.e. in Who’s Who type books:

    Name: Joseph McDermott

    Birth – Death: d1923

    Source Citation: Who’s Who in Hollywood. The largest cast of international film personalities ever assembled. Two volumes. By David Ragan. New York: Facts on File, 1992. (WhoHol 1992)

    Name: Joe McDermott

    Birth – Death: 1890-1923

    Source Citation: A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses. By George A. Katchmer. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2002.

    Both books are listed for sale only. Amazon, ABE books.

    I do own the 13 volume “The Griffith Project,” which is where I got the original information on this guy. I’d have to look up all 33 films to see if any of the essays on each of the films give any additional information about him. I’ve already looked at a few, but nothing found yet.

    There should be at least a small notice, maybe even an obituary in Los Angeles newspapers around March 1923. You feelin’ lucky, punk?

  3. Now THERE’s a good topic for a post — the worst backstage mothers of all time!!! It’s probably already been done, I’ll bet. Too bad original Lassie isn’t arouind to tell her tail, er . . tale.

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